William Wright discusses Manchester United’s continuing structural issues…
Another late show from Manchester United salvaged a point in the 1-1 draw at West Ham, but the game again saw Louis van Gaal’s side produce a flat performance.
Since Van Gaal became United manager, it’s probably fair to say they have only delivered one display which completely satisfied the Dutchman – a 3-0 home win over Hull City in December. Two, maybe, if you include the smash and grab raid at The Emirates.
Van Gaal was unhappy with the first half against West Ham and the introduction of Marouane Fellaini saw United adopt a more direct approach which eventually led to Daley Blind’s equaliser.
It led to Sam Allardyce labelling his opponents ‘long-ball United’ and there was definitely a contrast to how the Red Devils used to score late goals under Sir Alex Ferguson.
United would pin teams back in search of a goal and really raised the temperament under Ferguson. Yet that is something that doesn’t appear to be happening at the moment.
Certainly away from home, United aren’t looking as dangerous. They have scored just 15 goals in 12 away games this season. Of the other teams in the top eight in the Premier League, only Southampton have scored fewer. It is a contrast to leaders Chelsea, who have scored 29 goals on their travels.
It has meant that, even though United have lost only once in 17 games in all competitions, they have won just three times away from home in the league this season. And the first one of those didn’t arrive until November 22 at Arsenal.
Perhaps a key point to note about the three wins United have achieved away from Old Trafford is that all of them featured one of Robin van Persie or Radamel Falcao, rather than both.
Falcao was injured for the 2-1 win at Arsenal and was then an unused substitute when Van Persie scored both goals in a 2-1 success at Southampton. For the January win at Queens Park Rangers, it was Van Persie who was missing due to injury as Falcao started.
It is no slight on either player to suggest that United’s effectiveness away from home may benefit from one of those two strikers being left out of the starting line-up to help ensure they are still odds-on in the Premier League betting to finish in the top four.
There is a lack of pace about United’s team at the moment and that is something that Van Persie and Falcao are actively contributing to. The draw at Upton Park actually provided a perfect example of that, given the contrast between the two United frontmen and West Ham’s Diafra Sakho and Enner Valencia.
Removing either Van Persie or Falcao from the starting line-up away from home would allow United to introduce more pace into the team and pose more of a threat on the counter-attack.
Angel di Maria’s early performances for United after his move from Real Madrid were characterised by his ability to bring the ball forward at pace and quickly turn defence into attack. He hasn’t been doing that anywhere near as much lately and has typically been deployed in roles which limit his ability to be dynamic.
Similarly, maybe James Wilson - an inexperienced yet infinitely more vibrant forward - would also be worthy of consideration due to his speed and sharp movement. He would provide the kind of variation that would make United a much tougher proposition for opposing defences,
At the moment, it seems that, away from home, it is too comfortable for teams to defend against United as everything is in front of them and there is no pace in either movement of players or the ball. They are predictable, the offensive movement is stale and formulaic, and a reliance on two players who are clearly beyond their physical prime is hurting the team as a whole and blunting the deeper, creative players on whom so much money has been spent.