Manchester United serving old troubles in new bottle
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Manchester United serving old troubles in new bottle

As far as knee-jerk reactions go, Manchester United seem to be making a habit of them.

football Updated: Sep 01, 2015 01:42 IST
Govindan Kishwar
Govindan Kishwar
Hindustan Times
Manchester United,English Premier League,Alex Ferguson
Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal, right, Wayne Rooney, centre, and Memphis Depay during a training session prior to the Champions League play-off encounter against Club Brugge. (Reuters Photo)

As far as knee-jerk reactions go, Manchester United seem to be making a habit of them. David Moyes, appointed as the successor to Sir Alex Ferguson in 2013, failed to sign a player in the summer transfer window of 2013, with many questioning his ability to attract high profile players. Marouane Fellaini, his best player during his Everton days, was expected to sign for the Red Devils.

A clause in his contract became the talking point. Before the July 31, 2013, Fellaini’s release clause stood at 23 million pounds, a fee United considered too high for the Belgian midfielder. Alas, having made no signings in the window, in the final hours of deadline day 2013, Untied ended up paying 27 million for Fellaini. He failed to score all season, lost his place in the team and was deemed a flop.

David Moyes was sacked with four games of the 2013-2014 season left, and Louis van Gaal was appointed as his successor in the off season. Van Gaal too, made a signing both he and the club’s bookkeepers would come to regret, Angel di Maria. The Argentine signed for a British record 60 million pounds, became unsettled at the club, and left for Paris Saint-Germain a year later for a loss of 14 million pounds. Falcao came on loan from Monaco for a reported fee of 16 million pounds, but United didn’t take up the option to buy him, with the Colombian having scored just four goals for the club all season. All three signings had one thing in common, a string of lackluster performances leading to a dip into the transfer market. Felllaini has recovered under van Gaal, but will always be a squad player for United.

Time for round three then, with reports in the aftermath of Sunday’s 1-2 loss to Swansea saying United had agreed to pay 36 million pounds to Monaco for French striker Anthony Martial, despite van Gaal saying after the match he would not dip into the transfer market to solve their attacking issues.

The United attack lacked bite against Swansea, and Wayne Rooney’s lack of pace to lead the line (a talking point for months now) was under the scanner again. The England and United skipper, 30 in October, has also been called out on being too old. Martial has pace, is 19-years-old, and is considered to be one of the brightest young strikers to come out of France since Thierry Henry. Déjà vu anyone?

What is interesting though, is why van Gaal is so insistent on playing his rigid, possession based football, which has failed to impress fans and is borderline unbearable to watch at times.

United enjoyed 64% of possession, but managed only four shots on target, Swansea managed the same with a fraction of the possession. Despite their dominance, the ball just didn’t move forward quickly enough, and Daley Blind, a defensive midfielder who is being played in the heart of defense for his passing ability---under van Gaal’s ‘process’ and ‘philosophy’ of building from the back--- failed to connect with the midfield.

United’s defense was yet to concede in the league after three games ahead of the Swansea game, but they had not faced forwards as direct as Bafetimbi Gomis and Andre Ayew yet, who both combined superbly for the Swans’ winner.

Juan Mata, another ‘number 10’ being played out of position, fired Luke Shaw's teasing cross into the roof of the net in the 48th for United, before a change to a 4-4-2 helped Swansea take control.

Andre Ayew restored parity with a headed effort 13 minutes later before Bafetimbi Gomis maintained his superb form with a low shot five minutes later as the Welsh side registered their third successive 2-1 league victory over United.

Van Gaal’s side failed to respond, and bringing on holding midfielder Michael Carrick for Morgan Schneiderlin, in the 70th minute with the team desperate for pace was a case in point at just how confused the Dutchman seems to be in finding the right mix with the batch of players he has at his disposal.

Should Martial arrive, and be a part of the starting XI, Wayne Rooney should be moved into midfield, with the Frenchman’s pace complementing the attack minded runs of Memphis Depay. Defender Marcos Rojo too---still unfit after playing in the copa America and missing preaseaon--- will be a welcome return to the defense.

United face Liverpool on the 12th of September after the international break and it will be the first real test for United, hence whatever van Gaals ‘process’ is, it needs to be completed, and fast.

First Published: Aug 31, 2015 21:58 IST