It’s been another difficult week for Manchester United, and somewhat of a sour note on which to begin a new column. Much like my ‘A Week In Football’ column, which takes a look at the events of world football each week, focusing in particular on Premier League football, this feature will either give a round-up of the week’s action, or more likely, provide musings on a particular talking point. However, this column (which has provisionally been titled ‘A Week in United’; partly for cohesion and consistency, but more largely due to a lack of imagination) will focus purely on Manchester United. It is a shame then to start this exciting venture with criticism of the club I love, but given Monday night’s performance and the results that came before, it is impossible to avoid, and unlikely to be the last time either.
I suppose this blog could have focused on the consistently excellent Angel Di Maria, Marouane Fellaini’s return to grace, or the fighting spirit showed to claim a point and push for the win right at the death, but to do so would be avoiding the issues. Despite being brilliant for the England Under-21s over the international break, Luke Shaw was woeful. Caught desperately out of position for West Brom’s opener, Shaw was the worst of a bad bunch in what is on paper, Manchester United’s strongest back four. It was always going to take the young Englishman time to adjust to life at such a big club, but despite his age, Shaw is by no means a Premier League novice, and needs to quickly begin showing the form that earned him his move from Southampton this summer.
Shaw was not alone in disappointing of course, with Rojo looking uncertain on the ball, and the whole team, even the brilliant Di Maria, guilty of consistently handing over possession to the opposition. Whilst others can point to inexperience, finding fitness, or adapting to their new club as an excuse, Robin van Persie can offer no such defence. van Gaal’s captain for Holland, and one of the club’s most experienced, not to mention best players, has been largely anonymous this season. Average at best during the World Cup; van Persie has carried that form into the new Premier League season. He should be van Gaal’s representative on the pitch, van Persie should be leading the way for the new signings on the pitch, but instead, we are left questioning why his former national coach continues to start him in the side.
Many raised eyebrows were raised when Rooney was selected over van Persie, van Gaal’s captain for Holland, as the captain for Manchester United. Most assumed it was simply a matter of appeasing one of the club’s key players, and rewarding who was now Manchester United’s longest serving servant. However, it may be that there was more behind the decision. There are questions surrounding Rooney’s temperament, and his consistency, but one thing that he can never be accused of being is anonymous. The former Everton man’s presence was notably missed on Monday night, and United lacked a figure head up front until Falcao came off the bench.
The Colombian is coming back from almost a year out injured, yet he looked noticeably sharper, and more importantly hungrier than his Dutch teammate. It raises further doubts about Robin van Persie’s fitness. There were rumours circulating that the only reason United were in for Falcao in the first place was that the former Arsenal forward needed surgery, and whilst he has vehemently denied that is the case, watching his muted performances, it is impossible to wonder if van Persie is carrying some form of injury. Regardless of the reasons behind his poor performances, once Rooney returns from suspension, van Gaal will have a real decision on his hands as to whether to continue to start Robin van Persie.