Mohammed Ali feigned coyness as always. He would lure stronger opponents, like Frazier and Norton, by dangling his possum-like retreat to the ropes to tempt his aggressors to over commit. When they thought they had him on the ropes, Ali lashed out lightening quick flurries as he counterpunched frequently and effectively – the rope-a-dope.
Just like the snared heavyweights of old, Louis van Gaal’s head must be spinning on a top after negative results from both Stamford Bridge and Goodison Park in quick succession. United’s inability to register a goal in either of these away contests has had top three contention, and automatic champ league spot, slip away from their grasp for now.
Ali, the boxing legend, displays his amazing quickness. Source:YouTube
The dearth of goals will be grave cause of concern for the Red Devil gaffer. It now appears that the United’s away wobble is back. LVG’s loose handle on United’s away form this campaign might be by-product of his recent matriculation at the Premier League. There is a collective hope that the Dutch trainer is a quick learner, and will acquit himself with better distinction in his sophomore season. Currently United are a desperately disappointing 8th, in the away form league table, which is in stark contrast to their table topping 1st position in the home form standing.
On the surface, it certainly seems like EPL veterans José Mourinho and Roberto Martínez have outsmarted LVG, by fleeting like butterflies and stinging like bees. The disappointing 1-0 loss at the Bridge, and the subsequent 3-0 drubbing at Goodison reeked of what some might call a good ole smash and grab.
LVG has not been flexible over these two away fixtures, the United boss has stuck to his winning formula of ultra possession footy, and this unyielding allegiance to his primary tactics has not paid any dividends lately away from home where both Chelsea and Everton remained entrenched, absorbed United’s pressure, and struck out on the counter with deadly effect.
Ali once bluffed, forever the showman, he had learned how to handcuff lightening. The Red Devils have learned an essential magic trick – how to annex the ball. This much is evident in their last two losses, maintaining over 85% pass success rate away to Chelsea (91%) and Everton (86%). United predictably garnered over 65% possession as well.
However United remain impotent against well drilled defensive schemes, and the numbers connive to illustrate the Red Devils inability to break teams down that have elected to surrender the ball to remain compact at the back. The Reds, over the two games, made a total of 1311 passes, and out of that mass, United only managed to play 2 successful through balls – an indictment on their lack of incision.
Not to say if more balls found their way into tantalizing areas that United forwards would have obliged. The form of Rooney, Young, Fellaini, Mata, Herrera and Falcao has been abysmal over the last two away games. They all colluded to contribute 3 total shots on target out of 23 attempts on goal – Rooney the worst offender with 1 shot on target after 4 attempts in each game.
Infographic showing total shots & shots on target over the 2 away games at Stamford Bridge and Goodison Park.
LVG must seriously look at his notations on the potency of his current Rooney/Falcao/RVP strike force, and remedy it’s deficiencies ahead of next season. He will have to manufacture another method to change the game when United are in dire straits, if Fellaini is already on the pitch. United at present don’t seem to have a nuclear option when plan A is faltering.
The Falcao experiment is dead on arrival, and Angel Di Maria never seems to have enough confidence on the ball to dig the Reds out of trouble. Both marquee signings struggle with their back to goal and are frequently brushed or bullied off the ball. Maybe a certain Mexican forward can be cajoled to serve a purpose on the United bench, it will require soft skills from the Iron Tulip as a warm arm over the shoulder and the art of seduction can lend itself useful in convincing a player to abandon their thirst for first team duties for the greater good of the team.
Another useful arrow in the quiver would be being flexible with away tactics, and adjusting to the realities of tough away grounds. In the face of an unrelenting wall of bodies, United might have to abandon the slick possession play for a more direct approach with appropriate width. Hopefully these sorts of adjustments will be made, LVG is as stubborn as they come, and most winners are. However he does have the pedigree of preparing his teams adequately, as West Brom will soon learn.
A home game at Old Trafford – happy days are here again!
*All stats quoted, if otherwise not stated, data from whoscored.com.