Christmas is a time for many things — eating, drinking, making merry — but most importantly it's a time for play. For games. Sometimes this involves the family, but other times, it's nice to just take some time for yourself. A jigsaw, perhaps. A large general knowledge crossword, the kind of thing you never get the time to complete during the busier weeks. Or, perhaps, you could mull yourself a cup of something and kick back with The Busby Babe's very first Build Your Own match report!
No, no, not all. You're welcome.
On Monday evening, in front of the Christmas-drugged, sleep-smeared eyes of the world, Manchester United played Chelsea. It had been widely reported in the run-up to the game that United's manager Louis van Gaal had two games to save his job; they'd lost the first, 2-0 away at Stoke, a third straight league defeat.
So the fact that United drew 0-0 with Chelsea clearly demonstrated that the team [have turned a corner, albeit a small one, in terms of results/are still mired in the miserable form that has seen them drop from the top of the table to sixth place]. Chelsea are [despite their lowly league position, strong and dangerous opponents/three points above the relegation zone for a reason, and that reason is: they're rubbish], but United ...
[started brightly, hitting the bar after two minutes and the post after seventeen. Anthony Martial was a constant threat from the left flank and Ander Herrera and Morgan Schneiderlin brought energy back to a midfield that has laboured in recent weeks. A couple of dodgy moments aside, United's defence dealt well with the threat of Eden Hazard and Willian, and Ashley Young combined well with Juan Mata on the right.]
[started brightly enough, hitting the bar after two minutes and the post after seventeen, but soon ran out of steam. Anthony Martial was as excellent as he could be, given that his exile on the left flank ensured that there was usually a gaggle of defenders between United's most dangerous player and the goal. Juan Mata faded badly, and the clean sheet was only maintained thanks to the fine reactions of David de Gea and the abysmal composure and decision-making of Nemanja Matic.]
Dropped against Stoke but restored to the starting lineup here, the performance of Wayne Rooney offered further [hope/misery] to the United faithful. [Rightly/Inexplicably, hilariously and contemptibly] honoured as Man of the Match by BT Sport, United's captain not only took his first accurate shot from outside the box since dinosaurs walked the earth, but [led the line with energy and industry/was visibly exhausted after half an hour and should have been sent off].
[Admittedly/Predictably] the final chance of the game ballooned over the bar from Rooney's boot, [though he can at least claim that the cross was moving quickly/and it was precisely the sort of chance that somebody playing up front for Manchester United needs to be able to take, which is precisely why Wayne Rooney should not be playing up front for Manchester United. Or, indeed, playing].
It all added up to a [thumping vote of confidence/further and possibly final indictment] of Louis van Gaal's tenure. [No, they didn't win/They didn't win] what was being set up as a must-win game, [but/and] when [compared with/placed next to] the performance against Stoke, and indeed the rest of this eight-game winless streak, it is clear that [this team are willing to fight for their manager/are hopelessly limited, even when they finally decide they can be bothered to run around].
[After all/It is damning to both manager and players that] if United had played like this against PSV Eindhoven, they'd be through to the knockout rounds of the Champions League, [and/though] if they play like this for the rest of the season [they'll qualify again/the incompetence of the rest of the league may well see them squeak back in]. This performance will offer [a boost to spirits/no encouragement at all] ahead of a tricky run of fixtures, and United will be desperate to take on Swansea City next weekend [to maintain their momentum/since the Swans are also pretty rubbish at the moment].
We may never know the truth of those 'two games to save his job' reports, particularly since the stories coming out of Old Trafford seem to change with the wind. We do know, however, that at what seemed to be a crucial moment in his reign Louis van Gaal [was rewarded with a performance that demonstrated his players are behind him/managed to take one point from two games]. The [spirit is there/goals are still missing] and clearly the results [will follow/can't come without goals]. United [may not have won/did not win], but they did provide [cause to hope that victories are just around the corner/a delightful clinic on the elastic properties of dead cats].