I’m loathe to include the adjective ‘good’ in front of that because it rarely is the Monday after a Derby defeat.
Anyway, welcome to the first of my ramblings, the latest feature on Stretty News, where I reflect on the weekend’s match and give you my two pennies worth.
So we had the current champions on the ropes for most of the second half without a full quota, giving it a right go playing our brand of football, with our belief and fight til the end finally restored after its obituary was seemingly written last year. Compare that to last year, and it sounds an awful lot better doesn’t it? If yesterday’s circumstances hit us last year under Moyes, we would have imploded, Moyes slumped in his chair resigned to his fate, not knowing how to revive the situation.
We were on the front foot til the end and would surely have had our just rewards had it not been for two moments of sheer idiocy, more on that to come. It would have been easy to capitulate and roll over, this is OUR United now though, we had them panicking, resorting to rugby style kick for touch and territory tactics. Moral victories are pretty hollow at the moment and our evident progress is not being translated in the shape of points. No-one seems to be panicking a la Moyes, because Van Gaal has the pedigree and is clearly re-building. It will come though. Palace could be in for a hiding.
This felt like our time to capitalise on city’s fragile defence, missing their creativity in Silva, and three without a win in all comps. We were on the up and they were there for the taking. Which rendered Smalling’s crimes unbelieavbly naive. If there was a stupidity Richter Scale, he cleared it, it was off the scale. To block a keeper from kicking it? Just stand your ground, he must know the rules, no? And then to slide Milner, who was going down the line and hardly though on goal, what goes through the rational of a player when they know they are on a card to dive in with no significant danger on the horizon?
He was decent against Chelsea, but we all know Drogba is not the tour de force that tore up the Premier League once upon a time. Invariably, he has had too many rabbit in front of headlights moments, and you can see why when he only played 12 league games for Maidstone in the Isthmian League, and signed by United after a handful of Fulham appearances. Van Gaal spoke pre-match about the need for cool heads in the Derby cauldron, so for that to go out of the window in two amateurish incidents makes it even more staggering. He cost us the game, no-one can dispute that. We were in control until that, he gift-wrapped them the initiative and it was backs against the wall from there on in.
Smalling’s absence for the Palace game has exacerbated an already debilitating defensive injury list, with Rafael, Phil Jones, Jonny Evans and now Marcos Rojo all missing. It’s gutting for Rojo, as his acclimisation has been really smooth. He will be missed. Michael Carrick, with a timely return to action yesterday, was paired alongside rookie Paddy McNair for the second half, it is already the tenth different centre-back partnership in as many games. It’s ridiculous that a club of United’s stature has had to endure such instability in a critical area. It does Big Dave no good. There’s no continuity, and it affects team harmony. How many ladders has Van Gaal walked under to have such an absentee list? He really does have to address this as it is ceaseless at the minute and needs to stop, it’s hampering us. It does once more beg the question why a dominant centre-half of the ilk of Hummels was not properly targeted. Pique is playing second fiddle at Barcelona, Dortmund are languishing domestically, Pique or Hummels must be chased hell for leather this winter.
For the meantime, how about a pairing of Blackett and McNair? Two players, aside one Blackett blemish at Leicester, who have looked every inch part of our present and future fabrics, people who have come through the system and will give their all for the shirt. You can probably rely on these people more than yesterday’s sinner, and the other two ‘senior’ centre-backs are made out of blancmange, they cannot stay fit for a sustained period. With Carrick’s know-how and experience to guide them through any hitches, these guys deserve an extended run in front of De Gea, as frankly Evans, Smalling and Jones have not cut the mustard to date this campaign.
Shoutout to the Belgian afro, whose recent performances in attempting to resuscitate his United career have been spot on. In the opening exchanges yesterday he controlled the game alongside Blind, whose understated influence is bringing the Belgian out of his Moyes shell. He missed a guilt-edged header when unmarked but overall his performance was very worthy. Keep up the good work, Felli!
Where has the first year RvP gone? The man on a mission from Fergie’s swansong is now a mere mortal of that very self, his movement is still class but his chances in recent games have dried up. You have to look at the service for that, but RvP without the service is hugely ineffective. We saw the impetus that Falcao gave us at The Hawthorns. He has the spark to open up defences and play at our tempo. We need him on the pitch pronto rather than exchanging pleasantries with Fergie in a suit looking on from the director’s box, as he brings extra dynamism that we truly missed for most of yesterday, notwithstanding the urgency in the final quarter of the game.
Speaking of current off the boil players, the Argentine genius of Angel di Maria has dried up momentarily. Maybe all his initial riches came at once and we should have expected a lull. That said, he has come up against the two stellar right-backs in the division in Ivanovic and Zabaleta respectively in successive games. His start probably exceeded everyone’s hopes and expectations, he grew into yesterday’s game and got stronger which is encouraging. Palace should be just the tonic for him to rediscover that early season magic.
The captain also grew into the game after a flaky start where he was naturally blowing away the cobwebs from a month on the sidelines. If he had that opportunity again though he’d definitely shoot, the mesmerising run deserved to level the game, and I don’t know for the life of me why he didn’t pull the trigger. The captain is back though.
I’m going to sound all Neil Warnock for a moment, which is never a good thing, but I have to bring up Michael Oliver’s performance. So many inconsistencies yesterday. How was Joe Hart not sent off? It’s OK to square up to the ref if you’re England’s number 1 keeper is it? It’s OK for Clichy to rugby tackle Januzaj and escape punishment? It’s OK for Zabaleta to get away with niggly fouls? Yet Daley Blind’s first tackle is an automatic yellow? It took til the hour mark for their first booking, when Demichelis cynically scythed down Di Maria. But many had gone unpunished beforehand. He capped it all off by not giving Aguero a blatant penalty, that’s the inconsistency. He was absolutely correct to send off Smalling it must be said but some of the decisions were staggering on both sides. He has not helped his case after the Victor Moses tumble.
On a distinctly positive note. Big Dave, wow! What a performance (again). That brave save from Aguero low down was another to add to his growing catalogue this season, which includes Oviedo and Hazard. Bias maybe, but I genuinely believe we have the best keeper in the league, and we are blessed to still have him, I was convinced Barca would bid when Valdes ran down his contract. With all the defensive uncertainty in front of him, it puts his performances into greater context, he is world-class and has had to bail us out on numerous occasions. Long may this golden patch continue.
That’s all for this first Rowlesy rambling. Thanks for reading, I’ll catch up with you after the Palace game, where hopefully we’ll give them a good hiding.
Don’t forget, we have reasons to be positive.
I’d love to hear your feedback, anything you agree, don’t agree on, doesn’t matter, send your thoughts in the comments below.
If you carried on reading til the end and liked what you read you can find me on Twitter @RowlesPaul.