Wayne Rooney’s late goal against CSKA Moscow on Tuesday has left the Stretford End with a conundrum ahead of Saturday’s game against West Brom. There remains a gut feeling Van Gaal’s side is a million miles away from the United teams of the past — the boos that greeted the substitution of Anthony Martial at Old Trafford confirm that — but does the evidence support it?
After 11 games, United are fourth in the Premier League, top of their Champions League group and unbeaten in six games (in fact they have lost only one in the last 10 if you don’t include a penalty shoot-out defeat to Middlesbrough in the Capital One Cup). They have also conceded only 13 goals in 19 matches since August and only eight in the Premier League; not exactly the kind of statistics you associate with a crisis. In fact, in 2012-13, when United last won the title, they had let in 17 goals by this stage of the campaign.
So are fans guilty of painting the past with emotional shades of red and forgetting that even under Alex Ferguson it wasn’t always a thrill-a-minute ride?
“I remember nights when it didn’t go well or we got beat under Sir Alex,” said midfielder Michael Carrick. “It’s just how it is. It’s how people remember things isn’t it? Your childhood was always great wasn’t it?
“If you look at the situation we’re in, we are not too far off the top in the Premier League. We are frustrated because we have thrown points away we shouldn’t have and we are disappointed we are out of the League Cup; but on the whole it’s not a disaster. We have a big game on Saturday and we have to be ready. We have had a couple of setbacks this year that have knocked us a little but overall it’s not been too bad. A lot has been made of us not scoring goals but now we have scored and won hopefully it will change.”
It will, of course, should United continue to win; the style of play is a justifiable topic for fans and pundits (Paul Scholes has been particularly critical) but the reality is that such concerns only come into focus when the team fails to pick up points.
“I think there is an awful lot made of tactics these days,” said Carrick, who insisted he still has respect for Scholes despite his much-publicised opinions on United’s style of play.
“People like to talk about that a lot more now than they did in the past. The truth is different managers have different systems and ways to set a teams up. Obviously our game is based on possession and dominating teams with possession.
“So, yeah, there are things as a team that we do different to how we did them in the past but to me that’s just obvious when you have a new manager and he has different beliefs.”
Carrick, in fact, bristled at the suggestion United now play a more ‘conservative’ brand of football, despite Scholes’s barbs. “I don’t think its more conservative,” he insisted. “I just think its slightly different. In some ways but not all ways. I thought our performance against CSKA was more dynamic and aggressive in terms of attacking and getting forward quickly and getting crosses in the box.
“In the end if you win 1-0 then the tactics don’t get discussed that much. That’s the way of things. Its fine lines isn’t it? In the end it’s about winning — winning games and winning trophies.”