Sitting only a point from the Premier League summit, it may seem a little churlish to lay criticism at Manchester United’s door, though the chorus of boos greeting manager Louis van Gaal’s latest exit down the Old Trafford tunnel would suggest otherwise.
United supporters appeared to be letting LVG know what they thought of a poor Champions League performance against PSV, the result of which leaves their chances of qualification in serious jeopardy.
Passing up a few clear-cut chances in the game’s opening spell proved mightily costly, as United’s penetrative capabilities tailed off alarmingly, enabling PSV to earn a 0-0 draw at the Theatre of Dreams (Yawns).
Although second in Group B, Van Gaal’s side are now 7/10 third favourites to qualify from it, as they they’ll probably have to win at leaders Wolfsburg on the final day to secure safe passage.
Three ex-Manchester United players-turned pundits in the studio couldn’t hide their distaste for the uninspiring nature of the display, and despite their league position, there are clearly issues with the style Van Gaal has adopted.
Here are five flaws that could be adding to the growing consensus United are becoming dull to watch.
The handbrake is jammed on, especially for the full-backs
Michael Owen was scathing in his analysis after the PSV stalemate: “Manchester United set up to be a defensive team. They are set up not to concede,” Owen told BT Sport. “None of the two midfielders contribute anything going forward,” he added. “The full-backs contribute nothing. They are a defending team with few attackers with no help from elsewhere. They should be having full-backs that contribute going forward.” It’s very difficult to disagree with the former United striker.
He doesn’t know his best team
Part of the problem this season is clearly down to consistency of selection. Injuries aside, the Dutchman has a habit of tinkering with his line-ups meaning many players are finding it hard to gain confidence. Players like Ander Herrera, Ashley Young, Matteo Darmian and Memphis Depay have all suffered in this way, while LVG nearly always makes his maximum three substitutions, sometimes starting at half-time.
The three-pronged attack is not fluid
The predominant formation used in modern football sees three forward players deployed and the finest example of this system is Barcelona’s mesmerising trio of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez. Although United (and every other team on the planet) aren’t blessed with the same calibre of player, the key component in this system is fluidity of movement to confuse opposition defences. Liverpool demonstrated the potential effect against Manchester City recently, yet United’s front three are too rigid in their positions.
Wayne Rooney is unsure of his role
United have only scored 19 goals in the league all season, the worst return in the top seven spots, with Arsenal unexpectedly the next shiest on 23. As mentioned above, the Red Devils lack an attacking identity under Van Gaal and no one is suffering more than their skipper. Rooney has been shifted about in the system from main striker, to left-forward through to number 10 – which is certainly his most suitable position these days.
The pace is too pedestrian
Mixed in to the whole caboodle is the general lack of zip in the Old Trafford outfit’s play. Even defender Chris Smalling – a rare shining light for Man Utd this season – openly admitted the team had moved the ball too slowly against their Dutch guests, who too easily curtailed the threat after those early lapses of concentration. The whole team need to step it up several gears going forward.
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