NB – Haven’t seen the game yet. Going to throw out some initial thoughts and there’ll more to add tomorrow after MOTD.
Being brought back to earth with a bump is one thing, but that was a spine-shuddering faceplant – like a Felix Baumgarter space jump without a parachute.
I write this as I prepare to to put myself through Match of the Day after having to miss the game but from what I can tell, we had the game sewn up with half an hour to go. Rafael gives away a contentious penalty and suddenly we lose all composure.
Van Gaal, thankfully, has refused to blame the referee for the penalty and instead said what we all knew: that failing to kill a game when after going 3-1 up is unacceptable.
“For the first penalty it is always the referee [who you talk about] but you don’t have to do that as a player,” he said.
“You know you are in the penalty area and you allow the referee to whistle if you make a challenge. I don’t know if it is a penalty but we have to look at ourselves because we made such big errors as a team.”
What the meltdown perhaps suggests is that despite the hoard of talent we’ve shipped in, what hasn’t yet manifested itself is a collective sense of unity and organisation.
How else can you explain the collapse that occurred? Players can switch off and make an error, but to let in four goals in 21 minutes suggests that the spine of the team remains fragile.
The warning signs were there against QPR. The incisive, thrilling forward play of Angel Di Maria and co. were tempered by a defensive line that looked hesitant when attacked directly with pace. The different is that QPR wasted their chances and today Leicester did not.
The United-supporting Guardian journalist Daniel Harris made a fair point on Twitter when he said that an entire team cannot be transformed in one window which is right, and Kevin Strootman remains on the radar.
But a collapse of that magnitude could also suggests a certain lack of leadership. It’s hard to imagine, for example, that Roy Keane would have allowed a United side under his command to descend into such panic.
Whether Wayne Rooney should be captain or not with his history is not something I want to throw up now. But even if Rooney had an unblemished history of loyalty it would not answer the question of whether he has the organisational leadership that the captaincy demands.
It’s all very well screaming and shouting. Rooney was spotted doing that today and Roy Keane could do that as well as anyone. But what Keane also did was instruct and organise. What the collapse shows is that there is still a gulf between attack and defence not just in quality but in confidence, structure and organisation.
What this game has proved, unfortunately, is that patience is still going to have to the primary virtue. We bought talent, but we can’t buy mental strength. That failed United today but it will develop along with confidence, quality and effective leadership.
There’ll be more to say tomorrow. Thoughts below as always.