Manchester United rescued a point in the dying embers of the game again Chelsea, with Robin van Persie scoring a 94th minute equaliser, and fans will hope that the manner of the comeback will have a major significance upon their fortunes.
The atmosphere after the final whistle at Old Trafford on Sunday was absolutely euphoric. Fans stayed long after the match to celebrate what was a well-deserved point against league leaders Chelsea.
United have become somewhat synonymous with a late goal over the years, but more recently United have fallen away in the last 20 minutes or so, and this has cost them in a number of matches. Van Persie’s equaliser was the latest goal that Manchester United have scored since Michael Owen scored THAT goal against City in the September 2009 derby.
It’s a funny old game, football. You can get individual moments throughout a game or season that can spark a change – be it a full-blooded challenge, or a full stretch save from a keeper when a goal looked certain. But ultimately, football is a results game and this result needs to be a launch-pad for what has been a stuttering start to the season under Louis van Gaal.
When the fixture list was announced, Manchester United will have been relishing the start of the campaign. The draw was in complete contrast to David Moyes’ early days at Old Trafford.
However, a harsh assessment of the start to Van Gaal’s era – improvement needed. In the opening nine fixtures, he has managed three wins, four draws and two loses, having only really faced a challenging side in Chelsea so far (no disrespect to the other teams), United fans will have been expecting more points on the board. However, there was been a vast improvement in team performances since reverting back to four at the back.
Rival fans have had their dig at the scenes of adulation on Sunday, at what they deemed to be an overreaction to drawing at home. True, it was only a point, but it was a point against what has been a very strong Chelsea team thus far, and a team that look to be running away with the league at a canter.
It is also worth acknowledging that United captain Wayne Rooney missed the game through suspension and Falcao was ruled out through injury – both very important players in van Gaal’s side.
Sunday’s performance, in my opinion, was the best performance that United have put in since Sir Alex Ferguson retired.
What was surprising was the man who was integral to the result – Marouane Fellaini. The big Belgian endured a hellish first season at Old Trafford and clearly struggled under the weight of the fee paid for him. He was Moyes’ marquee signing last summer and eyebrows were raised around the world at the £27.5 million transfer fee that United had paid. Fellaini was in and out of the team, as he failed to replicate the form he showed at Everton.
At times he looked clumsy, almost as if he was lost. He certainly looked a shadow of the player that had been bullying Premier League defences the season before. Whether down to pressure, or down to a lack of tactical instruction under Moyes, or the fact he was being played despite carrying an injury, will remain a mystery.
Fellaini rounded off his best week at United with a man of the match display against Chelsea.
He looked confident and assured, having scored his first United goal away at West Brom on Monday, and very strong when clashing with Nemanja Matic. He broke up Chelsea’s attacks very well, and was a threat from set pieces – he could have scored the equaliser himself, but for a world-class save from compatriot Thibaut Courtois in the build up to the van Persie goal.
It has now got to the point where van Gaal will begin to be judged. Sunday’s Manchester derby will mark the Dutchman’s 10th game in charge of the club, before a trip to the Emirates to face Arsenal. Moyes major downfall was failure to pick up points against the top six teams. Chelsea was the first real test of this season, and if you asked a United fan before the game, the vast majority would have taken a point. The derby is a completely different proposition. The game has much more history, and much more significance to both sets of fans, given the proximity of the clubs.
Manchester United will need to draw confidence from the result against Chelsea, and attempt to exploit a City side who, despite being the reigning champions, have looked frail at the back. Van Gaal needs to utilise Fellaini’s strength in an attempt to nullify any threat from Yaya Toure, who shouldn’t be ignored, despite having looked somewhat disinterested so far this season.
In one of his early press conferences, van Gaal asked the media to refrain from judging him for the first three months of his United reign. The first three months have been largely disappointing, but the real judgement will come at the end of November, when he has faced some of the other top four contenders. Points on the board will be imperative to that.