With the carrot of ensuring qualification to the Round of 16 and the stick of enduring consecutive defeats to a PSV side deemed significantly inferior, many expected a thrilling performance from Manchester United this evening.
Louis van Gaal selected a relatively exciting team with plenty of pace through Anthony Martial, Jesse Lingard and Memphis Depay, but the Red Devils quite simply failed to deliver.
Indeed, this scoreless draw was nothing short of a snooze fest as United aimlessly pumped the ball around midfield without fashioning any stand-out chances, whilst PSV convincingly held shape to ensure what could be a vital point away from home.
But we at Football Fancast view every game, be they a nil-nil or a ten-goal thriller, as an opportunity to learn something about those involved. Tonight’s match is no different and with that in mind, here are the three things we learned from United’s scoreless draw with PSV Eindhoven.
It’s an accusation that has been thrown at Manchester United many times already this season, but rang truer than ever in tonight’s Champions League clash.
The Red Devils enjoyed over 60% possession but manufactured few out-and-out chances, rarely testing the space behind PSV’s three-man defence or committing them with attempted take-ons. In fact, United finished up with just 5 successful dribbles, whilst the away side recorded a whopping 18.
Perhaps Louis van Gaal’s much self-prophesized footballing ideals worked well at Barcelona and Bayern Munich, but they seem so alien to a club famed for flying forwards, blistering counter-attacks and relentless attacking play under Sir Alex Ferguson.
There have been many displays of this variety since the Dutchman took the helm two summers ago, but this scoreless draw felt particularly symptomatic. Upon the final whistle, LVG received a particularly loud and deserving chorus of boos from the Old Trafford faithful.
It was not a good evening for any of Manchester United’s attackers but Memphis Depay was particularly disappointing.
Returning to a club he scored 28 goals for last season, leading them to an Eredivisie title whilst claiming the division’s Golden Boot, tonight was a fantastic chance for the 21-year-old to start coming good on his reputation as ‘the Dutch Cristiano Ronaldo’.
Instead, Depay failed to record a single successful dribble as his former team-mates predicted his repetitive ploy of looking to cut inside and shoot at every opportunity. Eventually, United’s £25million summer signing was subbed off after just 58 minutes.
Academy graduate Jesse Lingard, although failing to have a significant impact, was much busier than the Dutch international, recording four efforts at goal, one successful dribble, one tackle and one interception.
Surprisingly, considering one cost United a small fortune and the other cost them absolutely nothing, Lingard’s future at Old Trafford is looking a lot brighter than Depay’s at the minute.
Louis van Gaal has often claimed that no player is exempt from the punishment of getting dropped for poor performances, but that doesn’t seem to apply to captain Wayne Rooney.
The England international has been nothing short of abject this season, finding just two goals in eleven Premier League appearances and seven across all competitions, yet was instantly reinstated into United’s starting line-up for tonight’s game after missing Saturday’s 2-1 win over Watford with an injury.
The 30-year-old’s inclusion came at the expense of the consistently excellent Juan Mata but his performance certainly didn’t justify it. Despite starting in his apparently preferred No.10 role, Rooney had just one shot at goal and didn’t create a single chance in an entire ninety minutes.
Mata, meanwhile, who has been involved in the most goals of any United player since the turn of 2015, was issued nothing more than a six-minute substitute berth.
Van Gaal will surely insist that there is no favouritism in his selections but clearly Rooney is being given preferential treatment. For his sake and Rooney’s, the United skipper needs to be dropped for their next match.