Article since feature on The Secret Footballer Fan Zone
With Manchester United having fired blanks in their previous three matches against Manchester City, Middlesbrough and Crystal Palace respectively, something had to change against CSKA Moscow in their Champions League tie. This was not only to ensure that the unwanted sequence wasn’t extended but also to boost their hopes of qualifying for the knockout stages of the Champions League in what is a hotly contested group.
Louis van Gaal would have also wanted to prove to his critics wrong in recent weeks that he can set up his Manchester United team to attack and play attractive, instinctive football that hurt the opposition; something which the United supporters had become accustomed to under Sir Alex Ferguson. Last week United legend Paul Scholes was critical of the football being played by Van Gaal saying it lacked both creativity and risk, a notion which would no doubt have been echoed by the majority of football fans and not just the Manchester United faithful.
The manager had dismissed the criticism of Scholes saying his team is always entertaining but did decide to change the team up a little against CSKA Moscow having opted for Anthony Martial to play as the central striker, with Wayne Rooney playing just off the front man in the ‘number 10’ position. This was a move that the majority of Manchester United supporters would have wanted to see as it always looks like Martial is wasted out on the wing, especially with Rooney having been low on confidence and missing that predator instinct so far this season.
There looked to be a distinct change in the way United were playing compared to recent weeks with more of a focus on penetrative passes, running at defenders and getting bodies in attacking positions. Although having started on the front foot with every minute that passed by without Manchester United having managed to break through the CSKA rearguard the fans could be heard to voice their concerns or push the team forward, whatever way you want to look at it. There were cries of ‘Attack! Attack! Attack!’ reverberating around Old Trafford both during the game and at half time as the players and management headed for the tunnel.
With the team having created a number of half chances but failing to take any of these opportunities it looked as if Manchester United would be firing another successive blank. It was clear that a change had to be made to try change the game but when Louis van Gaal decided to bring off Anthony Martial in the 66th minute, the Manchester United fans could be heard again loudly booing the managers decision and subsequent chants of ‘We’re Man United we want to attack!’ echoing around the stands.
In the past few weeks it has been Martial that has looked like the brightest spark and someone that could make something happen and albeit not really having had a great game to that point, he is someone who is capable of surprising most and pulling something out of the bag. The supporters were also signing the name of substitute Ander Herrera trying to grab Louis van Gaal’s attention to get the playmaker onto the pitch to add that spark.
Like most teams that go to Old Trafford, CSKA Moscow sat back and tried to soak up the Manchester United attacks and hit them on the counter or from any poor passages of play. With the game still all-square in the 78th minute it was Seydou Doumbia that had CSKA’s best chance of the night with David De Gea pulling off a truly wonderful save before Chris Smalling managed to block the follow up effort, when it seemed as if CSKA would cruelly pull off a snatch and grab victory.
This ended up being the defying moment in the match and given Manchester United that scare that they needed. As no sooner had they gone up the other end it was Wayne Rooney that managed to get his head onto a clever ball back across goal by youngster Jesse Lingard to put United in front; ending both the strikers and the teams’ barren run in front of goal. Manchester United managed to hold onto the lead and claim a vital three points in the Champions League and get back to winning ways after four successive draws in all competitions during normal time.
Although not a typified great performance and resounding win by a few goals there were definitely aspects that would have pleased both the management and supporters, with the team looking much more threatening going forward than recent weeks. Louis van Gaal and the rest of the squad will be hoping that they can build on this and look to satisfy the supporters’ demands in the forthcoming weeks, starting against West Bromwich Albion on Saturday at Old Trafford back in the Premier League.