That had been coming, let’s face it.
For weeks on end, despite getting results, we have been escaping rude awakenings by the skin of our teeth and keeping Lady Luck onside by just about doing enough in games. We have pushed the boundaries in terms of riding our luck in recent weeks, some may argue all season. Be it the opposition spurning their chances, David De Gea repelling everything thrown at him or getting the rub of the green, the overall lack of conviction in our play was going to catch up with us eventually. The manner in which we have been playing recently is not sustainable if we want top 4 in any way, shape or form.
This reality check may well have come at a very good time. This sterile domination is in areas that the defence can get the hammocks and cigars out. We have become mechanical, stats obsessed, pedestrian and risk less. By all accounts, it was a better showing on Saturday, and the football played for our goal just shows that the ‘United way’ has not been permanently consigned to the archives or the scrap heap. As a collective, we are all yearning for our players to just have an effing go at teams! The great United teams were rewarded from the risks they took. You just hope the showing on Saturday, which was better, goes a long way to banishing the turgidity from our play. We need that element of fearless mentality back in our game, to grab the game by the bollocks and say ‘we are United, this is how we are doing it’. The irony of a better performance and the wrong result. Football, eh?
In truth, we got away with not that much collateral damage this weekend. Arsenal leapfrogged us, but that has always been within the realms of possibility- top 4 is their standard currency until Wenger goes. Big Sam threw a similarly frustrating spanner in Spurs’ work as he did ours. The dippers won. I know… Their win meant Southampton did not get the positive result to consign us to the dreaded Europa League 5th spot. I think Southampton have reached their zenith for this season and they will gradually slide away, which made their result on Sunday not ideal. It would have been nice for them to dent any Kopite hope, but their result ensured we still have 4th place in our own hands, something we all feared would not be the case after our Welsh woe.
There was yet another lusterless showing in the striking department. Only THREE shots out of 18 were on target at Swansea. For elite players that is wholly unacceptable, we need the ruthlessness in our game back.
After Falcao’s vanilla performance at Preston added more compelling evidence for United not to blow megabucks for his dwindling services, Robin Van Persie failed to justify his automatic recall to the side. Whereas speed of foot is a natural commodity lost over time, even to the best of players, speed of mind is something that remains in a player’s arsenal regardless of any physical deterioration. Teddy Sheringham was the prime example of excelling into his later years because he was one step ahead everyone else. But watching Van Persie in recent weeks, even the sharpness of his link up, movement and his deadly finishing is a second-rate mimicry of the Van Persie who arrived possessed and hungry to win that elusive winner’s medal.
The striking department could be just as big an Achilles heel to solve as any other area in the summer: If I had my last pound, and my betting record is shambolic, even I would say Radamel Falcao will be pitching his case to other teams when the time for negotiations comes around. Van Persie has to do a lot more to convince us lot that his best days are not behind him. I look at the way we press (or should) from the front, it looks like a token gesture with him. Is he still hungry? Does he still fancy it? Has he rest on his laurels after reaching his ultimate goal in Fergie’s swansong? Hopefully I am calling his last rites prematurely here, otherwise we will have a conundrum to solve this summer.
He left the Liberty on crutches, which could prove to be a major blessing in disguise currently. It will force Van Gaal to shelve any lingering plans to revert Rooney into that dreaded midfield role. Falcao will also have a reprieve, and a last chance to convince us and, more importantly, the men in suits that he merits a longer spell at Old Trafford. Unleash him with Rooney up top, di Maria on the right, Young on the left with Blind and Herrera continuing their promising partnership in the middle. How does that sound? We will play to Falcao’s strengths with crosses into the box, di Maria in his proper position and two wingers taking on the full-backs. The ‘United’ way.
The thing we can take from this weekend is that we can only get better and Champions League qualification is still ours to control and in our grasp. Even when we have been well below the standards you expect of a United side, we have not been losing that many games, meaning that once we click we will be a force to be reckoned with and the reservations about top 4 will not last long. We can obviously improve from our showings in recent weeks and only get better. Whereas the chasing pack who have been making up ground and been in good form may well have already had their moment in the sun. If and when we sort out our form, we will achieve top 4 this season. The race for fourth will probably go right to the wire, but it is not just us who will slip up along the way, everyone will experience hiccups until the death.
The next two fixtures are certainly winnable, facing North East rivals Sunderland at OT and Newcastle away. Nothing is ever decided in February so it should definitely not be a case of all doom and gloom after one defeat. Hopefully it will stand us in good stead for the coming games. I’d rather us suffer a minor bump now and be on our mettle for the crunch games, than getting away with it and papering over the cracks because we were simply getting through games then the proverbial hitting the fan in the big games when it’s too late.
Things will look a whole lot rosier if we get back to winning ways at home to Sunderland and if/when the dippers drop points at home to city won’t they?
The top 4 place is still in our possession, it is up to us to make it our own, not rely on other teams slipping up like this weekend.
It’s time to respond reds.