I won’t lie to you; it’s a very irritating time to support Manchester United. I always think a team is at their best, generally speaking, when they are unpredictable. Manchester United are anything but unpredictable under Van Gaal. I’ve moaned and bemoaned the United ‘offence’ so persistently this season that it is borderline burned onto your iris’; and so I will raise a valuable point that simply must be remedied by the coaching staff of Carrington. Manchester United constantly concede to the old-fashioned target man.
This is something that, although I only really acknowledged recently, has been happening since the brute figure of Nemanja Vidic was edged out of United reckoning under David Moyes. Ever since, Manchester United have fielded a different class of centre-back; the more technically astute or themed ‘ball-playing’ centre-back. We’ve seen Jonny Evans have a stint, then Phil Jones and now Daley Blind. Now I’m not knocking Blind at all.
For me he has been one of United’s better players this season but this all stems from Louis Van Gaal’s insistence on stepping high on the press and playing from the back four. Now you know, I know and my neighbour’s dog-walker’s grandmother knows that that has never been the United way. This takes years of introduction, as in Barcelona whom instill this into nine year olds at La Masia. Now, although he can play like he is, Phil Jones is NOT nine years old.
In recent seasons I can remember many target men, aside from Solomon Rondon (the blueprint of such a forward) and his weekend goal that silenced Red Devils around the world, to notch against United. Who remembers the United 0-0 with Newcastle on the third matchday when the largely unimpressive Mitrovic rolled all over United and cracked the woodwork with a header and had a sensational game?
I can remember countless goals from Olivier Giroud, Rickie Lambert, Romelu Lukaku, Diego Costa and many more against United and I will certainly be putting a double on my bet on United to beat Liverpool on Thursday: Christian Benteke to score at any time. And I believe there is a huge chance.
So how is all this countered? If it were easy to coach a player to be tougher then United wouldn’t have a problem to solve in this department. We have seen a similar progression in Chris Smalling but this is over years and I think, if Van Gaal is to have a final season, and he does want to challenge for the title in said season then he simply has to buy a hard-man centre-back.
I’m a fantasist at the best of times and I’m hoping there is some substance in how vague Mats Hummels has been about his future. He is the perfect defender: strong, agile, great in the air, plays the ball and does all of this without lacking pace. He said in the summer that he would reconsider his future in a year and if there is a shred of hope there then United must move for him.
If not I would like to see a player step up into the job. Kamil Glik is a player I have time for and I certainly would not spill his pint in a pub. The United scouts are better than me.
So, Mr Van Gaal, as you are likely reading this you can add to your shopping list. Bread, milk, flour, winger with actual pace and drive and now, finally, a centre back whom can actually challenge for strength.