I went to see Avengers: Age of Ultron on Sunday night, an experience that felt like having my head repeatedly slammed under a car bonnet whilst listening to someone tip a bucket of pots and pans down a metal staircase. It was a decent film, don’t get me wrong, but there’s something about these $200 million blockbusters that are troubling when they leave absolutely no lasting impression on you whatsoever as you walk out of the cinema (apart from the feeling of walking out of a soulless entertainment complex and wondering if this is what hell looks like). As Robin Ince once said, rather than eliciting a shrug I want $200 million to buy me the cinematic equivalent of injecting heroin directly into my eyeballs.
Meanwhile at Old Trafford, hell is looking rather like taking a penalty for Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney, who have contributed to a 50% failure rate from the spot (or, for the optimists among you, a 50% success rate). Time was when both of them would lash their spot-kicks into the side-netting with astonishing accuracy but van Persie’s effort on Saturday pretty much summed up his season: tentative, gentle and a little half-hearted. Van Persie has scored some wonderful goals for us over the years but it’s becoming more and more difficult to picture him having a role in the side next season. With James Wilson seemingly sidelined by van Gaal for now and Falcao almost certainly packing his bags, we currently have one fully-functional striker – Rooney – who van Gaal has disappointingly chosen to put back in midfield.
What’s the solution? Well, as the producers of the Avengers might say: SPEND SPEND SPEND SPEND SPEND. It looks as if the only way we’re going to start scoring goals is by doing four things: shipping out van Persie, booting out Falcao (a booting is worse than a shipping and van Persie has been a good servant to the club. And by servant I mean player highly-paid employee) putting Rooney back up front rather than employing him in a group 547 midfielders and buying someone else who can give him a hand.
Rumours were flying around a couple of weeks ago that United were having a look at Benteke. He’d be an interesting call – there are always players who can give you something more by raising their platform a little and he’s proven over the last few weeks that with some confidence, and some service, he’s a natural goalscorer. Whether he could cut it against the Champions League big boys (excuse me while I turn around three times and go outside to spit) is open to question, but it would be interesting to see him given the chance.
Because of the striking issue I think we have to resist the temptation to consider the club in crisis after three straight defeats, but it’s been a bad few weeks. We played well against Chelsea, but in the end they had Hazard and we didn’t. We played poorly against Everton and deserved to lose that one – it was an absolute stinker and they happen sometimes. The issue against West Brom was largely one of pace as I saw it, with the ponderous midfield passing giving West Brom far too much time move themselves left and right to cover everyone. It’s a horrible footballing cliche but we needed to stretch them with pace and we didn’t; rather than have Valencia and Blind overlap and put West Brom on the back foot, we passed it slowly around midfield and then try to force it through the middle where were swamped. By the end Van Persie was dropping back and playing the ball into Falcao, which is about as productive as the car-bonnet-head-smashing.
Fortunately Liverpool have been so awful, along with most of the rest of the league, that despite three straight defeats we’re still four points clear of 5th place. Unfortunately we go to Crystal Palace this weekend, who could be a problem, then Arsenal at home and finally Hull away. Luckily Liverpool go to Chelsea next weekend, but then have Palace at home and then go to Stoke. It’s going to be a seriously tense run in.