Signs of Progress at Manchester United

November 8, 2014 9:53 am

The road to redemption for Manchester United has so far proven to be a long and winding one. It also appears to be a particularly treacherous one, given the number of injuries being sustained by players at the club. However, following United’s last gasp equaliser against Chelsea on Sunday, there’s a growing sense that things might be starting to get better for the Old Trafford faithful.

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Sunday’s display against Chelsea was far from perfect, as evidenced by the fact that United only managed to salvage a draw in the dying seconds of injury time, but there were signs, particularly in the first half, that Louis Van Gaal’s side are really starting to gel. Following up his goal-scoring substitute appearance against West Bromwich Albion, Marouane Fellaini surprised everyone by effectively neutralising the significant threat of Cesc Fabregas, limiting him to a total of eleven passes in the first half, and providing a worthy opponent for the physical prowess and defensive nous of Nemanja Matic when required. Daley Blind also played well, dropping deep when necessary and dragging Chelsea’s Oscar with him, opening up space for United’s more advanced operators. In turn, players such as Mata and Januzaj were able to open up passing channels to Robin Van Persie by diverting the attentions of Fabregas and Matic and creating space between the pair for the ball to be played through.

man uThe problem United face at the moment is effectively utilising the spaces they are creating and at the moment, they simply aren’t able to do this. It’s difficult to pinpoint one reason for this, as it can be attributed to a number of factors such as the relatively blunt displays of Robin Van Persie, a player who looks a mile away from being the player who dominated the Premier League two seasons ago, despite scoring the equaliser on Sunday. Furthermore, the absence of Wayne Rooney (through suspension) and Radamel Falcao (through injury) don’t help matters either.

However, if there is one factor that deserves particular consideration over the others, it is the fact that for much of the season the best of United’s attacking play has stemmed from individual moments of brilliance and not the sort of impressively worked team efforts that arise due to players understanding the system they play in and their individual roles within it. Even the equaliser against Chelsea owed a lot to Angel Di Maria’s talent for taking set pieces. This is to be expected as sometimes in football things take a while to settle, but as time passes and United’s players become more familiar with their new coach, his system, their individual roles and the roles of their team mates things will continue to improve.

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