Another goal which turned out to be mightily important for Manchester United from Marcus Rashford sealed maximum points against what is arguably the worst side the Premier League has seen in years.
It was an amazingly drab affair with chances at a premium but that is something the fans should have seen coming in a game between two of the least proficient sides in terms of chance creation in the league. United, at the end of the day, got the points they wanted, but still are 3 points off where they want to be at the end of the season – and with games coming thick and fast, momentum and results are priority.
United started the game with Wayne Rooney in the number 10 role – behind Rashford; the first time these two have been asked to do the business up top, Mata on the right and Memphis earning a rare start down the left flank, with the hope of getting the Dutchman up to speed ahead of a busy period for the Red Devils. The home side dominated possession from start to finish although it was all sterile and as has been the case this season, United struggled to carve out real openings in front of a packed East Stand.
A switch in play from Wayne Rooney involved a raking cross-field pass to the feet of Antonio Valencia who managed to successfully drive a low cross towards Rashford, who’d cleverly checked back in the near post to apply a well timed finish and there it was – 1-0 on the scoreboard. 18-year old Marcus Rashford had scored his 7th goal in 11 appearances, 4th of his last 5 shots on target and United’s 40th of the campaign – their fewest at this stage, ever in the Premier League era. To put this into some context, they reached the same number of goals as early as December in Sir Alex Ferguson’s final season at the Old Trafford club. This is how far the standards have dropped in terms of being exciting and scoring goals for the fun of it. Football has become this tiring and diligent profession rather than a sport in the red half of Manchester.
While the 75,000 spectators expected the floodgates to open and United to really put their foot on the gas and score a couple more, they bore witness to what was a laboured finish through the rest of the game, at times even made to work in the end, after a short wave of Villa attacks. Louis Van Gaal, interestingly, in his post-match presser expressed his disapproval of the way his side played today, criticising the tempo of their passing and the lack of cutting-edge movement to create spaces and exploit them. He said,
“We didn’t play so good, I think. I changed five players [from the West Ham game] and you expect us to be fresh, playing the ball more quickly. You need that against such a defensive team. It’s all so difficult, it’s all so compact, I know. But, still we have to do it. You have to finsh the second goal. Then also the motivation of Aston Villa is less and you can play better. I am very happy with the score, with the result, and now we have to look at Chelsea.”
What Van Gaal said in that presser sounded very repetitive. First of, to label Aston Villa ‘a compact and defensive side’ is the most farcical thing anyone can ever say this season. Their goal difference is -42 and they have conceded 65 goals (highest) with five games to spare. Although results are much more important than performances at this stage of the season, the counter-argument is United have put in excitable, breath-taking performances only in a handful of games this season and that is why the fans will never be satisfied with United under Van Gaal no matter where they finish come May.
It was a win, yet many supporters are already dreading the prospect of watching United under Van Gaal for one more season. And this has been the case in the last few months. 11 clean sheets in 16 games at Old Trafford so far is impressive but it has come at a cost. Only 21 goals scored at home by Man United (less than the likes of Newcastle United) and about 20 less than Manchester City – who have scored the highest number of goals at home this season. We all know what majority of the fans would rather out of those two.
After all, football is primarily a sport that needs to be enjoyed for its beauty and unpredictability and not an organisation to be structured and orderly, isn’t it?