The worst fears of some Manchester United fans that this recent four game winning run could be one of a long array of false dawns that Van Gaal’s men have provided this season, were realised at the Hawthorns on Sunday. United slumped to another away defeat after Juan Mata’s sending off in the 26th minute meant the visitors had to play with a numerical disadvantage for over an hour and a goal from the home side was always coming. Salomon Rondon struck the killer blow in the 66th minute which has now put the Dutchman’s immediate future and Man United’s hopes of making the top four in serious doubts again.
The starting eleven, as always, raised a few questions, dividing opinion among the fans on social media. A back four with the ever-present Daley Blind who clearly looked exhausted after the midweek victory against Watford. And the rather bizarre decision to exclude defensive midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin when he looked like he was getting into his stride alongside Herrera and an intermittent run of games would have been the last thing he wanted. The Frenchman is arguably United’s best holding midfielder and on his day he is one of the best in the league. Everyone is aware of his capabilities in breaking down play and protecting the back four offering a bit of physicality and mobility that, for instance, someone like Carrick cannot for a sustained period of time.
But it would seem there is something that Van Gaal doesn’t like about the midfielder – that he’s only been involved in 22 of 29 games in the league – notably having started in only 19 outings. This is something odd considering the fact he was relatively injury-free throughout the season unlike some of his compatriots in the squad. He had one of his best games against Arsenal in an impressive 3-2 victory after which he spoke to the club’s official channel,
“I try to do my best. I had good spells before, in October and November, and then I didn’t play as much. But for me it’s an honour to walk out, to keep going and of course now I feel a bit better. It was a case of getting used to this. I’m feeling good and I need to carry on; hopefully I will carry on like this.”
Against Arsenal, in front of a makeshift back four, Schneiderlin completed 82% of his passes while recording four tackles, four clearances and three interceptions. He seemed confident and carried the same form into Watford which his side won 1-0, a scrappy game that he played a big role in, coming away with maximum points. This brings us to the question why he was not picked against West Bromwich Albion, who, anyone that follows the Premier League will know, are an incredibly well-drilled, physical and long-ball loving team that thrive on second balls, knockdowns and last minute set pieces.
Would he have prevented Louis Van Gaal’s United from capitulating in a game they had to win? No. But that is not the question we ought to ask when it comes to Schneiderlin’s own personal form. Only when the Frenchman is given a regular run of games, will he get up to speed in time for crunch games, like the fair few Manchester United will be playing in March starting from a trip to Anfield on Thursday.
Looking at the success Leicester City have had this campaign, one of the real key players in that side is N’Golo Kante – arguably their most important player if you ask me – who has been able to affect games only because he is not dropped. He plays when he is fit and the confidence and momentum only snowballs from there, with every game.
Francis Coquelin starts for Arsenal whenever he is fit. And so does Kante for title-chasing Leicester City. But Morgan Schneiderlin is always in and out of the team which partially, if not wholly, has had an effect on his not-so-spectacular season far. With only 27 points left to play for in the league, Van Gaal’s men need to shake their latest defeat off and perform in the other two competitions they are in, to stand a chance to win a trophy or two, when it all wraps in May. And to do so, they need to get more out of Morgan Schneiderlin between now and the end of the season.