It feels like we have all been echoing the same sentiments all season. ‘The performances will pick up and we’ll start smashing opponents.’ It’s now March and it’s been a while since Manchester United did that for an entire 90 minutes.
Under Louis van Gaal we have had good halves here and there. Inconsistent form throughout the first half of the 2014/15 campaign was almost excused by an array of injury concerns affecting the squad, especially defensively, when David de Gea would have a different back 3, or 4, in front of him.
We’re still picking up knocks here and there but it’s not as bad. Michael Carrick is returning after a month in the treatment room and may feature against his boyhood club Newcastle. I’d like to think so, in all honesty, moving Daly Blind into a left back role with Marcos Rojo slotting back into centre half alongside Phil Jones.
Evans is having a horrid two seasons and looks increasingly like a player that could only blossom under the guidance of Sir Alex. Shame. This is a player that once looked set to replace Nemanja Vidic but now he looks nothing of the sort.
Last weekend against Sunderland a lot of the post match take – positive chatter, at least – was about Chris Smalling. Without taking anything away from this performance, Evans lacks in so much confidence he made the England international look like a world-class defender. And that he is not.
Ander Herrera continues to look the dog’s bollocks. Fans have began to idolise the Spanish midfielder and while his recent performances have been smokin’ hot, the 25-year-old needs to continue proving his worth unless he wants another spell on the bench.
Carrick returning puts someone’s starting role in doubt and before his most recent injury it was Herrera that saw the bench more often than not. However, it could easily be Carrick lite, I mean Blind’s time this time round. The England international is unlikely to start a game yet, mind.
“I think it is too early for Michael Carrick,” added van Gaal. “He trained now in three training sessions with us. Because of the three players I didn’t bring with us [against Sunderland], he was in the 18 and I took a risk with that. As a substitute, you can play 20 minutes, which he can do. He has the experience so I can make an exception. He is also a captain, so I can make an exception but it is not often I do that.”
There are a lot of question marks over Angel Di Maria’s head. I have been very critical in recent weeks and hope sometime in the near future to be eating my words. However, it looks unlikely on recent form and if he had performed in the first half versus Sunderland, we would have done serious damaged.
Does Adnan Januzaj deserve a start over the Argentine? Think you know my response to that already.
The fact we’re away to Newcastle and our form on the road has been nothing short of atrocious, van Gaal could easily set up to be even more conservative than usual. It’s not necessarily a bad thing and I personally enjoy watching a team that focuses on keeping possession but it would be nice to see us attack with more zip.
At least Wayne Rooney is willing to take risks when played further forward and that makes a huge difference. Radamel Falcao is most likely to feature alongside our captain, although I would not rule out Marouane Fellaini starting a few away encounters for the sake of physicality.
It may be an ugly tactic and something a lot won’t describe as ‘the United way’ but it has been nothing short of effective. Fellaini is a nuisance for defenders to compete with and he’s the last player they want to see invading the box territory, therefore, in games we’re struggling to find a goal this is something van Gaal should and will take advantage of.
All in all, we really need to find form in the league and FA Cup this month. After Newcastle it’s Arsenal in the cup, then Spurs and Liverpool who will both be fighting for top four as much as United. Our season needs to start now.
Prediction: Newcastle 1-2 United