If anybody needed any proof that Manchester United’s feats of escapology were a thing of the past, then Robin Van Persie’s stoppage time equaliser certainly put that to rest.
Yes, United should have won the game and the Dutchman should have taken his earlier chances. Yes, they are currently 10 points off Chelsea, who are increasingly looking like they are running away with the League. Yes, their defence isn’t what it should be. But if there is one thing that should be taken away from the game, it is this; the Red Devils are starting to resemble a team, which Louis Van Gaal wants.
Nobody said that the job was going to be easy. After all, he was taking over from a side that didn’t even qualify for Europe this season. He took over a side that had lost three of their first-choice back four in the summer. He inherited a side that, Michael Carrick aside, didn’t have a central midfielder of the quality that is demanded by Manchester United.
While it is true that he broke the British transfer record and spent the most of any club in Europe in the summer, the fact is that throwing money doesn’t guarantee you instant success. Even Manchester City, with all of their new found riches took three years before they actually started winning something. And although Van Gaal has had a head start on City, there is no refuting the fact that there is a massive rebuilding job ahead.
Some might say that selling the likes of Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra in the same window wasn’t the shrewdest decision. But when you look at their respective form in the current season, you can certainly see why the club let them go. Arguably the mistake the club made was to sell them, without a ready made replacement lined up. Central defenders aren’t cheap and when you want a commanding centre half to lead the defence, it only makes the job of finding one all the more demanding.
While there are those who question Luke Shaw’s performances so far this season, against Chelsea he showed just what he is capable of doing. And the fact that he is still only 19 means that he still has plenty of time on his hand to develop into the player the club see him as. And while Marcos Rojo has done a job so far, he isn’t what the club needed, even if he is an upgrade on what they have now.
Even with all the money that was spent in the summer, the side are still crying out loud for someone to just take control in the heart of the defence. And sooner rather than later, Van Gaal needs to address this. But if there is one crumb of comfort that the fans can take from their performances this season has been the way in which they controlled the midfield.
Before the game against Chelsea, many expected Cesc Fabregas and Nemanja Matic to simply boss the midfield and embarrass the home side. But that is not what panned out. The Spaniard had his worst game in a Chelsea shirt and Matic was unable to exert his physical or technical dominance on the game. And that was all down to Van Gaal’s tactics and the performances of the outstanding Daley Blind,and the much-improved Marouane Fellaini.
In the last few seasons, Central midfield has consistently been their Achilles heel and Dutch tactician has managed to find a way to ensure that that isn’t the case any longer. And with Michael Carrick and Ander Herrera coming back to full fitness, it will only get stronger.
Somewhat surprisingly the most disappointing aspect of their play has been their striker force. Wayne Rooney and Radamel Falcao have either been suspended or injured for most of the season so far and the only fit striker has been Van Persie. Unfortunately for the Red Devils, the 31-year-old hasn’t been anywhere near his best and has looked strangely subdued so far.
Van Gaal might have only asked for three months, but the truth is that he needs longer than that. If Manchester United are to get back to where they belong, patience is key. They didn’t show that with David Moyes last season, but they need to with the 63-year-old Dutchman. Perhaps given his managerial pedigree he might be given more leeway than Moyes.
But having got the Red Devils off to their worst start in 24 years, the results need to start getting better and fast. For if they don’t, it is fair to say that the club won’t bat an eyelid to get rid of him and get someone else in.