Van Gaal must keep shackles off Man United despite Geordie draw

Entertainment returned to a Manchester United match during a mid-week sojourn to Newcastle. Paul Scholes may have managed to stay awake for the entire 90 minutes, but Louis van Gaal’s men still transpired to drop two points.

A pacy tempo, movement in the final third and three goals were the by-product of improved attacking intent from the Red Devils. However, at the other end of the pitch, their net rippled on three occasions too. It was the first time that has happened in a league game since the trip to Arsenal in October.

It seems the Old Trafford outfit cannot quite find the complete performance. They continue to crunch through the low gears in the race for the Champions League spots while their rivals slip smoothly into fourth as the home straight approaches.

Two points lie between Van Gaal’s side and current fourth-place occupiers Tottenham, whose game in hand on United comes against Leicester on Wednesday night.

Interestingly, the display at St James’ Park was enough to convince Ladbrokes to shorten United’s price for the top four.

They make the Red Devils 6/5 from 5/4, but the bookmaker still fancies all of the current inhabitants – Arsenal, the Foxes, Manchester City and Spurs – to retain those places come May, offering odds-on prices for each.

Having proved that he can send out a side that attacks in traditional Man United style, the question for Van Gaal is now: can the team remain defensively sound while doing so?

After conceding goals from a penalty and a deflected long-range strike against the Magpies, the Dutchman would be surely argue that they can, but with Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal to play in the next six league assignments, the Iron Tulip may be put off trying to prove it.

A quirky stat from United’s season shows that the side have won more games when there has been more than 2.5 total goals scored (six of 11) than when the tally has fallen below that line (three of 10). From those numbers, the 20-time top-flight champs are far better suited to open, attacking football.

Only time will tell whether Van Gaal uses that evidence to throw caution to the wind for the rest of the season. The club’s Champions League qualification could depend on him doing so.

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.

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Matt Wiggins

No idyllic sound comes close to leather on willow for Matt, whose previous experience includes stints with Spin Magazine and Surrey County Cricket Club. It's not just cricket that interests him though, with football, golf, tennis and any American sport not played on ice all high on his list of favourites.