Despite some pretty functional football at times the one thing that Manchester United manager, Louis Van Gaal, has done since his time at the club is win matches that matter. For example three games versus Liverpool and three victories (including a massive one at Anfield during a shaky period last season which also included a 3-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur the week before) – this is always a fan pleaser and they may well have been extremely fortunate to win at the Emirates last season, but win they did. Fair play to LVG he also won their first Manchester Derby after four straight defeats in April and crucially when it looked like they may well be throwing a top 4 place away they won a massive game at Crystal Palace despite being second best for the majority of the game. Even this season when they faced a qualifier to get into the group stages of the Champions League (they may well have been fortunate to draw arguably the easiest opponents in Club Brugge), but you still have to beat whatever is put in front of you and the Dutch manager presided over a comprehensive 7-1 aggregate victory – job done and onto the group stage they went. However this coming Tuesday (8th December) LVG probably has the biggest match of his Manchester United tenure so far (financially anyways) – a MUST WIN match against Wolfsburg in the Champions League. Win and they top the group, draw or lose, the likelihood is they will end up in the Europa League as PSV are very likely to beat an already eliminated CSKA Moscow.
An opportunity may well be missed
To be honest if Manchester fail to get through to the Champions League knockout stages it will be a tad embarrassing. United were second seeds and due to their absence from European competition the previous season, their coefficient has taken a bit of a battering, so when the draw was made they got off very lightly in regards to who they were picked out to play. They got PSV, who were by far the weakest of the top seeds, CSKA an average side, where the long journey and plastic pitch were seen as more of a hinderance than the team. Their luck ran out with a very capable Wolfsburg team as their 4th seed opponents (they came second to an extremely dominant Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga, the previous season). So in other words (not easy) but definitely a group that you would expect a team that has had 250m spent on it in the previous 12 months to get through.
The fallen champions have already had one opportunity to secure a place in the knockout phase, one which they blew spectacularly after an abysmal home performance against a PSV side who really should have been put to the sword – or at least have felt they were in a game. Credit has to be given to the Dutch opponents (who had beaten United in their home meeting in September – despite the English sides wastefulness in front of goal) but a side who claim to be one of the biggest in European Football should be winning matches of this nature against so called lesser opponents when it really matters. The worst thing about the performance was the slow play, passing for passing sake (sometimes not even to players on their team) and let’s be honest a complete lack of guile – it seems that the players were not sure of their roles. The thing is it has been like that on numerous occasions in their matches, they are defensively sound (mainly thanks to Chris ‘Mikey’ Smalling and David de Gea), but a stagnant and slow midfield can at times leave the attacking players posing little threat. There is little drive in the team as we stand.
Champions League or Europa League???????
So the pressure is well and truly on. Getting knocked out of the Champions League at this stage will not please Executive Vice Chairman Ed ‘Commercial King’ Woodward as budgets are forecasted with the proviso that they reach the quarter finals of the competition. Yes this is something which cannot always be guaranteed, but with all the money they have allowed the Iron Tulip to spend, failure to at least get out of the group will be seen as unacceptable. So what is going to happen in Wolfsburg, let’s be honest they are capable of winning (they have a fantastic crop of players) but would even the most one eyed Manchester United fan feel hugely confident of a win as they are just as capable of turning up, stinking the place out and drawing 0-0 or have a narrow loss. The answers will come in due course – a proper test for the so called LVG philosophy / process (does anyone know what this is yet by the way) – defeat (or non-qualification) and I wonder what excuse he will come with up (probably injuries I suspect) – well here’s something Lou – THERE ISNT ONE.
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