When it comes to writing football features, I’ve been taught to focus on specifics. A certain player for instance, or competition. But after United’s demolition at the hands of Arsenal last week, it seems only right to pick through the rubble and see what went wrong. And perhaps why it was a long time coming.
SHAKEN UP AT THE BACK
Not long ago I wrote a piece praising the Red Devils’ defence, and I’m not about to go all turncoat on proceedings. Centrally, I still trust Blind and Smalling (despite Blind’s shaky performance against the pace of Sanchez and friends). It’s the wide-men at the back that are causing some to worry. Since Luke Shaw’s injury, Louis van Gaal has toyed with a few full backs, with Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young the main contenders. But a side that should be going for trophies and titles can’t rely on players who are naturally wingers to put on a consistent defensive display, particularly against a side as potent in attack as Arsenal. Non-defenders playing in defence is just one reason why a humbling defeat has been in the works.
PACE VS PRECISION
If you were to pick a central midfield pairing who you could rely on to provide experience, pin-point passing and a ‘Rolls Royce’ style display, Carrick and Schweinsteiger would surely be high on the list. But young they are not. Let’s face it, going up against an attacking force containing the likes of Walcott, Sanchez and Ramsey, the ‘old-guard’ were always going to struggle. Now, I am by no means claiming we should outright drop Carrick and Schweinsteiger, but perhaps pairing one of them with the more combative Morgan Schneiderlin would make more sense, more often. The Frenchman has committed a total of 16 fouls in the league this season. The more cynical amongst us might even suggest that more ‘nitty-gritty’ aspect was missing from United’s midfield against the Gunners. A Rolls Royce looks lovely, but sometimes you just need a rugged 4×4 to do the things the more classy vehicle can’t.
JUST WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO WAYNE?
Anthony Martial has been brilliant. He’s scored goals, worried defenders and hasn’t been afraid to fly forward. All of his qualities have been magnified when playing with the extremely out of form Wayne Rooney. Just one goal and no assists in seven league appearances this season is testament to how much the captain has struggled. Squawka, the online football statisticians, also attribute Rooney a performance score of just 105, one of the lowest of United’s attackers. All players have dips in form. Apologies for the cliché, but it really is just part of the game. What is worrying though is the manager’s reluctance to drop his captain. He could call it resting him if it makes everyone feel better. Rooney in his current form carries next to no threat, though the lack of natural strikers does make dropping him difficult. On a number of occasions against the Gunners, young Martial was fighting a war on his own. Maybe bringing Rooney on during a match might help up his game. One thing’s for sure though, starting him at the minute isn’t helping anyone.
Admittedly, this post might look like one disillusioned fan, who was happy the week before, venting after one defeat. And it sort of is. But as a United fan I always look on the bright side of life. The Red Devils have been far from perfect this season but a humiliating loss might be the ‘wake up and smell the coffee’ moment to really get the players going.
October is a massive month for the club with a number of tricky fixtures so identifying key weaknesses and fixing them is the key to success. Hopefully.