Here they go again: confidence built up over a run of four decent results was well and truly shattered by another shambolic performance by Manchester United, this time, at the home of their bitterest rivals, Liverpool. Manchester United looked gutless, devoid of any commitment in what was arguably their biggest game of the season and have potentially blown their chances of making it to the Champions League next campaign. Given the context and significance of the tie, the performance could well be remembered as the worst under Louis Van Gaal and that is saying something.
Liverpool started the half like a side that were fully up for it, wanting to prove a point, putting the back four of Man United under serious pressure whenever the visitors attempted to play the ball out from the back. It was a familiar story from start to finish as Man United were outrun and outfought especially in the middle of the park where an anonymous and unfit Fellaini managed to spend 90 minutes on the pitch without getting the hook or worse a red card for his ‘antics’ at the very end of the game.
In a calamitous first half that should have ended the tie as a contest, United were, miraculously, still in with a shout, thanks to De Gea who had another brilliant game against Liverpool. He made six saves on Thursday, notably a couple of excellent saves to deny Coutinho – one from point blank range and the other a typical long-range effort which had almost paid off for the home side. While United laboured, they did manage to muster their first shot on target in the 51st minute.
Paul Scholes raised a great point regarding the dangers of United settling for mediocrity on BT Sport in his subtly passionate rant where he lambasted United’s performance, devaluing the occasion. He said,
“The mobility was poor but the quality of play was shambolic. They got into decent positions at times but the quality, the lack of fight – I see Lallana after half an hour stud rolling. Take him out! Smash him! I hope none of the players comes out saying sorry on Twitter tomorrow. Stop talking on social media and start playing! “The last thing I want for Manchester United is to be happy with finishing fourth and winning the FA Cup. That’s what Arsenal do”
Paul Scholes has been kind, they were worse in all honesty. Any Manchester United fan would bite your hand off for a fourth place finish and the FA Cup silverware in May. That is how bad it has gotten and with the resources they command that could put almost every other club in world football bar Barcelona and Real Madrid to the shade, the state they are in is an indication of failure from the root to the very top of that football club and it needs efficient leaders to run that with an iron fist, which they are lacking both on and off the pitch.
United are well short of vocal leaders on the pitch to maraud the team in places like Anfield, drag them through the finish when the going gets tough. Instead, they play like a bunch of individuals who were put together in haste to try and kick that ball as high and hard as they can to the head of an afro-wearing Belgian. Worse, as Scholes pointed out himself, the excuses on social media and the virtual “we will come back stronger” messages to the supporters that are good for nothing.
If there’s any positives to be taken out of this game, it’s the fact that it definitely warrants a response, a strong one, against West Ham United at Old Trafford in the FA Cup quarter-final. Easily their best chance of winning a trophy and salvaging some pride, it should be interesting to see if the senior ‘leader’ figures at Old Trafford can lead the largely inexperienced youngsters to a victory in a game that could absolutely define, not just this season, but the whole of these last two years under the Dutchman and the philosophy he’s been trying to impose.