Sunday 25 September 2016

Van Gaal unfazed by United's goal shortage

Manchester United 0-0 Newcastle United

Daniel Taylor

Published 23/08/2015 | 02:30

Manchester United’s Bastian Schweinsteiger in action against Newcastle United’s Aleksandar Mitrovic
Manchester United’s Bastian Schweinsteiger in action against Newcastle United’s Aleksandar Mitrovic
Manchester United's Matteo Darmian battles for the ball with Newcastle United's Ayoze Perez
Newcastle United's Tim Krul celebrates after the match
Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal and assistant manager Ryan Giggs in conversation after the final whistle
Manchester United's Wayne Rooney failed to find the net once again

Three games into the new season, the most encouraging part for Manchester United is that they still have not conceded a goal even with David de Gea sitting in the stands. Yet this was a difficult and exasperating afternoon for Louis van Gaal's team and their shortcomings will only add to the theory that they lack the firepower to be authentic title challengers.

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Those flaws have become a recurring theme on Van Gaal's watch and - an easy line, perhaps - they could certainly have done with Pedro's penetrative qualities as they desperately sought to unlock Newcastle's obstinate defence. Van Gaal's men played every pass apart from the killer one.

Their lack of incision must have been startling for a crowd imploring "attack, attack, attack" and if Kyle Walker's own goal on the opening weekend were excluded, the awkward truth is that Adnan Januzaj's winning strike at Aston Villa is the only time they have beaten the opposition goalkeeper. For a club with their traditions, it is a bland way to lead life.

But Van Gaal shook his head when he was asked whether their goals output was a concern. "No," he said. "Because we were three times the better team."

As for questions about Wayne Rooney's listless form, Van Gaal insisted his captain had scored a perfectly legitimate goal, arguing that there should be more technology available for the referee and his assistants. The strangest part was that his analysis came after watching the slow-motion replays. In reality, the freeze-frame pictures demonstrated the offside decision was marginal yet correct.

The truth was Rooney had little joy against Newcastle's centre-halves, Fabricio Colocinni and Steven Taylor, both of whom were excellent, and was eventually moved back into his old No 10 role so Javier Hernandez could take over as the principal point of attack. Newcastle defended with great togetherness once they had recovered from an opening 20-minute blitz and, in the process, ended their run of seven successive away defeats.

Their improvement under Steve McClaren - or, to put it another way, without John Carver - already looks considerable.

"Surviving the first 20 minutes was the key," McClaren said. "We survived that and grew into the game, to the point where we might have nicked it. The attitude, organisation and discipline - everything you need to get a result here - was there.."

They also had a goalkeeper, Tim Krul, who was on top of his form, particularly with his first-half save to keep out Juan Mata's low drive and late on when he charged off his goalline to smother Hernandez's shot.

Yet there were pockets of the match when Newcastle emerged as an attacking threat in their own right. Georginio Wijnaldum excelled in midfield. They will reflect on the moment midway through the first half when Aleksandar Mitrovic's towering header came back off the crossbar.

Memphis Depay created lots of issues for Newcastle's back four whereas it is tempting to wonder whether, deep down, Van Gaal is more troubled by Rooney's lack of dynamism than he lets on. Adnan Januzaj did not create a great deal either and a lot of the home side's most effective attacks came when Luke Shaw's burst forward.

Newcastle had a splendid chance to win the match, breaking three-on-one, only for sub Papiss Cisse to drag his shot wide. A goal at that stage would have been incredibly harsh on the home side bearing in mind the spells of almost relentless pressure on Krul's goal.

In the second half, however, their passing was too often sideways and we were reminded, on Bastian Schweinsteiger's first start, that the German's brain works faster than his legs.

This team finished last season with 62 goals, their second-lowest total of the Premier League era, and two fewer than the previous year under David Moyes. Defensively, they have got it right but championships are not won with such mundane scoring figures.

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