Manchester United’s problems in the final third continue.
The Red Devils have an opportunity to go top of the Premier League over the weekend. They have, however, managed to clamber into that very position despite suffering from a host of ailments in the attacking sense.
Louis van Gaal’s men have drawn plenty of criticism about their inability to entertain and struggled to find the net with any form of regularity. Everyone from former players to the media have been happy to use the boring tag.
On Wednesday night against PSV Eindhoven, United were also badly wasteful. Their range of undesirable attacking traits were, in fact, all displayed in one match.
In the first half the game was relatively entertaining and the home side did create openings. These though, were passed up with an alarming lack of ruthlessness, as was another just after half time.
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In the second period, United continued to dominate but struggled to create anything meaningful. Perhaps most frustratingly for the fans, van Gaal’s response from the bench, was the more direct route of Maroaune Fellaini rather than the guile of Juan Mata, which was kept until too late.
United’s forwards, in particular club talisman Wayne Rooney, have attracted plenty of blame for the situation alongside van Gaal himself.
Rooney was blasted by Roy Keane keep this week after the 0-0 with PSV. The press are also beginning to turn on Anthony Martial after his early season goal burst dried up.
Staggeringly, van Gaal has opted to send promising young forward James Wilson on loan to Brighton despite his side’s blunt look. That then, leaves Memphis Depay as the only alternative focal point of the attack.
Memphis, labeled by some as the new Ronaldo has also recently endured a tough month or so.
After a promising start in United colours his form dipped badly, in a fashion not dissimilar to Angel Di Maria, his predecessor at Old Trafford in terms of a marquee summer signing.
In the 3-0 loss to Arsenal he was substituted at half time and then failed to start any of the subsequent games, temporarily exiled by Van Gaal who expressed disappointment in his countryman publicly and replaced him with Jesse Lingard.
Then, at Vicarage Road last weekend, with Rooney, Martial and even Fellaini injured, the Dutch boss was forced to deploy Memphis as the lone striker and he responded by grabbing the game’s opening goal with a clinical finish.
The former PSV man kept his place for the clash against his old club in midweek but the return to fitness of Rooney and Martial saw him pushed out into a supporting role and the game ended in stalemate.
Depay’s performance against Watford though was about more than just his goal.
His general play, and in particular his movement, drew plenty of praise and perhaps hinted that his best position might just be at centre forward.
Of course it would be unwise to suggest that this could be the answer to United’s problems after just one game, but with his other options failing him, van Gaal needs to try it.
Depay after all, arrived at Old Trafford with a fantastic scoring record, albeit in the less challenging Eredivisie. During his final season at PSV the 21 year old bagged 22 league goals and that tally included a collection of crackers.
He was deployed as support for compatriot Luuk De Jong and outscored him by the end of the campaign. At United he has more often than not been positioned in a wide attacking role, which seems to suit him only partially.
While it gives him license to become an old fashioned inside forward and opportunity to cut in from the flank and shoot, it also perhaps limits his influence on the game as he is duty bound to provide width to a certain degree within van Gaal’s system.
It is perhaps no coincidence that the Dutch international suffered a dip in form after left-back Luke Shaw succumbed to injury.
The former Southampton defender was so attacking from a full back position that he was almost constantly on the overlap on United’s left flank. This released Depay infield where he could drift into pockets for space or create a shooting chance.
Whether the £25 million man has the attributes to play as United’s main centre forward remains to be seen but there is no doubt he is more dangerous when given license to occupy a central position.
His ability as a finisher also at least suggests that van Gaal should experiment with the idea. With United labouring in front of goal at present, it could not hurt to place his trust in Memphis for a couple of games.