Resounding boos aren’t commonplace at Old Trafford. On the rare occasions they do make an appearance, they are usually reserved for refereeing decisions or opposing players.
So to hear the Manchester United fans greet the arrival of Marouane Fellaini in place of Anthony Martial with that kind of disdain was shocking, but it had been bubbling. At one point in the second half, the Stretford End could be heard chanting “we’re Man United, we want to attack”.
Louis van Gaal has faced criticism for his style of play in recent weeks, most notably from iconic former midfielder Paul Scholes. Three straight 0-0 draws had been frustrating to watch for United fans and, with a fourth looking an increasing certainty, the decision to remove their most potent attacking threat was seen as a backwards step.
In the end, the Dutchman was able to skirt the issue and brush aside questions about the supporters’ jeers. He felt comfortable that they would be pleased with a 1-0 win, after Wayne Rooney finished a fine team move in the 79th minute.
For the first time clear reservations about his methods arose from the club. Rather than face a fight against his fabled philosophy though, the 64-year-old should be praised.
His fearlessness in dealing with the club’s big names is admirable. Memphis Depay has been jettisoned after an ineffectual start to his United career. His replacement, Jesse Lingard, provided the delightful, volleyed first-time cross from which Rooney scored.
Martial turned in a rare blunt appearance as the side’s spearhead, so Van Gaal showed decisiveness to replace the Frenchman with Fellaini and switch to Plan B, which promoted a more promising passage of play.
Even the manager’s apparent blind faith in Rooney reaped rewards when the skipper moved level with Denis Law in the club’s all-time scoring charts.
Although the Iron Tulip cannot argue with the club’s lack of goal-scoring bite, he can take solace from their huge improvement as a defensive unit.
They have conceded just four goals in their last 10 outings. Three of those came in the Arsenal meltdown at the Emirates, which remains the only 90-minute match United have lost in that time.
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