lvg smalling

It can take an awfully long time to realise, with absolute certainty, that you are no good making some things work. Before my Gameboy arrived and turned me into a slack-jawed zombie whose fingers twitched at night from excessive Tetris-ing, I tried to be good at building model cars – I was crap. Then Meccano – worse. And then K-Nex – no ferris wheels here. The end result of my endeavours would be something akin to when Homer tried to build a barbecue in the Simpsons. So heroically, I gave up. If you ask me, that took balls.

As we know – and as Luca Toni and Bayern Munich also know, having been subjected to visual confirmation at Bayern Munich in 2007 – Louis van Gaal also has balls. But not balls of the humble-pie guzzling, I’ve-really-had-a-good-crack-at -this-and-it’s-just-not-coming-off kind – more of the relentlessly stubborn it-worked-before-and-will-work-now-if-it-means-the-back-three-listening-to-Giggsy-talk-for-two-hours kind.

This may explain why he continues to roll out 3-5-2 despite the players clearly struggling with its concept, and also why he cared not a jot for the objections of the club’s away support at Loftus Road. This despite the epic pride-swallowing decision to switch to four at the back and a diamond midfield after a stale first half that produced just one shot on target. Said Van Gaal after the game:

“I cannot observe the fans because how many fans do Manchester United have? All over the world we’ve got over 600 million. You cannot take into account 600 million opinions. I have to look at the players, to communicate with the players, to observe, to analyse and so on. That’s my job as a manager.”

It is curious to say the least that the manager continues to persist with the formation. If 3-5-2 is a round hole, then Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Jonny Evans are three pegs squarer than Huey Lewis. Gary Neville piled in on MNF last night, saying that 3-5-2 has killed the pace of United’s attack, because the back three were more minded to play the ball to each other than forward with any particular attacking intent. This in particular was a worrying statistic:

“In the first half on Saturday, Manchester United centre-backs had 114 passes of the ball. You look at the other teams that played away from home this weekend, Southampton (57), Chelsea (37), Arsenal (26) and it’s a miraculous difference. When they go to the back four in the second half it goes to 54 passes. It’s a big difference. They started looking at diagonal passes, playing risky ones, making QPR work and doing things that are unpredictable.”

Spot on, frankly. 114 passes in the first half is over two a minute. Staleness going forward has been a common trait for much of the season, which, when you consider the ludicrous attacking riches United wield, is a pretty damning indictment of the 3-5-2 system.

Problem is, Van Gaal’s systems are employed each week depending on the opposition they face. He researches the opposition, creates a formation depending on what they’ve got, and passes it to Giggs who has to explain it to the players. So anyone hoping that QPR will be the moment 3-5-2 is ditched forever seems likely to be disappointed, no matter how many times poor Chris Smalling shuffles forward and lumps the ball out of play (Mark Ogden’s line that Smalling treats the ball likely a hornet’s nest is about right).

If new defenders are the only way to improve 3-5-2, we’re still waiting. Movement on Ron Vlaar has been non-existent after the Villa captain’s knee injury on New Years Day. He may not be a massive name but frankly it’s not about that, and Villa haven’t won a game without him. He’s out for another six weeks and it doesn’t look like United fancy paying the money they won’t have to pay in the summer when he’s out of contract. Writing about Matt Hummels makes me want to snap my own fingers off, but he’s not coming in January.

Meanwhile, Fellaini said that his Januzaj-hugging celebration after his superb goal was in solidarity with his fellow Belgian:

“He hasn’t played a lot this season, so I like to look after him.”

That’s a genuinely touching gesture from Fellaini. Januzaj has been given short shrift from van Gaal, so much so that sometimes I wonder whether the Belgian’s struggles against MK Dons haven’t been forgiven. Van Gaal just hasn’t taken a shine to Januzaj as he has James Wilson, with Januzaj’s marauding wing play apparently unsuited 3-5-effing-2 and Di Maria’s arrival shunting him down the pecking order.

It’s a shame because Januzaj’s creative, aggressive arrogance would be a welcome tonic to the lack of speed that has frustrated the flair-hungry. Let’s hope LVG sends him on loan rather than cast him out completely as a cog that doesn’t fit his machine.

Lastly: Falcao needs a proper run of games. There’s only one one way for him to adjust to the Premier League and that’s by getting used to it. He was in all the right places for much of the game against QPR; the finishes will come.

Till next time.

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