For the third time in seven days, Manchester United have gone goalless, and for the second time in four days, they’ve never looked like scoring. This afternoon was not so dreadful an experience as Wednesday night’s game, but that’s solely due to my approaching the game with drastically lowered expectations. And thanks to such lowered expectations, I got all the way into the closing minutes of the game without once having uttered the traditional words, “Oh, for fuck’s sake, Rooney!”
That was brought about by our supposedly world class leader receiving the ball approximately twenty-five yards from the goal and taking so long to sort out which foot he was going to use to kick the ball who-knows-where that he let two Crystal Palace players come at him from his blind side and take the ball off him without a fight.
That’s practically all I can remember from the recently-finished second half, except that for some reason, Ashley Young got booed by the home support every time he got the ball, which started from his first touch.
The first half was marginally more memorable. United hit a comfortable passing rhythm that kept Palace away from the ball, but it was possession without purpose. It was as if there was an invisible barrier across the pitch, twenty-five yards out from goal, and that as soon as any United player felt its influence, they were compelled to turn round and pass the ball back.
There was a telling exchange involving Schweinsteiger, assessing the position and playing the ball to Rooney, who promptly kicked it straight back to him, which must have had Schweini wondering why he’d bothered in the first place. So he passed it to Anthony Martial, who promptly kicked it straight back to him. Realising that he was getting nowhere like this, Schweini recalibrated his sights and picked out a forty yards crossfield ball to Darmian, presumably on the grounds that at least it wouldn’t be winged back instantly to him.
It was like that a lot of the time, but the moment that will be picked out, we hope, came in the 31st minute. There was a scramble for the ball, which ran loose in space for Martial to surge in from the wing, where he is still being absolutely wasted. There was a gap, and Rooney was pointing, so Martial hit this brilliant pass. It split the Palace defence, and it wasn’t even hit hard, but try as he might, Rooney didn’t have the speed to catch up to it and the keeper beat him to it.
He’s only just turned thirty. It was pitiful to watch him chugging after the ball, unable to catch up to it.
So that’s now 300 minutes of football in which United have looked less likely to score a goal than I am. There was this great shot of Louis van Gaal in the dug-out, staring wide-eyed at the pitch, unable to believe what he was watching. Now you know how we feel, you useless lump.
These players can play, most of them anyway. They need a manager who can release them, who’ll tell them that it’s ok to play forward passes, to go at defenders whole-heartedly, even to shoot, which is getting to be a bit of an alien concept at Old Trafford right now.
Oh, and Rooney/Mata, a word in your shell-likes: that free-kick gimmick where one of you runs over the ball and lets the other take it? It’s not going to fool anyone unless sometimes the one who runs up first takes the kick. Otherwise, it’s just a complete waste of energy. And patience.