WHAT’S YOUR POISON?

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At the height of the Louis van Gaal era, Manchester United fans were a depressed lot. After spending 150m quid on new players, some of whom were absolute world beaters, the Dutchman’s much maligned philosophy had a star studded United team in a tight straight-jacket.

You paid for a matchday ticket for just one shot at goal. Your investment in that local pub for which you are a regular was usually rewarded with one shot at goal. Indeed, you’d be more than compensated if that shot at goal was on target and, better still, consider yourself extremely well rewarded if that shot on target found the back of the net!

The Dutchman’s football was, in essence, the antithesis of the very principles upon which the club was built. Results took a back seat and shots on goal performances became the easy choice analysis by pundits.Where some fans tuned in to watch their club at the weekend as an escape from the troubles of the week, the activity was quickly re-defined as a weekly source of desperation.

Except that it wasn’t always like that. Louis van Gaal did have his watershed moment. When his philosophy occasionally bought into the attacking instincts of the club. Those were mercifully necessary moments of reprieve. Unfortunately, the ”risks” that come with open warfare proved too much to handle for him.

From the start he made it very clear that he prefer to watch a game of football without having to ”twitch his arse” on the bench. Losing 5-3 to Leicester City having led 3-1 after 65 minutes was one such occasion. A 3-3 draw at St. James’ Park last season was another. The 3-2 defeat at VfL Wolfsburg in the Champions League also comes to mind.

United have desperately lacked a spine in the centre of the pitch for a long time to combine the traits of attack and defence coherently and consistently over 90 minutes. That has no doubt been due to a failure in the transfer market since 2010 to address this particular concern.

Tasked with getting points on the board to quickly restore the club to its recent glory, van Gaal immediately realised how effective his style of play would be in negating the defensive deficiency of his side. Indeed, United, for all their dour football under the Dutchman boasted one of the club’s best ever defensive records in the premier league era. But fans at the time were willing to endure defeat if it meant a departure from van Gaal’s ways.

Under Jose Mourinho, the difference couldn’t be more stark. The thrill is back! United play some lovely football again. Indeed, the club has broken the record for amount of shots at goal in the premier league era during the short reign of Mourinho so far. Those matchday going fans and the pub regulars will now tell you that this is at least value for money.

The manager has come out to explain that the club would have had a better start to the season if he had chosen to continue the establishment left by his predecessor. Indeed, the evidence suggests the club would perhaps be better off in terms of their points tally if they still had LVG at the helm. The depths of this season in terms of their points tally were hitherto unknown by the club. Indeed, van Gaal’s frustrating side was 7 points better off at this stage last season!

The manager however, elected to depart from it because, and rightly so, he found it too defensive and possession based without carrying much of a punch at the other end. Except that there is a rather large caveat that has come with the new found philosophy: Can’t find the back of the net! United have moved from being a depressing lot to a frustrating lot. United fans are in the middle of a catch 22 wherein the reminiscence about the old days carries a relief from depression about it whist the present is mind-bogglingly frustrating.  It’s a cruel twist of fate! Very cruel! The hand of Lucifer himself!

Intriguingly, it is not as if we are hypothesising United’s ability to score in the league. The club have easily racked up four goal totals in just about every Cup game so far this season.  The argument for weaker opposition in the Cups was laid to rest when the club emerged from a failure infront of goal against West Ham in two days to put four past the Hammers in the League Cup last week. The mystery remains unsolved. Unfortunately, the club is desperately short of time with which to solve it. The only available options at the moment are a pick between depression and frustration. What’s your poison?

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