“I woke up to realise that it was still 0-0″
This is what I’ve begun to hear people say whenever I ask I fellow Man United fan if they watched the game. Even during evening hours, when the hunger for food eats you up, it’s this once great football club that helps you get rid of insomnia, allowing you to sleep before it’s your time to go to bed. And rightly so, the state of affairs right now is deplorable indeed.
It’s almost become a universal truth, thanks to memes and trolls that pertain to if you want to sleep, watch Manchester United play. It has become a regular occurrence and quickly unsettling United fans all over the world, who are very much into watching their side adhere to risk taking, ruthless and above all- entertaining football that lifts them off their seat.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign was one which knew how to amuse fans game after game, minute after minute, in a positive sense. But it hasn’t come close to anything like that, ever since the Great Scot retired and everything he achieved and built over a colossal 26-year period has gone up in flames in just two seasons, bringing the uncertainties of the beautiful game to the fore again.
The blandness or the underwhelming nature of United’s play is getting under the skin of United fans every time the side takes to the pitch, and we’ve seen this hit the pinnacle of the pessimism that has crept in a gradual manner at Old Trafford. The boos that rock Old Trafford and indicate the glimmer of unhappiness were heard when United drew 0-0 against PSV and when an awkward substitution against CSKA Moscow left the crowd enraged and frustrated.
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Louis van Gaal has claimed that United won’t win the Champions League this season, rather openly, but what is a far bigger matter of concern is qualification into the next round. Wolfsburg are the side they will be up against and dependence on the tie between PSV and CSKA Moscow will carry a part too, if they end up losing. And judging by the way it’s going, the task would be easier said than done.
The lurking frustrations are justified, without any shadow of a doubt. While Liverpool, who were plagued by inconsistencies and Brendan Rodgers’ failures have stepped up their game and have begun to play football that oozes energy and grace within just two months of Jurgen Klopp’s arrival.
United have spent around 16 months under van Gaal, only to witness football that embarrasses them. They’ve scored only six times in the last seven games, while Klopp’s men outclassed Chelsea 3-1, hammered City 4-1 away and dismantled Southampton 6-1, all in sublime fashion.
The genius in Louis van Gaal apparently isn’t working out and who is to blame? Van Gaal is, unlike during the Moyes era, when even the players weren’t touching their level of expectations. The system is too rigid, one which bounds players to chains and restricts them from losing the ball because if a side has possession, they are likely to score. And to counter this United mentality, teams defend deep and nullify any danger. But, van Gaal has faced criticism resembling this one already, specifically at Bayern Munich.
The Bavarians were also under the influence of playing unexciting football, under van Gaal. It was a similar playing style that involved keeping the ball as much as possible, but Bayern still won trophies somehow because it wasn’t Manchester United who were under the Iron Tulip. United have, or had, a knack for playing exciting football under Fergie but Bayern Munich never had that kind of history, when it comes to playing stylish football.
Despite winning accolades with the help of a style that was underwhelming, van Gaal had Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery, players with pace- players who had the courage to go past the opposition players and stretch the opposition. United don’t have that at the moment.
For those who haven’t noticed, there have been moments when flashes of resembling play have sparkled. Against West Ham, Juan Mata scuffed a shot in the box after Jesse Lingard, Marouane Fellaini and Anthony Martial all combined vibrantly with the help of clever movement and pace, only to rue the missed opportunity.
Against CSKA at home, United played the best football they have this season, only to see Lingard sky two opportunities that should have been buried. Against West Brom last month, United succeeded in taking advantage of the opportunities that fell to them, allowing a 2-0 win.
It’s a waiting game that is torturous and a one which will yield substantially, but one which van Gaal could have avoided, provided he signed pacy players such as Sadio Mane this past summer.
The David de Gea saga was playing on his mind and the need for a striker was enough to keep his mind off the need. He has no one to blame but himself for this, but if not for United’s rock solid defence that keeps the games scoreless, he could’ve been sacked already. We’ve got to give credit to van Gaal for making this young backline one of the best in the league, before criticising him for not winning games. Sir Alex once said: “Attack wins you games, defence wins you trophies.”
And although attack is something United have a lot of and before winning trophies, one has to win games, which United aren’t doing. The attack and the issues of pace and acceleration will be gotten rid of in January, hopefully, but patience right now is something United fans lack. Big time.
Handing opportunities to youngsters such as Jesse Lingard, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson and Guillermo Varela is something that suggests van Gaal is learning his lessons and desires to build the basis of a youthful United side.
But right now, it must be there. Being a United fan myself, I’m disillusioned with the style of football being preached, but it’s only a matter of months before things click more often than they have. Apart from that, van Gaal is building a strong foundation for the side that aspires to be great again.