Manchester United suffered their 3rd consecutive defeat in the Premier League to the hands of West Bromwich Albion. Tony Pulis set up his side to frustrate United and it was a game plan that his players utilised to perfection. United looked bereft of ideas, United dominated possession but too much of their passing was sideways and backwards which proved easy to defend against. Boaz Myhill produced a phenomenal display to deny United and in particular Robin Van Persie, who missed a penalty and couldn’t get the better of Myhill on numerous occasions. United are stumbling towards the Champions League and it is becoming growingly obvious that teams have conjured up a game plan to halt United’s recent renaissance. Here are some talking points from Saturday’s clash:
United too predictable
When United were swatting the likes of Tottenham, Liverpool and Manchester City away, United’s football had purpose and a swagger. After suffering three defeats in a row and failing to trouble the scorers on all three occasions, United have fallen back into the needless pedestrian possession philosophy. Yet again, United topped the possession charts and most completed passes, ultimately that doesn’t win you football matches. United’s football against WBA needed an injection of pace, Carrick’s absence was again well documented, three games without the former Tottenham man have coincided with three straight defeats. The combination play of Herrera, Valencia and Mata was nullified and West Brom seemed comfortable soaking up United’s timid pressure. Daley Blind and Ashley Young struggled to impose themselves as a partnership on the game. Maraoune Fellaini endured another frustrating afternoon. In order for United’s football to flourish once again, Carrick’s return from injury would be a timely boost for a bunch of players that seem completely lost without the star midfielders calmness and guidance.
Major summer upheaval required
In order for Manchester United to return to the promise land once again a major summer upheaval is required. The likes of Ashley Young, Maraoune Fellaini and Antonio Valencia have all been praised for their significant improvements under Van Gaal. However the likes of Fellaini, Young and Valencia are not going to be match winners against the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Chelsea and Bayern Munich. In order for United to return amongst the elite, Van Gaal may have to be ruthless in this forthcoming transfer window. A return to the Champions League will give United the luxury of offering European Football to the household names. Van Gaal will be eager to replicate Jose Mourinho’s transfer business last summer, identifying transfer targets early and getting them signed early so they can settle and get an established pre-season under their belts. If Van Gaal manages to get United over the line and clinch a return to the Champions League than that is target achieved in season one. However major surgery is still required within this United crop as many of the current players are not Manchester United class.
Striking area proving problematic
With Michael Carrick being ruled out, Wayne Rooney was again deployed in a deep midfielder positon. This allowed Robin Van Persie to return to the side after overcoming his injury setback, Van Persie looked sharp and made some intelligent runs. However, Van Persie was never blessed with blistering pace, Van Persie earned his world class tag due to his predatory instincts and clinical finishing. Since Sir Alex Ferguson’s dramatic retirement, Van Persie has become a shadow of his former self. With speculation continuing to mount over the Dutchman’s long term future and nothing becoming clearer over whether United will sign Radamel Falcao permanently or not, United may have to act in the striking department this summer. United are crying out for an injection of pace upfront, teams have found United increasingly easy to defend against due to a lack of speed and an unwillingness to stretch defences through running the channels. Javier Hernandez will be moved on next season in a quest to find regular first team football, Angelo Henriquez has impressed in Croatia with Dinamo Zagreb and has already stated his desire to move away from Old Trafford due to limited opportunities to impress. James Wilson has a big future at Old Trafford and will potentially benefit from spending a season on loan at Premier League level. With all of the European Powerhouses possessing a perfect striking blend of pace and class, United may have to make the forward area a summer priority.
Herrera no holding midfielder
When Carrick was fit and United were flying, Herrera was at the heart of United’s creativity. With Carrick picking up an injury in the latter stages against Manchester City, Herrera has had to play a more disciplined role and become a protector in front of the back four. Due to Herrera being deployed in a holding role, the link up play with Juan Mata and Antonio Valencia on United’s right has suffered as a consequence. Herrera is wasted in the holding role but with United lacking depth in that area, Herrera’s attacking attributes have had to be sacrificed as a result. IIkay Gundogan a man who has strongly been linked with a summer move to Old Trafford would add some much needed quality and depth to United’s central midfield predicament. Gundogan has been touted as a long term successor to Michael Carrick’s throne. If United do prove successful in their pursuit of the Dortmund midfielder then Ander Herrera could be the long term beneficiary, Carrick and Gundogan’s presence would allow Herrera to impose himself on games.
Enigma of Angel Di Maria continues to puzzle
After an electrifying start to his Manchester United career, Di Maria’s performances have gone south and continued to go south at a race of knots. After stupidly getting himself sent off against Arsenal in the FA Cup, Di Maria has had to settle for several cameo appearances off the bench. Di Maria was introduced on Saturday with United craving some inspiration and creative guile, what entailed was yet another lethargic and an uninspiring display from the Argentine. Di Maria was sloppy in possession and lacked desire to reclaim the ball, his body language represented a man that has no confidence and a shadow of the man who claimed Man of The Match in last year’s Champions League final. Paris Saint Germain have been courting Di Maria for a period of time now and probably would have landed the former Real Madrid man last summer if it wasn’t for Financial Fair Play. With the season coming to an end, Di Maria will have time to reflect and assess his options. A return to Europe’s illustrious club competition should motivate Di Maria to overcome his first season demons and continue to adapt to the rigours of English football. Van Gaal has already revealed that he believes the £59.7m man will stay, one thing is guaranteed form is temporary, class is permanent, Di Maria has the latter in abundance.