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Why LvG Has Man Utd 50% On The Way To A Title Challenge

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MorganAnother game, another goalless draw for
Manchester United. This is now becoming a
theme for Louis van Gaal’s men, three goalless
draws and three unimaginative performances
resulting in two points and a knockout in the
Capital One Cup. It’s not been a week to
remember.
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Once again, United were toothless and rigid from
start to finish. It’s clear to see that Van Gaal is
obsessed with possession, and it’s worked with the
likes of Barcelona and Bayern Munich, but for
now, the Red Devils are dominating the
possessional stats, but that’s all they’re doing.
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There’s no impetus, no drive, no end product from
this – what should be – offensively astute side.
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With roars coming from the away end of “Attack!
Attack! Attack!” it would seem that United would
do anything but.
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They created one shot on target in 90 minutes, a
Wayne Rooney free-kick that you knew wasn’t
going in when it left his boot, and what should
have been a clear-cut chance for the talisman
when he was put through one-on-one by Anthony
Martial with Crystal Palace goalkeeper Wayne
Hennessey but couldn’t muster a shot, with his
legs somehow failing him. You just wish that the
roles had been reversed.
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For optimistic United fans, you could say the draw
vs Manchester City was a valued point, the Capital
One Cup knockout to Middlesborough was ‘one of
those days’, and Selhurst Park is always a tricky
away ground to travel to. Yet, if you watched those
games, you’d have seen a more alarming issue
that is more deeply rooted than just the results.
It’s the lack of promise in the final third.
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There have been some intriguing, damning stats to
come from Wayne Rooney’s recent performances.
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Against Crystal Palace, the Englishman made 45
touches in 90 minutes and not one of those were
in the Eagles’ penalty area. If that doesn’t scream
mediocrity, then nothing will.
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There is an argument that the lack of service to
Rooney is also hindering his performances, but
when your out-and-out striker – and target man –
loses the ball 28 times, like he did against City, and
15 times away at Palace, that argument soon
seeps through the cracks.
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With Louis van Gaal continuing to play Rooney as
the central striker, it’s forcing Anthony Martial –
arguably United’s best striker, aged 19 – to the left-
hand side, where he’s clearly not as effective nor
likely to get amongst the goals.
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We’ve seen Martial at his best when he’s played
through the middle, taking on central defenders,
whistling past them and providing the fans with an
iced-cool finish. This has won United games this
campaign. However, to accommodate Rooney, he
has been shunned out wide without a second
thought.
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341 minutes without a goal now for United, and
the next one doesn’t look like it’s coming anytime
soon. Against Crystal Palace, Louis van Gaal’s men
were pedestrians at best. In the past, we’ve seen
the Red Devils at their best when they’re counter-
attacking, but now, even with a four-on-three, they
look lost and aren’t quick enough to punish the
opposition.
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It’s painful to watch a team that used to prize itself
on sumptuous, attacking football when all we’re
seeing now is a shadow of their former selves.
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These last few performances have been a betrayal
of United’s history and identity – and the fans
know it.
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In truth, Alan Pardew will feel like it’s an
opportunity missed to grab the three points.
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Palace played the better football, creating more
chances, pressing high, forcing mistakes, and if it
wasn’t for David De Gea’s brilliance, would have
secured a deserved win.
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Through Yannick Bolasie, Jason Puncheon and Wilfried Zaha, the Eagles provided United’s defence with problems and wrong-footed them in the early minutes of the game. Their pace, technical skill and willingness to take on their opposite man proved lethal, in which the Red Devils’ defence was scrambled and looked unorganised – something which hasn’t been the case for Van Gaal’s side this season.
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Dwight Gayle had the best chance of the two sides when Morgan Schneiderlin’s overhit pass rebounded off Italian defender Matteo Darmian, and allowed the Palace striker in on goal. It was as if he was surprised to be in the position and consequently shot straight at De Gea. It was a moment that went begging, as did the three points.
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When Van Gaal took over United in the summer of 2014, the defence was in an almighty calamitous state. If there’s one thing to be thanking the Dutchmen for – aside from the return of Champions League football – it’s for the stability and assuredness in defence. In 11 games, United have only conceded eight goals – the joint fewest in the Premier League.
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It’s not out of the picture to suggest United don’t
have the defence to mount a threatening title
charge, but it is to suggest they have the potent
attack to achieve just that.