The frustration I felt watching United last night was reminiscent of those horrible claw crane machines, where you have to manoeuvre the claw to pick up a toy and as it approaches the shute, the claw somehow loses its grip and the toy falls short of its goal.
Even the generous award of a penalty by referee Anthony Taylor could not get us back into the game, as Van Persie fluffed his lines and gave a very good Myhill the chance to parry his shot away. Two months out and I wonder who gave penalty duties to van Persie.
As with Van Gaal last week and his bizarre comments that he knew his players were not up for the fight against Everton during the warm up, I did not yelp with joy when the penalty was given. I knew in my gut, as did van Gaal last week, that we would not score; it was back to that familiar story we’ve seen all too often this season – possession without penetration.
Pulis is well known for his adroit tactics and his tall, defiant defenses. Van Gaal didn’t really have any answers, other than throwing on Di Maria and Falcao, who in the past three or four games have added nothing to the cause. Oh for Chicharito to return!
Di Maria was shocking. Cross after cross either missed its target or skewed wildly away from the waiting players. That was when he was not being bundled to the ground. He did have one decent shot at goal that Myhill tipped over, but for £60m, we should expect far more. Falcao barely touched the ball in the cruel ten minutes he had to try to affect a game that seemed to be drifting away once Brunt sent his free kick towards De Gea, deflected the opposite way by the hip of Olsen (a free kick awarded for a silly and needless foul by McNair on our former stalwart Darren Fletcher).
From such a strong position to stretch ahead of Liverpool in our rat race to fourth, and even a chance to go second, to now barely making it to the finish line. It has been a harrowing three weeks. This is the first time in eight years we have failed to score in three successive matches, not a great time to achieve such a shocking stat.
West Brom had nothing much to offer but a motorway pile up of busses, but we also did not have the tactics or skill to break it down. It took Van Gaal forty five minutes to realize that Fellaini was the only player tall enough to receive any passes into the box, and sent van Persie so deep, he almost drowned.
Rooney was left to try to spray passes; his efforts at keeping attacks flowing came to nothing. Then there was the master stroke of Young going to left back and the removal of the overlapping Blind, negating any chance of any half decent crosses entering the fray. The left was now virtually vacant of any danger at the feet of Di Maria.
Basically, Van Gaal had no answers but to continue to play a passing game across and back that frustrated the fans and, I presume, the players. There were no real incisive passes coming from Mata or Herrera, and Valencia once again showed his inability to cross on the run. This is not our way. United is an attacking team, a team with bottle, playing rock and roll football that took the Premier League by storm. Now we are a whispering breeze that ripples the surface of the turf we play on.
To me, it doesn’t seem to matter who we might sign in the summer if Van Gaal’s tactics are slow build ups that allow teams to regroup, and the continual use of ineffective substitutes. As astute and brilliant as Van Gaal was in his day, maybe United need a manager more in tune with the new dynamics of twenty first century football, or it seems we will always be stuck in the race for fourth.
Our recent games against Liverpool and City should have been edifying moments for Van Gaal to realize what United is all about. The only change I can see to that system was the poorly timed injury to Michael Carrick. With a midfield that lacked creativity and pace, I was left me wondering why such a budding talent as Andreas Pereira, recently lauded by Juventus and PSG, and just signed on a new three year deal, was sat on the bench.
By the way, if English teams do poorly next season in the Champion’s League or Europa, we could lose our fourth place spot to Italy, so only the top three will make it to the Champions League. Then what?