Once you’ve tunnelled through the clichés that riddle the weekend’s knock-out headlines, you’ll find yourself nestled in amongst a rather apt representation of Manchester United’s season.
The video that infiltrated was leaked to the media, coincidentally a day before a crucial game against Spurs, seemed to completely embody everything about United’s season up until that point. All of which culminated in a knock-out blow, perfectly summing up the way in which the FA Cup trap door cruelly opened last Monday.
There was a balance to the side that started against Spurs that may not have been present had Angel di Maria been available for selection and trying to separate the fortune from the judgement is something that van Gaal makes increasingly more difficult.
That said, the Dutchman’s philosophical tent stood strong against Spurs, attributable to an abundance of round pegs in round holes. His philosophy isn’t one of formation or style and rather, just like the man himself, one of imposition and control.
In having three ball players against Spurs (Herrera, Mata and Carrick) the football became progressive and three-dimensional rather than sideways and predictable. There was control, composure and a variety that hasn’t been seen at Old Trafford for a considerable period of time. This persistent need to pigeon hole a selection into a formation has hindered the free-flowing nature of possession football and the need for ample alternatives for the man on the ball.
“Blind, Herrera, Mata, Carrick and Rooney all provide a versatility, touch and understanding that supersedes rigid positions and that musketeer attitude is far favourable to the sum of all parts approach.”
In having three ball players against Spurs (Herrera, Mata and Carrick) the football became progressive and three-dimensional rather than sideways and predictable.
The headline signings of the summer were both absent in Man United’s finest performance this season, a further nail in the coffin of big spending and the idea that absurdly priced footballers will pave the way for future success.
For the first time under Louis van Gaal, there was a glimpse of what can and should be expected from him, both stylistically and in terms of future personnel. You wouldn’t ask Quentin Blake to produce an official portrait of the Queen in the same way that you shouldn’t ask van Gaal to replicate the buying policy and ‘kitchen sink’ of Real Madrid. When the philosophy successfully translates onto the grass like it did at the weekend, where no one player can be seen as the over-riding talisman, the first real forward stride as United manager is tangible and clear.
There are a few rare opportunities in every Premier League season for clubs to press the reset button, to spot weakness, to draw a line in the sand and unwrap the gift of possibility. This weekend was United’s weekend. The reset button flashed green and van Gaal leapt at the chance to hammer it.
Whether United can grasp the nettle and seek the reward that has rapidly come in to view is utterly dependent on desire and aspiration. Oh, and results.