Morning, loyal readers!* Lots to get through, including a look ahead to Stoke tonight.
I wasn’t able to watch the whole of the Hull game, sadly (though I am going to try to get into the habit of streaming 3pm games and then reporting on them, as that seems to be have been the most popular post of the last couple of weeks), so I had to make do with Match of the Day, Paul Ince’s Primark jeans and papier-mache cardigan and all, and general weekend internet blather.
From what I’ve seen we completely dominated the game – 73% possession – and Hull were toothless. It seems to have been one of those matches where we decided that labouring for 80 minutes and finding a breakthrough was boring, so instead resorted to Plan B and played incisive, fast-flowing football against a side that pretty much played – sorry, Steve Bruce – like they were there to make up the numbers.
The main positive was van Persie’s goal, one of his finest for a while, which will hopefully be a better momentum-builder for him than the pinball-finisher against Chelsea turned out to be. It was a vintage RVP, instinctive finish – he didn’t even look up at goal before striking the ball wound up and the power was such that it wrenched the stanchion from the turf. I love those ones.
The main negative, as if it’s even a surprise any more, was the sight of Di Maria bent double having suffered hamstring-twang from running at about 50% pace across the bloody pitch. There’s no timeline for his return but he’s definitely not playing against Stoke tonight. Wayne Rooney, on the other hand, should be fit enough for what should be another 3 points, but more on that later.
It’s difficult to know where to start on the injuries but the more they rear their ugly strained necks, the more I start to wonder about what’s going on at Carrington. If we don’t sit by the side of the training pitch it’s impossible to start passing judgement on whether the players are being put at risk. All we know is that van Gaal is fond of the odd double-session and we haven’t heard any leaky rumblings of discontent, which is normally the first sign of trouble.
Accusations that van Gaal overtrains players have popped up on a couple of occasions this year, though mainly from the same source: Dutch fitness coach Raymond Verheijen, who appears to have spent the last four years or so slagging everyone off about their training methods including Chelsea, Arsenal, Spurs, City and more recently, David Moyes, Roy Hodgson and finally van Gaal. He also pissed off a number of people by saying he wanted the Wales job in 2011, two weeks after Gary Speed died. Think he might be a bit of a bellend.
Anyhoo, back in October fellow Twitter-foghorn Rio Ferdinand claimed that the players were really enjoying the intense sessions, so essentially it’s near impossible to judge whether or not van Gaal’s sessions are the cause of the constant injuries unless you’re a highly qualified sports coach, or expert on grass and soil. Other than that the only thing I’ve got to go on is that my mate who went to the Hull game thought the warm-up was a little short.
The only other thing I can think of is that United’s players could still be adjusting to the new Desso synthetic pitches that van Gaal demanded back in the summer, but as explained here the new surfaces are modelled on the Old Trafford pitch, so that doesn’t seem like it could be a major factor.
What’s for certain is they have to figure it out. You can’t legislate for Luke Shaw getting his ankle stepped on or someone getting a boot in the shins but di Maria’s was a classic strain, like it was already fragile. It needs to be sorted, basically, because Champions’ League qualification is still anything but a formality and you can’t build the momentum that van Gaal wants with constant injury-forced squad rotation.
In a seamless segue, that takes us onto the manager’s comments after the game on Saturday in which he took on the subject of the winter fixture pile-up:
“I’m not happy because I do not agree with that (the December fixture list). I cannot change that but I don’t think it’s good for the football players that they play within two days another match. In the December months, it shall be like that. We also have families. I don’t think it is good for players, neither for the families. I also have a wife and kids and grandchildren and I cannot see them this Christmas. But, I want to work in the Premier League so I have to adapt and I shall adapt.”
To be fair other than Saturday and today, the actual winter fixture pile-up doesn’t start in earnest until Boxing Day but whatever your feelings on the issue, it’s not going to be good for us. It’s cold, our players appear to be made of glass and we’re about to play Stoke and Ryan Shawcross. Let’s hope we can get through it because after that it’s Southampton, who’ll be smarting after getting pushed around by Chelsea on Sunday and then Liverpool.
With regards to Sunday Ander Herrera, who did very well on the weekend as part of a slightly odd but effective 4-2-2-2 formation should get 90 minutes. The manager spoke after the game about the detail with which United research and adapt the opposition, which goes some way to explaining why the formation will probably keep changing most weeks. Fellaini and Carrick were playing at the back of the mid, with van Persie and Mata playing behind Rooney and Di Maria.
It was weird and had to change after 13 minutes when Di Maria went off as van Persie was pushed back forward. For someone lacking in confidence being pushed back away from the goal he likes to score in must have been a little galling, but Di Maria’s loss was his gain eventually.
As for Stoke, they’re coming off a loss to Liverpool and a morale-sapping loss to Burnley at home – the first time they’ve lost two in a row this season – but they’ll still be a tougher test than Hull. We lost to them 2-1 at the Britannia in February when we were god-awful but they really should be dispatched without too much of a problem.
So, knowing what we know now about the opposition research and resulting constant formation and tactics changes, I’ve no idea how we’ll line up, but I’ll take a punt on something broadly similar to Saturday, obviously with Herrera replacing Di Maria. Although it’s LVG, so expect van Persie to be unceremoniously benched and Smalling to play up front after his, er, wondergoal.
That’s that for now. I can’t find the game anywhere but I’ll try and find a stream and tweet updates during it, as well as write up a report afterwards if I can. Follow the twitter account on the top right of the page.
*According to my stats that’s about 4 of you. Cheers fanbase!