Manchester United have struggled to improve this season, despite Louis van Gaal splashing the cash…
Manchester United are still a long, long way from the team that enjoyed so much success under Sir Alex Ferguson. That much was crystal clear during their dire 0-0 draw at League Two side Cambridge United in the fourth round of the FA Cup on Friday evening.
In a performance that BBC Sport‘s Phil McNulty described as ‘predictable, ponderous and pedestrian’, United were lucky to escape with a replay against a side 76 places below them in the footballing pyramid, with U’s defender Josh Coulson spurning arguably the game’s best chance.
United’s team included world-class superstars such as Radamel Falcao and Angel di Maria, but they were rarely able to break down their determined and hard-working opponents on a freezing night that coincided appropriately with Van Gaal’s frosty press conference.
The Dutchman claimed after the game that “everything is against us” – despite displaying a level of tactical awareness that might have seen his predecessor David Moyes strung up from the Old Trafford rafters.
Van Gaal is still waiting to discover his ‘best team’ and his ‘best system’ after more than six months in the job, while his decision to allow defender Phil Jones to take corners must have raised more than a few eyebrows.
This is after all, a United side that underwent £150m worth of investment last summer – far more than Moyes ever spent during his brief time at the club – and has seemingly benefited very little from that injection of fresh talent.
United might sit fourth in the Premier League table, but a Capital One Cup final thrashing by MK Dons as well as their sluggish progress in the FA Cup has underlined the difficulties that Van Gaal must address sooner rather than later.
While they might boast a star-studded strike-force, they lack the creative spark that is needed to go with that. Juan Mata has arguably been their most consistent player in an attacking midfield role this season, but still struggles to hold down a first-team place.
Van Gaal’s stubbornness, refusing to sign a new defender to replace the departed trio of Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra, continues to be very publicly discussed – with fingers pointed towards youngsters Tyler Blackett and Paddy McNair being required far more than expected.
Indeed, if were not for the brilliance of United goalkeeper David de Gea so far this season, then Van Gaal’s prospects might have been even bleaker come the turn of the year. If one thing is for sure, the patience of the Old Trafford fans will not last forever.
As McNulty explains: “While Van Gaal’s honesty has rightly endeared him to many, he did not cover himself in glory with a succession of lame excuses [on Friday]. Pointing out flaws in the pitch is an old one in FA Cup combat but it was more Van Gaal’s unexplained grievance about referee Chris Foy that carried the whiff of desperation.”
United, unlike their cross-town rivals Manchester City and Premier League leaders Chelsea, are still in the FA Cup, while they still have every chance of making the top four this year, but there needs to further signs of improvement if Van Gaal’s revolution is to be a success.