Manchester United recorded their fourth successive draw in all competitions, and their third 0-0 in three matches against Crystal Palace at the weekend. The Red Devils looked blunt and pedestrian. The latter is a word that has been aimed at Louis van Gaal’s team all season, and it is easy to see why.
United have scored 15 goals in the Premier League this term. That is 11 less than their city rivals, one less than a floundering Chelsea and just two more than Sunderland – it’s hardly party time at Old Trafford.
The real insult, however, came after the game at Selhurst Park when Alan Pardew, in his confident and cocksure manner, declared that stopping the north-west outfit was easy: “Stop Anthony Martial and you stop Manchester United.’ Is it really that simple?
Quite frankly, at present, yes it is.
The young Frenchman arrived for a massive fee at the end of the summer and was roundly tipped to struggle, such was the pressure heaped on his teenage shoulders. However, the former Monaco man has thrived and is seemingly embroiled in a two horse race to be crowned the club’s player of the season, alongside Chris Smalling. His pace and directness has totally altered the way his new side operates and he now offers a goal threat every time he is on the ball
This is so much the case that Palace did not need worry about the other 10 players on the field at the weekend. We all now the struggles that Wayne Rooney is currently experiencing. He is a man constantly used as a centre forward when he can no longer fulfil the role, and at present he is offering little to nothing to the United forward line.
The fact that Martial has been ousted to a wide position to accommodate both the captain and Ander Herrera is baffling to say the least. Surely Van Gaal must see that the 19-year-old is his greatest weapon? He must be used as a central striker, be that at the expense of Rooney or not.
Read Will Tidey on the misuse of Wayne Rooney
The serious nosedive in form is another issue that has left the Manchester club looking a little to Martial-centric. The Dutchman arrived as the Eredivisie’s top scorer, with a reputation for thunderbolt free-kicks and wreaking havoc in opposition defences.
The early signs looked fairly good. The Old Trafford faithful may have thought they had a new number seven to idolise after showed a few flashes of his talent on the opening day against Tottenham. He then went on to star against FC Bruges but since then he has scored just twice more and has hardly featured after the demolishing against Arsenal. In fact, one look at the latest Holland squad and his absence goes a long way to explaining just how much he is struggling.
This has left United looking slow and cumbersome in their play. The likes of Juan Mata and Herrera are superb footballers but they are hardly going to beat a man and strike fear into defenders. They need runners around them and with Depay’s lack of form and Rooney’s inability to run, that leaves Martial as the only willing set of legs; no matter how well he plays it is fairly easy for good sides to stop one man.
Paul Scholes added his thoughts to the debate over Van Gaal last week, talking of how he would not enjoy playing in his team, and it is easy to see why. There is no crisis at Old Trafford, this is not Stamford Bridge, but concerns must be growing. There was a raft of investment this summer and they are struggling to make any real impressions on what appears to be a pretty weak top-flight.
Branding Manchester United a one man team seems ridiculous, and it is. Branding them a one man attacking threat is not. Van Gaal appears to have been found out and unless he finds a way of adding verve and pace to his front line it could be a season of frustrating mediocrity for supporters who are so used to being entertained.