As the old saying goes, it’s not despair, but the hope that kills you. On Tuesday night, Manchester United travelled to East London to face West Ham United with Champions League qualification on the line. The Reds needed a win to leap-frog Manchester City into fourth place with one game remaining after the Blues had come unstuck at home to Arsenal. Yet, as has so often been the case during Louis Van Gaal’s disastrous reign as United manager, his team fell apart on the big occasion. On an emotional night in East London the Hammers out-played and out-fought United in every department. It was West Ham’s last appearance at the Boleyn Ground, but in truth the home side did little more than expose United for the poorly managed, disorganised mess that the side now is.
After a largely excellent performance on United’s last visit to Upton Park many Reds, perhaps naïvely, expected Van Gaal’s team to do the business in East London. The team didn’t, and United now welcomes Bournemouth for the final league game of the season knowing that the club’s destiny is now in Manchester City’s hands. Swansea City must beat the Blues if Van Gaal’s side is to qualify for the Champions League next season. In a year when Arsenal, City and Chelsea have suffered poor campaigns, the league table – either way – is inexcusable.
The team has plenty of faults, with many players under-performing this season, while too many are simply not good enough for the self-proclaimed ‘biggest club in the world’. Yet, there is little doubt that the real villains are Van Gaal and executive vice chairman Ed Woodward.
The Dutchman’s downfall is predictable. After early good results at some of Europe’s biggest clubs a familiar script plays out. It is one where Van Gaal leaves under a cloud. History has repeated at United, with the manager creating a platform on which to build last season, only for the campaign to end in tears this time around. It remains to be seen how the story ends, with the cup final next weekend, but the man tasked with writing Van Gaal’s Old Trafford epitaph is increasingly viewed as incompetent as the manager.
Woodward’s story is less dramatic. After a successful career as an investment banker, Woodward became the parasitic right-hand-man to the Glazer family. Bringing money into the club, and the Glazers’ pockets, has become a speciality, yet it is also clear that the Essex-born executive knows too little about the game to effectively steer the club back to the top. If Van Gaal is still in the dugout come August, the blame will lie with Woodward for his refusal to sack an underachieving manager. Ego surely plays a part.
Meanwhile, Sunday’s visitors set an example as a club reaping the benefits of hiring a manager capable of inspiring his team. The south coast side has the smallest stadium in the league, holding just 11,000 fans, and with it the lowest budget, yet manager Eddie Howe has comfortably maintained his side’s top-flight status. In an unpredictable season many had bet that the Cherries would face the drop.
[blockquote who=”” cite=””]It’s the hope that kills you. On Tuesday, United travelled to East London to face West Ham with Champions League qualification on the line. The Reds needed a win, but as has so often been the case during Van Gaal’s disastrous reign, his team fell apart on the big occasion. [/blockquote]
Instead, Howe has proven to be a revelation. In the longer-term many pundits believe that Old Trafford, the Emirates or the Etihad could be his home. For now, however, Howe is happy to travel to the Theatre of Dreams without pressure – Bournemouth’s Premier League safety is already guaranteed.Still, Howe manager also understand the fixture’s significance and is adamant that his side will not roll over for the Reds. Victory at Old Trafford would complete an unlikely double over United.
“It’s nice to be involved in a game that means something,” Howe said. “The last few games have been difficult for us because we have not been a team that are used to not having a competitive edge. In the last few seasons there have always been something on every game and we have become very accustomed to it and embraced the pressure.”
Howe’s side arrives in Manchester with little in the way of form. The visitors have won just once in the last two months and a leaky defence has conceded 19 goals in that period. Howe is fortunate that the home side scores few at Old Trafford, with the Reds boasting more sponsors than league goals this season. And after farcical performances at home against relegated Aston Villa, Norwich City and Newcastle United this season optimism is not high among the home support.
Van Gaal remains confident though, claiming that he expects to remain in charge next season. The jury is very much still out, although that did not stop the manager evaluating the campaign, and offering an optimistic outlook on the path ahead.
“We have to improve still. I don’t think we have to improve in our defensive organisation because we are doing well,” Van Gaal said. “We have to score more in our attacking organisation which is something I have said at the start of the season. We need creative, fast players in the attack and we have to change that.”
It’s an odd claim, with Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and Memphis Depay on the books. While Van Gaal has only himself to blame for pushing the club’s most creative player, Juan Mata, to the wing. Meanwhile, Van Gaal says it’s “unrealistic to expect United to be champions” in the year that Leicester City lifted the trophy. He went on to confirm many suspicions about the philosophy: “You don’t always have to score, sometimes it is better to keep possession, ” he claimed.
The atmosphere at Old Trafford could become venomous should United put on yet another timid display. Indeed, some might think that a clear message aimed at Van Gaal has been long overdue.
Team news and line-ups
As United fans prepare to say goodbye to Old Trafford for the summer they do so hoping that it is also farewell to the manager. The Dutchman knows that the book is not yet closed on his career though. Should United win and City lose on Sunday then Van Gaal may well be given a shot at seeing out his contract, with Champions League football to look forward to. The prospect of another year with Van Gaal at the helm is enough to keep fans awake at night. Still, with the FA Cup final only a week away at least his players know that a good performance could reserve a spot at Wembley.
There is unlikely to be a wholesale change despite United’s limp defeat at West Ham. Every member of the back four disgraced themselves in some way in East London. Antonio Valencia could not live with Dimitri Payet and was often caught out of position; Chris Smalling and Daley Blind were bullied by Andy Carroll; and Marcos Rojo once again demonstrated that he is not good enough at this level. Still, injuries and match fitness restrict Van Gaal’s options: Matteo Darmian and Luke Shaw miss out through injury, while Guillermo Varela, Phil Jones, Timothy Fosu-Mensah and Cameron Borthwick-Jackson have been frozen out by the Dutchman.
Van Gaal’s midfield did not perform better on Tuesday night and it would be surprising to see either Morgan Schneiderlin or Ander Herrera lining up on Sunday. Michael Carrick could be partnered by Wayne Rooney. Further forward, a half-fit Anthony Martial inspired United to a brief comeback at Upton Park, only for the back four to collapse under West Ham’s pressure. The Frenchman has been one of the few positives in an otherwise dismal campaign.
Juan Mata has provided a goal and an assist in his last two games and will occupy the attacking midfield role in the absence of Marouane Fellaini and Herrera, while Jesse Lingard could be restored to the right-wing despite some questionable behaviour during the brief attack on United’s team bus last Tuesday.
In attack Marcus Rashford continues in the wake of earning a call-up to the England squad ahead of this summer’s European Championships. Rashford will not be included in the final squad, but has been granted an opportunity to train with the national team. Alongside Martial, Rashford has carried United’s hopes since February. He has two more games to save United’s season.
Assistants: A Holmes, H Lennard
Fourth Official: G Scott
United 2-0 Bournemouth
21 thoughts on “Time to say goodbye as Reds welcome Bournemouth”
His delusions seem to know no bounds…as rightly mentioned here…we currently have the players with pace and creativity but safety first approach has taken the wind out of players like Memphis..Andre and to an extent even Rooney. Even players who gave their all last year like Ashley were pointed out to not be Neymar by this guy…why shd he be allowed to decide which creative player shd join United? He’s going to leave next year anyway if it goes as per the original contract? It’s 2 am here in LA and as you rightly said one more year under LvG is keeping us awake at night!
Woodward’s inaction is more complex. The narrative from the club is that Van Gaal is ushering in a new philosophy, educating youth and readying Giggs for a long stable spell as United manager. Sacking Van Gaal would be to admit that the plan isn’t working, and doing that could create huge unrest within the club. Yes Woodward would look bad: ego damaged. But the club could suffer. Sticking with Van Gaal is probably the safest option if considering long term stability within the club.
Getting in Mourinho is the exact opposite: short term, adaptable, intuitive approach with no ‘strategy’ as such just a determination to win.
Woodward will look bad either way so his ego is going to take a knock regardless.
Interesting to compare the psychology of City’s home crowd with that of our own. Last Sunday, when that draw with Arsenal took City’s 4th place finish out of their own hands, the crowd booed the players off the pitch and made straight for the exits rather than stick around a few minutes longer to listen to Pellegrini’s farewell speech. The Old Trafford faithful by contrast, post-Moyes, have been unfailingly patient and supportive, getting behind the team and even the manager despite everything – seemingly out of a sense of duty and decency.
In both instances this is understandable and regrettable. City’s recent success has not balanced out the nightmare for them of the Ferguson era; that their recent success is artificially sourced is a non-issue; what is an issue is the idea of United getting back ahead of them.
The irony however is there was never any prospect of this United collecting 3 points from Upton Park. Time and time again, against Wolfsburg, Liverpool, West Ham, when this United have really needed a win to get back to being a serious club, they’ve come up short.
And Old Trafford has accepted this. The psychology seems to be: we had more than our share of success, football is cyclical, this is the time to show we’re genuine supporters not glory hunters.
Which plays into Woodward’s hands. It should not be thinkable that this manager might retain his job, that the FA bauble or even 4th place is good enough, that watching Liverpool get Klopp, or Bayern go from Guardiola to Ancelotti whilst we went from Van Gaal to Giggs, would be in any way acceptable.
The supporters expectations aren’t too high, they’re much much too low, and unless Old Trafford gets angry they’re not going to get anything different. What they are going to get is a club whose Schweinsteiger and Ibrahimovic recruitment policy makes the average Lampard- and Gerrard-contracting MLS club look credible by comparison.
Some papers today have run the story this manager plans to blame Paul Scholes when we don’t finish 4th. Me, I think I blame the supporters.
As far as I know there is no organised ‘van Gaal out’ campaign anywhere amongst the United fans. Plenty of negative comments about him on social media but no more. No posters, signs, petitions, chants or aircraft flying over Old Trafford with banners, nothing at all.
In truth there is little pressure on Woodward from the fans and since he has referred to van Gaal as a genius, there is every chance that the obnoxious, self-serving Dutchman will be there next season.
After today’s froo-fra, one can only think that the events of this past week are a reflection of “history repeating itself, first as tragedy and then as farce”.
Why do you call an evacuation (and postponement/cancellation) because of a ‘code red’ alert, a farce?
What I meant was that it would be a farce in regard to the events of “this past week” by which I mean going from a 1-2 advantage with 15 minutes -to-go on Tuesday (which would have made today’s match something other than a dead-rubber) to the football events (football events, get it ?) in which ManShitty drew and would have still gained 4th place even if TheLads had won.
After losing the title a few years ago on goal difference, losing out on 4th place on goal difference again would have been truly farcical.
So it was a dummy device left over after a training exercise? Bugger me, that’s priceless. I wouldn’t like to be in the shoes of the poor sod who left it there.
only somewhat off-topic:
“Bournemouth have rejected a £25m bid from West Ham for striker Callum Wilson, 24, and midfielder Matt Ritchie, 26.”
This is the new reality of the EPL – bottom feeders like Bournemouth now have the funds to keep their players or to sell them for really exorbitant fees.
And, of course, for UTD this means that the price will be even higher for journeymen with British passports.
Thus, the recruitment choice will be simple: bring kids through the system or buy foreign.
Not exactly no. Exorbitant is not the right description. The fees are reflective of the current market. United’s staggering yearly revenue means they should be paying 50 plus million to buy in players from other Premier league clubs.. Or any other league. Two players going to a top four contending club of the premier league probably should be priced around 25 million. Better the money stays in football rather than drips out in share holder dividends.
We aren’t the same club we were twenty years ago; we don’t have to be looking around for the next big thing for an affordable price.
Youth should be prioritised for many good reasons but for United saving money is not one of them,
Money is not the problem when Woodward is prepared to pay something over 100m for Neymar. It’s how the money has been spent over the last few seasons that is the real problem – think Di Maria, Rojo, Schneiderlin, Darmian, Memphis and to an extent, Schweinsteiger. Despite this, many commentators feel we still need three, four or maybe five new players. It’s as if there has been little by way of re-building over the last three seasons.
It’s the strongest case for a new manager and why LvG shouldn’t stay and neither should Giggs. We need someone to come in and take an objective look at the squad and take control of transfer policy. Clearly LvG and Woodward don’t know what they are doing. Yes it means admitting failure but if that’s what has to happen in the best interests of the club – then so be it.
Once again, can’t disagree with anything you’ve written there.
A lot of money has indeed been badly spent. Schweinsteiger and Falcao, chosen for their qualities of being available and famous rather than fit with good years ahead of them. Di Maria who never wanted to be there in the first place. Fellaini.
A lot of the money wasn’t badly spent. The problem is that the players are badly managed.
Rojo, Darmian, Depay: shunted around from one position to another. Putting together a consistent run of form whilst dealing with continually switching roles on the pitch would be challenging enough at a place where you’re already settled. Attempting to do so whilst adapting to a new club, a new league, a new country and a new language ?
Schneiderlin: overlooked and forced to watch Schweinsteiger and Fellaini in his place; occasionally brought back – once his confidence is nicely low; dropped again regardless of how well he plays; brought back even more occasionally, confidence properly destroyed; then scapegoated and exiled.
Injuries are given as the reason (and United’s record in this regard, season after season, dismissed as a mere unlucky coincidence). 5th is actually a triumph given what should have been expected – realistically. “I have already said this.”
Now compare to the progress Klopp is already making – despite the regular non-availability of their apparently most important player – before he’s made a single transfer. And compare to the kind of, the speed of, transition Ancelotti could have overseen – if Woodward had got to him before Bayern did – contracted early to start this summer. Although of course, making that kind of 6-months-hence change really stuffed up City. They only finished 4th.
You have to ask yourself why the succession was so badly handled and why we continue to underwhelm whilst our manager tells us our expectations are ‘too high’. Can you imagine supporters of Real, Barca, or Bayern putting up with that? Or the boards come to think of it. We like to think of ourselves as being in the same bracket as those three clubs, and maybe we are, at least when it come to making money. Football wise, we are miles behind.
Klopp will revive Liverpool’s fortunes. Hell, he’s already done so whether they beat Valencia or not. Ancelotti is a class act and it’s no surprise Bayern nabbed him (though when Pep announced his departure, I thought they would be in for Jose). We selected David Moyes, a man whose claim to fame was winning the 2nd Division and losing an FA Cup final. Fergie’s nifty bit of revisionism fools nobody. It was his choice and all the bluster about courting Guardiola and Ancelotti was just that.
And the succession continues to be botched. The current situation is bizarre with LvG claiming that he “will be here next season because I’ve signed a three year contract”! So either the club have no intention of replacing him or he’s lying – which one is it? If the club is going to appoint a new manager, be it Mourinnho or, heaven help us, Giggs, then surely negotiations must have reached an advanced stage by now. If so it is impossible that they have not told him or that he has not got wind of it. Maybe it is just another one of Woodward’s games of brinkmanship! It really seems such a sad impasse for such a wonderful club
“Klopp will revive Liverpool’s fortunes.”
His team was 8th in the EPL and in a cup final; LvG’s team was 5th and is also in a cup final.
Klopp’s team plays with more energy and attacking intent but they leak goals; LvG’s team is listless but has a very good defensive record.
I don’t see much “evidence” that either guy has the-keys-to-the-kingdom.
Ancelotti is a bit of a wild card in that he has always managed teams with a strong chance of winning-it-all yet his league record is rather less-than-brilliant.
Jo$e, on the other hand, ……
“Klopp will revive Liverpool’s fortunes.”
Klopp has lost 5 consecutive cup finals now, just saying.
That’s why I used the future tense when I mentioned Klopp. It wasn’t that long ago that United fans were clamouring for Klopp to take over at Old Trafford. I think he will revive Liverpool’s fortunes, given enough funds to buy players this summer.
What are you ‘just saying.’ He’s unlucky? He’s a poor manager? Considering the shambles Liverpool were in after Rodgers, I’d say he’s done remarkably well.
Every time George Best played in an FA Cup semi-final, United lost. 1964, 1965 and 1966.