Fans frustrated but Manchester United defence on a roll

Frustrated fans pining for Ferguson-era serial winners who offered attacking thrills

Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal: “We have to score more goals  . . . but only one more than the opponent.” Photograph: Martin Rickett/PA Wire.

Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal: “We have to score more goals . . . but only one more than the opponent.” Photograph: Martin Rickett/PA Wire.

 

For Manchester United, defence could prove the best way of mounting an attack on the Premier League title.

After 12 games United have conceded eight goals, the fewest in the division, with the leaders Manchester City and second-placed Arsenal both having conceded nine.

Of the top four teams, United have scored the fewest – 17. Leicester City, who are third, have 25, Arsenal 22 and City 26.

Tottenham Hotspur (20), West Ham (23), Southampton (19) and Everton (20) have all scored more than United, yet are below them because of that parsimonious defence.

There is another telling factor, too, one that is also proving successful for Crystal Palace, who have scored 14 times, conceded 12, and are in eighth place. This is the simple yet difficult art of scoring one more than the opposition, a tactic Louis van Gaal admits is at the forefront of his thinking.

Conservative

While Manuel Pellegrini constantly talks of his City side scoring as many times as possible, his rival takes a more conservative approach. United may yet pile up a goal mountain between now and May, but the evidence is pointing the other way.

On November 3rd, United defeated CSKA Moscow 1-0 at Old Trafford. Wayne Rooney’s 79th-minute header was the side’s first goal for 404 minutes and broke a sequence of three goalless draws. During the Champions League group game, the home supporters could be heard shouting “attack, attack, attack”, their frustration causing them to demand a return to the scintillating stuff of United tradition, from the George Best vintage, led by Matt Busby, to the sides featuring Eric Cantona, Cristiano Ronaldo and Ryan Giggs under Alex Ferguson.

Discussing this reaction from fans three days later, before the visit of West Bromwich Albion, Van Gaal accepted the need to be more prolific.

But there was a telling caveat. “We have to score more goals, I agree with that,” the Dutchman said, before summing up the pragmatism that drives him. “But only one more than the opponent. That’s what I am thinking.”

This season United have won 1-0, 1-0, 3-1, 3-2, 3-0, 3-0, and 2-0 in the league, so three of their seven victories have been by a single goal. Part of the issue here is the high stylistic bar set by Busby and Ferguson.

Arsenal fans had no problem with winning 1-0 during the club’s success under George Graham. The three champion sides of José Mourinho at Chelsea are also hardly remembered for high-octane, dazzling football.

Ferguson won United 13 league titles in an era that should stand for a few generations at least as the most memorable in domestic competition. The Scot’s teams were serial winners who offered thrills, spills and dying-seconds denouements.

Box-office

The holy grail for United fans is a return to this box-office product. The quest for Van Gaal (and any manager of the club) is to win trophies. It is as simple as that. When Ferguson claimed his first, the 1990 FA Cup, he never went more than a season without the next pot. This is some record and illustrative of the genius Van Gaal is following.

Two barren seasons have now passed in this post-Ferguson era. Until the next piece of silverware arrives at Old Trafford there is an argument that the club will not have truly moved on from the shock of Ferguson’s departure.

To be champions of England again would certainly ease the concern of fans who wonder if United might be heading into another league title-less age, like the one between the Busby and Ferguson tenures.

Given the way his United, who play at Watford on Saturday lunchtime, are doing, it seems unlikely Van Gaal will change.

Faithful

There have been eight clean sheets from the 12 matches. He will continue to wish for many more, and many more single- goal victories.

A question for the United faithful is whether a 21st crown claimed by Van Gaal’s safety- first method would be welcome. The answer is surely yes.

And if it is the club’s red ribbons tied to the Premier League trophy in May, he will surely be hailed a hero by the same constituency who currently watch his pass-pass-and- pass-again mode and complain it is not the United way.

(Guardian service)

 

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