Oh dear. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. The raging dumpster fire that is the Louis van Gaal era at Manchester United hit a new low last night, as the Reds lost out to Midtjylland in the first leg of their Europa League tie. Here are five things that we learned from that abomination.
Protect Anthony Martial at All Costs
Wrap him in cotton wool. Give him a new contract. Make him captain. United should do whatever it takes to keep Anthony Martial fit and motivated. Now that David de Gea has joined the absurdly long injury list, Martial is officially United's last good player standing. The only other two Actually Very Good players - De Gea and Luke Shaw - may both yet return this season (De Gea's injury is reportedly not serious), but as it stands, Martial is all that's left to give us any hope.
Worryingly, Wayne Rooney's injury means that Martial now has no hope of ever getting a rest, despite starting every game since joining the club, outside of the Carling Cup. It's likely only a matter of time before fatigue, muscle injury, or general disgust with the sorry mess around him contribute to a loss of form.
Louis van Gaal: World Class at Ruining Midfielders
Ander Herrera is a fan favorite, and with good reason; he's talented, he takes risks, and he seems to "get" United. But there's no escaping the fact that his performances are not always in keeping with his reputation, and he was abysmal against Midtjylland. Herrera shares the blame for doing his best impression of me playing on a Sunday after a wild bender, but it's his manager who shoulder most of the responsibility. Early on, van Gaal seemed to single out Herrera as his scapegoat of choice, and even when given a run in the team, the Spaniard has never been more than a misplaced pass away from being dropped. Most recently, he's been out of the team for the last month, only to be thrust back into the action in a role that he's barely played this season. On top of lacking rhythm and not being suited to holding midfield, Herrera certainly wasn't helped by playing next to a wax replica of Michael Carrick.
The example of Herrera at least proves that there is something that van Gaal is good at it: completely destroying the confidence of otherwise capable midfielders. Morgan Schneiderlin - arguably one of the most dominant midfielders in the league last year - briefly looked like the answer to United fans' prayers at the beginning of the season. But after just a few months under van Gaal, being inexplicably dropped when in form, and then being denied a run of games to regain that form, Schneiderlin now looks well and truly useless. Bastian Schweinsteiger is a midfield maestro whose aging legs can be accommodated for in the right system. Instead, he's been asked to press high up the pitch, played repeatedly next to less mobile players, and barely rested even when he was clearly out of breath after an hour in each game. There's only one member of United's central midfield quartet whose form van Gaal hasn't ruined, and that's because Father Time got there first ...
Michael Carrick is Finished
United still play far better football with a player like Carrick on the pitch who isn't afraid to pass the ball forward, but at this point, Carrick's positives when in possession barely cancel out the disastrous effects of his complete lack of mobility. There were several times against Midtjylland when opposition midfielders were just strolling by Carrick, and he couldn't seem to do a thing about it. Carrick's style of protecting the back line has always been about taking up intelligent positions, rather than muscling opponents off the ball, but he doesn't even have the legs to get into those positions anymore.
Carrick, for most of his decade (!) at United, has been the team's best and most important midfielder. This, of course, was largely because of criminal underinvestment in the playing staff by miserly owners and a negligent manager, but the points still stands: Carrick made the team play. Those days are now well and truly over. Carrick's contract is up in the summer, and while he would be a useful dressing room presence next year, it would be madness
to have him anywhere near the starting XI on a regular basis.
The Players have Re-Downed Tools, and So has The Manager
Is anyone bothered anymore?