Tuesday 24 April 2018

Wayne Rooney's blank fire turns up heat on Van Gaal

Crystal Palace 0 Manchester UTD 0

Manchester United's Wayne Rooney applauds the fans after the Barclays Premier League match at Selhurst Park
Manchester United's Wayne Rooney applauds the fans after the Barclays Premier League match at Selhurst Park
Manchester United goalkeeper David De Gea tips the ball over the crossbar during the Barclays Premier League match at Selhurst Park
Manchester United's Wayne Rooney (left) and Crystal Palace's Scott Dann in action during the Barclays Premier League match at Selhurst Park
Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal before the match at Selhurst Park

Jonathan Liew

Slowly and by degrees, the pressure is beginning to mount on Louis van Gaal. Manchester United looked chronically unlikely to win this game and arguably should have lost it.

Instead, it was a third consecutive 0-0 draw, capping a somnolent October for them. In six games, they have won just once, and failed to score four times.

You could spin things around and point out that United have also lost just once in that time, but there is something more intangible going on here, a distinct and growing inertia most evident during their midweek League Cup elimination by Middlesbrough, and on display again at Selhurst Park.

Scoreless draws sap a club's spirit. They kill momentum. They test the patience of fans.

And, while United remain a top-four side, the travelling support made their feelings apparent. "We're Man United," they sang, "we want to attack."

This was put to Van Gaal afterwards. "The right of the fans is always there," he said, treading a precarious middle path between diplomacy and annoyance.

"Apart from Arsenal (a 3-0 defeat), it was the first time that we were not the better team away. The next game, maybe they shall sing in another way."

That game is against CSKA Moscow on Tuesday night, and after 341 minutes without a goal, United simply have to score.

Will Van Gaal take the increasingly obvious step of shifting Anthony Martial into the centre and dropping Wayne Rooney (right)?

United's captain again did virtually nothing of note here. He put a free-kick straight out of play. He lost 50-50 challenges. He lost headers. He missed out on a one-on-one opportunity because he was simply not quick enough to get to the ball.

Rooney is becoming one of those players that defenders mark more out of habit than anything else, and the continued deployment of Martial on the left wing to accommodate him is like turning down the world's best steak dinner because you have a left-over Ginsters pasty in the fridge.

Palace were unfortunate not to take all three points.

Yannick Bolasie and Wilfried Zaha - playing against his old club - made passata of United's full-backs, Matteo Darmian and Marcos Rojo, to the extent that Van Gaal had to remove Darmian on the hour and replace him with Ashley Young.

Darmian had been booked and was unable to tackle Zaha even if he had been able to get close enough to do so. After a promising start in English football, the Italian needs to relocate his poise and confidence.

So why did Palace not win? Simply, they too lacked attacking thrust. Dwight Gayle won plenty of headers and ran himself into the ground, but Palace still need more intelligence and presence and end product.


United had David De Gea to thank for keeping them in the game, with two critical saves in the first 12 minutes.

It was a frenetic start. Selhurst Park does that to you, whether you want it to or not. It is a claustrophobic sort of place, thrumming to the loud, ominous beat of the drummer in the Holmesdale End that makes every pass and tackle feel just a little more important.

And for most of the game, United played like visitors. They came into it as the first half went on, their best chance a scuffed shot by Ander Herrera.

But Palace bolstered their midfield in the second half, and Bolasie and Zaha came into the game more and more. Yohan Cabaye, one of the best players on the pitch, put a volley wide from eight yards.

"We perhaps deserved the three, but we'll take the point," said manager Alan Pardew. "We tried to play more patiently today, and caused enough problems to have won it." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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