This weekend’s match against Leicester City offered much encouragement. The first half saw Van Gaal revert to the flat back four with the diamond midfield, easily the system that suits the current squad, a work-in-progress, best. Di Maria and Januzaj in the midfield offer flexibility to run through the middle or go out wide, the fullbacks to rampage forward from deep and leaves two attackers up top, with the two aforementioned players running at defenders with momentum.
United attacked the game with authority and the fury of a team with a point to prove, a team who haven’t won a league game since Boxing Day, a depressing statistic for one of the most expensively assembled squads in the history of English football. The standout though was not one of United’s high priced attacking stars but instead one of the United’s unheralded summer signings, Daley Blind.
Blind was one of United’s cheaper signings of the last few years, weighing in at a paltry £13.75 million (spot the sarcasm). Still, his performances have meant in today’s market he’s been a bigger bargain than a furniture shop closing down sale during flood season. Blind, despite having an ice cool temperament offers drive and purpose in front of the defence as well as a sharp bite into the tackle. Even more imperative to a successfully functioning team though, Blind uses his brain. It is something a United’s bumbling defenders would do well to learn. The Dutchman has tremendous anticipation and an eye for a pass that seems to be overlooked by most pundits who spend time waxing lyrical about Nemanja Matic for doing arguably less.
In comparison to some of his team mates at times Blind seems a player so clever his boots have a PhD from Cambridge. In defence and in attack Blind has likely earned himself a wage rise already.
However the win over Leicester or the brilliant Blind is should not paper over the visible cracks in the team. Van Gaal’s decision making still baffles, with the Ander Herrera, a man who has always improved the team every time he has played was left out again while he persisted with Rooney in midfield. That is an experiment that looks more like a failure with each appearance, while not quite a centre forward anymore due to a lack of pace and patience, Rooney still makes a quality number 10. His ability to bully defenders with relentless pressing and that Northern working class aggression combined with his goals and ability to play clever short passes is completely lost in a deep midfield role.
Playing further forward also curbs Rooney’s extravagances, most glaringly his continually failed attempts to emulate Paul Scholes by spanking 60-70 yard cross field balls to nowhere like some sort of endeavour to portray philosophical nihilism via the medium of football. Furthermore Valencia at rightback still looks like a man too scared to play amputating the team’s right arm and Jones looks incapable of utilizing any sort of thought pattern that doesn’t involve panicking diving in and gurning.
There was a poor second half too. Rather than looking to relentlessly go after a Leicester team on the brink of being TKO’ed and renew the team’s confidence and momentum, United reverted back to the coma inducing slow, methodical sideways and backward passing. That switch off not only stopped the team scoring the 5 or 6 goals they were clearly capable of and erase memories of the 5-3 high farce earlier in the season, it prevented the team keeping a clean sheet which should always be the target with a defence in its embryonic stage. Much like the permanent state of Manchester city centre, United are a team under construction.
Still let’s all appreciate the handsome and wonderful Daley Blind, a superb footballer who will be key part of the next successful United team.