The Red Devils were beaten 2-1 by Swansea on Saturday after a dismal display and face falling out of the top four once the weekend’s fixtures are completed
If Louis Van Gaal wasn’t ‘cracking up’ when he produced his long ball dossier, he must have been when he claimed on Friday that Manchester United have been the best team in the country over the last 20 matches.
Swansea made a mockery of that boast on Saturday afternoon as they completed the double over United for the first time in their history, taking advantage of yet another insipid performance by Van Gaal’s men.
United’s display again suggested that they have made no improvement under Van Gaal since they were beaten by Swansea at Old Trafford on the first day of the season back in August.
There has been little progress even since the departure of David Moyes. All this despite spending £150 million on a host of stellar signings – stars who were supposed to guarantee their return to the Champions League.
After this result, though, United will drop out of the top four if Southampton beat Liverpool at St Mary’s on Sunday and are facing a huge battle to return to Europe’s elite competition.
When league leaders Chelsea travelled to the Liberty Stadium in January, they tore apart the Welsh club in a thumping 5-0 victory. That is what the best in the Premier League looks like. Not the dreary sterile performance again produced by United on Saturday as they ended the game with 65 per cent possession but no points.
Despite controlling most of the ball, the visitors barely created any chances of note and registered just three shots on target in the whole match, including Ander Herrera’s opener. It was a lovely goal, the type of football United supporters want to see as Wayne Rooney and Angel Di Maria combined superbly before the Spaniard drilled in a perfect low finish.
But that was as good as it got, the only moment of real quality in a drab performance during which Van Gaal’s side always looked vulnerable at the back.
The sheer size of Swansea striker Bafetimbi Gomis terrified the United defence. The Frenchman could have scored twice in the first 10 minutes as he was gifted free headers in the penalty area from corners. So it was no surprise on the half-hour mark when Ki Sung-Yueng was allowed to stroll into the United penalty area completely unmarked and flick in Jonjo Shelvey’s cross with his right boot.
Then, for the winner in the 73rd minute, the United back four stood off and allowed Shelvey to fire at goal from 25 yards, with the ball finding the net via a fortuitous deflection of Gomis.
Van Gaal cannot blame bad luck. He will know that United have escaped enough times this season with undeserved points and it can’t always go their way.
Again on Saturday, there was none of the intensity and movement that United were so used to – and spoiled by – in those halcyon days under Sir Alex Ferguson.
Van Gaal’s philosophy so far appears to be nothing more than to control the game at a slow tempo and hope that, at some point, the quality of their forwards will make the difference in the final third.
Even one of those men, Radamel Falcao, was left on the bench for the full 90 minutes in Swansea as the likes of Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young were brought on instead.
As United desperately, predictably, smashed long balls up to Marouane Fellaini in the final moments, Swansea were well prepared as they denied the visitors any time or space around the edge of the penalty area.
No chances arrived, just as they didn’t throughout the second-half as Van Gaal’s brave boast emphatically backfired.