We’re on the crest of a wave, no doubt about that, as we prepare to face Liverpool on Sunday afternoon. I’d like to write how we couldn’t be in more positive mood ahead of this one after winning five in a row, but the omnishambles that was the first half and more against Southampton is tempering my enthusiasm just a little.
The Gary Neville vs Louis van Gaal thing has become a little ridiculous, if only because the jokey, throwaway manner in which Neville said it was conveniently overlooked by whichever journalist dobbed him in to Louis van Gaal. The manager, presumably having not seen the clip, probably imagined Gary Neville frothing at the mouth and screaming that he’s an incompetent blowhard. But hey, it was a good story.
The good news is that we’re playing badly and winning, something we turned into an art form under Ferguson at times. On those days we could be playing badly but Ferguson’s gift for man-management (aka outright intimidation) meant that there was usually enough resilience to power through the poor games.
Not to mention that Liverpool are in the absolute doldrums. It’s remarkable in particular how the Balotelli situation has unfolded. I actually thought he was a rather good piece of business at £16 million at the time, but it’s become fairly clear that Rodgers never particularly wanted him anyway and when you consider how entirely different Balotelli is to Suarez and Sturridge… well, it’s a fine mess they’ve got themselves into.
We need to stick the knife in, basically. It’s amazing to consider how United and Liverpool’s fortunes are almost completely swapped around from last season, when they were an absolute juggernaut and we were playing like a bunch of people who had won a competition to play for United for a day. Now it’s the complete opposite, and so poor are they playing right now that anything other than 3 points for us should probably be considered a failure.
Fitness-wise Chris Smalling is out for two weeks after twanging his groin on Monday night and Di Maria and Blind are still out with hamstring-knack and knee ligament-pop respectively. It’s been another week for coaches to weigh in with their thoughts on why we’ve had 47 (says the Mail… hang on – the Manchester Evening News says 42, I’ll go with that) injuries since van Gaal took over, with Mike Phelan chipping in this week.
Phelan, who I think is more than entitled to have an opinion after being at the club for 12 years, has always been a softly spoken sort of guy and his theory was very diplomatically put:
“What’s happened is a continuation of the same players getting injured all the time, so you have to look to the reasons why. Tony Strudwick, who was operating as head of sports science and was involved day to day with the first-team… understood the ins and outs of how to keep players fit, how to keep them ready for competition. Then suddenly they moved him sideways and did something completely different. That may have had an effect. That one area has changed.”
As I’ve said before, the worrying element of the injuries is the nature of some of them. Smalling’s was similar to Di Maria’s in there was no significant impact to either of them when they got hurt – Di Maria was jogging and Smalling was jumping. For whatever reason, there are a lot of fragile players out there at the moment.
It’s ridiculous, of course, to imagine that the injuries aren’t being fretted over by the staff at Old Trafford as well and things aren’t being looked at and changed… right? Surely van Gaal isn’t so stubborn that he would continue to run sessions of an intensity and length that continued to put the players at risk? Probably not. Anyway, I think it was Russell Brand in one of his old Guardian columns that wrote the idea of people like us genuinely being right about things more than Premiership managers is too terrifying to contemplate.
Just to throw another spanner in the mix, the MEN ran a good article yesterday pointing out that actually, United have been brittle since well before Van Gaal arrived; in 2010-11 for example, Ferguson’s penultimate campaign, there were 79 injuries across the season and under Moyes we were just two short of 100. Throw into that what I mentioned yesterday about Wayne Rooney looking to be in the best shape of his life… who knows.
Meanwhile Phil Jones is back in training but looks unlikely to feature against Liverpool, and I can’t imagine poor Paddy McNair will be thrown straight to the
wolves toothless puppies after being hauled off for fear of him smashing the ball into the roof of his own net.
Van Gaal is also likely to leave a decision on Di Maria until the last minute, and Luke Shaw is still out. I would imagine Evans will start alongside Rojo and perhaps Carrick at the back. If Mata starts he needs to stamp his authority/take the game by the scruff of the neck/midfield maestro his way into proving he can run games. He’s due a big one.
Revenge is on the cards. A draw is possible if we play as badly defensively as we did against Arsenal and Southampton, but there’s never been a better time to forget that awful performance in this fixture last year and keep piling the pressure on City. Let’s do this. Death to the Red Lion.
It’s up in the air whether I’ll be able to get a match report out on Sunday, but there’ll be a full breakdown of United 2-1 Liverpool on Monday morning.
See you then.