Performances and lack of goals and creativity aside, Manchester United aren’t doing too bad. Louis van Gaal’s side sit third in the table, just one point off top spot and qualification into the last 16 of the Champions League is still in their own hands.
So, what’s the problem? It’s the performances, lack of goals and creativity, obviously. United are one of Europe’s elite, famed for fast-paced and incisive football. If you’re a fan of poorly crafted metaphors, we used to be the elegant red Ferrari, blowing all of the competition away. And looking good doing it. But recently they’ve resembled a Honda estate. Not terribly fast or exciting, but getting the job done. Most of the time.
But for Reds fans, merely getting the job done is not enough. Fans want to be entertained. Hence the persistent chants of “Attack, Attack, Attack.” Last week’s games proved this. Bore draws against PSV and Leicester, while hard fought, were not what fans were hoping for. Even though we scored against Leicester, we never really looked like scoring. On the flip side Leicester, like they have all season, played at a quick pace and looked threatening. Particularly in the first half. Jamie Vardy’s record-breaking opener was particularly impressive, a rapid breakaway from a United corner. Quick play, focusing on scoring rather than keeping the ball. It even prompted Gary Neville to claim: “Manchester United used to counter attack like that.”
It wasn’t all bad though. United commanded a whopping 69% of the possession. Usually that would be a cracking statistic to shout about. But now all it seems to do is highlight how boring this new team can be. They have the ball. Lots of it. Yet do very little with it. Of the top four teams in the Premier League, United have created the least amount of chances with 107. Arsenal meanwhile have created 194, City 188 and Leicester 149. We’ve also scored the least amount of goals in the top four. Perhaps it’s time for United to focus more on making more important, penetrating passes, than just the sheer number of passes. Possession is not always nine-tenths of the law.
Despite the apparent doom and gloom, please do not mistake these criticisms as a call for Van Gaal to be axed. Far from it. The Dutchman has rebuilt United after the less than successful tenure of David Moyes. And his pragmatic approach has garnered some results. The Red Devils are now a hard outfit to break down, having conceded just ten goals this term, giving them the best defence in the league. And I’m sure if United were crowned champions come May, any complaints would soon be forgotten.
But it’s hard to see that happening. And should United be building a title challenge based solely on being hard to break down? Is that really what United are about? I don’t think so. Under Sir Alex Ferguson, the mentality was “you score two, we’ll score three”. It was exciting. It was successful. It was United. And what many United fans are asking for, is that Van Gaal adopts an approach similar to this. Entertain the masses with fast attacking football, with less of a focus on possession and pragmatism. And why not start against West Ham?