Saved by the bell. After yet another terrible performance, Louis Van Gaal holds on to his job, thanks to a 92nd minute penalty from Wayne Rooney.
In his post-match interview he claimed that it was all about getting the win. That it is tough coming up against a side that’s defending for ninety minutes; and we can give him that.
“You have to see also how the opponent is playing. Everybody shall give applause to Sheffield United. They were very organised but it is much more difficult to attack than to defend.” The Dutchman said.
However, what is not acceptable is making a League One side, look like a team United would come up against on a weekly basis in the Premier League.
During the match United looked lackluster in attack, failing to penetrate the Sheffield defense on several occasions in the first half in particular. This shown with their efforts (or lack of) on goal accumulating no shots on target despite controlling 73% of the possession.
The harsh reality of the result is that United’s team for the game was strong, at least on paper. It contained two world cup winners (Mata and Schweinsteiger), ten internationally capped players; including the man en route to beating Sir Bobby Charlton’s goal-scoring record for the club, Wayne Rooney.
And yet, in a total of 97 minutes, they only accumulated two shots on target.
In the past ten home fixtures, Van Gaal’s side have scored just one goal in the first half. It comes as no surprise then, that their own fans were sarcastically cheering when Memphis struck a shot wide from outside of the box on the 72nd minute mark.
It also comes as no surprise that Paul Scholes labelled the performance (not for the first time) as ‘boring’.
“There just seems to be an acceptance of bad performances,” the former United midfielder said. “Every time you come to Old Trafford you see negative football.”
The result comes down to two factors. Van Gaal and the players; no less, no more.
Van Gaal got the team selection wrong, and he himself accepted that come the end of the match. In a game where United seemed to want to exploit the wings, they started no wingers. Instead they started a natural number 10, who’s being wasted on the wings and a centre forward.
He opted to throw Fellaini in defensive midfield, pushing Ander Herrera into the number ten position. The decision to start Fellaini can only be seen as an idea to add strength to the midfield but it simply did not work. The Belgian did nothing but give away the ball and commit needless fouls.
However, whatever the team sheet, whatever the philosophy; some of the blame has to be aimed at the players themselves. No matter how ridged the game-plan is, when you’re a team like Manchester United coming up against a League One side, you have to show a little bit of arrogance in your play. You should be believing you’re going out to win 2 or 3 nil.
Instead the players were hesitant in their approach play. When the ball came out wide, instead of taking one touch and getting it into the box, it was one touch, then another, then back to the player that gave you the ball.
It was slow build up play each time they went forward. When you’re playing against a team with eleven men behind the ball, that’s their dream scenario.
After the game, Wayne Rooney seemed to be on the same wavelength as Van Gaal stating that it was all about the win and getting the win was important.
It certainly was important for Van Gaal as it keeps him in a job for now. Two wins from two in 2016 and things seem to be on the mend at United. And that is the harshest reality of them all. If United manage to squeeze out another lucky victory this weekend people will really start to believe that.
However, things are not on the mend, they have just managed to get lucky.
Enda Coll, Pundit Arena