Why are Manchester United struggling to grasp a Champions League place?

From 1993 through to 2011 (minus a couple of barren years here and there) Manchester United were the best team in England, you could even go as far as in saying that they were also the best team in Europe.

Rival supporters at every club flocked to see us play at the same time as hating us, whilst every club knew they had to play at least 120% to beat Fergie’s teams, and that was at home – beating Man Utd at Old Trafford came at odds longer than winning the Euro millions rollover at times. They challenged for the title every year and were also serious contenders every year for the Champions League, and at the same time as admitting that winning 2 champions leagues is a brilliant achievement, Fergie will rue 2001, 2007 and in particular 2010 – as 3 golden opportunities to win the greatest prize in European football once again.

Now Manchester United are not even the 4th best team in England. You could also think of at least 10 clubs in Europe who are playing better football week in week out than the supposed ‘biggest team in the world’.

Being a Manchester United fan, I have an incredible biased view towards them in any discussion that involves them, but over the last 18-20 months I have been having arguments with myself on whether its worth saying anything, there is only so much of the ‘we’ll get better’ that I can use.

Monday mornings are meant to be spent chatting to the football fans in the office about how your team beat theirs, or how their team played terribly and yours were so good you watched Match of the Day at 11pm and 7am. I haven’t wanted to watch a replay of Match of the Day for months, that’s how bad I think we have become. Moyes started the fire whilst LVG is the blind man trying to put it out.

However, I do feel that there has been some improvements under LVG:

1. We now have the ball for long periods of the game, and have dominated most of the teams we have faced this season in possession.

2. We’ve stopped being really really shit, which we were last season.

3. Some of our better performances have been against the so called big clubs – Chelsea (H), Man City (A – 2nd Half), Liverpool (A), Tottenham (A – 1st Half).

4. We’ve gotten rid of some players who’s performances last season were more often than not – terrible.

5. We’ve brought some big names and spent big money.

But problems remain:

1. We have pointless possession for long periods of the game, only passing backwards and sideways and totally ignoring our strikers most of the time.

2. We’ve gone from bad performance to even worse performance on so many occasions this season its frightening, I wonder whether the players watch the replays of the matches?

3. We’ve gone away to teams we should really be beating and not looked like scoring let alone winning (no offense to Sunderland, Burnley, Leicester, West Brom, Swansea, Tottenham, Stoke and West Ham fans).

4. Our so called ‘World Class’ players haven’t performed, or have been played in too many different positions or systems.

5. We avoided strengthening visibly weak areas in the team that needed improvement.

6. Our build up play is too slow

7. We are prone to counter-attacks which 9 times out of 10 result in goals.

8. Goals we concede are often from lapses of concentration and mistakes.

9. We are too rigid and don’t take any risks.

10. Louis van Gaal’s philosophy is so unclear to me, I am starting to wonder whether its just about boring possession based football where you don’t take any shots at the oppositions goal?

Maybe this is what I am going to have to get used to, mediocre football? Many people would say its what I deserve anyway, growing up in Milton Keynes and supporting Manchester United annoys a lot of people and by not being a season ticket holder – many reds might feel annoyed that I’m even blogging about it in the first place.

Louis van Gaal said the 1-0 win away at Newcastle was our best away performance of the season, he would – because we didnt concede, had 65% possession and won. That’s only the 2nd time we’ve done that away from home this season, we sit 4th after a tough away game.

Reading the verdicts of the journalists – (who are cherishing our torrid form as the figures for their websites have never been higher) – I usually question why they are being so harsh, so high maintenance, but last night came along and suddenly I was ready to agree with any over the top statement they were willing to make – my eyes were finally opened – fully. We are not playing attractive football, we are not showing any sign that we will start winning matches by a comfortable distance anytime soon and we are not improving either.

The best thing about this is that it can only get better – their play can only become quicker, more attractive and gain the fluidity they so desperately need, plus players like Angel Di Maria and Robin van Persie can’t perform much worse at the moment for players of their stature, so something should click soon, hopefully bringing more goals to the team. The players need to reveal an identity – one that is positive, one that outscores opponents and showcases the best football in the country, not some of the most boring. Yes we’re used to exciting 4-4-2, and thats what we’ve been calling for – but surely as long as we start playing nice exciting creative football, the critics will pipe down.

I have been hoping for this for a few weeks now though. Arsenal always make the Champions League, don’t they? Surely they’re guaranteed one of the 2 spaces, and it merely comes down to a team not playing well and a team who are maybe playing too well. With Liverpool playing with the same intensity that so nearly got them the title last year, they look like a shadow of the team who lost 3-0 at Old Trafford, although they are bound to drop some points between now and the end of the season, will they drop more than us? Two defeats in 21 games is great, but if Monopoly only allows 2 ‘get out of jail free’ cards, our luck must be running out soon?

Come May 24th at 5pm – we will hopefully secure a place in the Champions League and aslong as we’re guaranteed it, I’d take it being tense because thats what football is all about, ideally my headline that evening would be – ‘Man United snatch 4th place on goal difference after Gerrard scored horrific own goal’.

All dreams aside, the next 10 weeks are very important in deciding whether we go for Gareth Bale or Stewart Downing in the summer and I still have an dab of confidence to say we will do it – but I don’t think it will be pretty. Not for a while.

All words by Zak Jessup. You can also submit an article to Stretty News.

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