Manchester United failed to convert at home this weekend, falling to Norwich City 2-1 for another loss after their defeat at Bournemouth. Louis Van Gaal, although he affirms that he has the confidence and backing of the club's front office, will surely feel the pressure as United approach the harrowing, rampant action of the Barclay's Premier League during the holiday season. As Boxing Day approaches, United play three matches in eight days, including a clash with Chelsea on December 28th just two days after their Boxing Day match against Stoke City.
Louis Van Gaal received a boost from key players returning from injury including Chris Smalling and Wayne Rooney, but still awaited a return from a few others, including Bastian Schweinsteiger, serving his three-match ban. Selections for the starting XI included David De Gea, GK, Ashley Young, RB, Phil Jones, CB, Chris Smalling, CB, Daley Blind, LB, Michael Carrick, CDM, Marouane Fellaini, CDM, Anthony Martial, RM, Juan Mata, CAM, Memphis Depay, LM, and Wayne Rooney, CF. Rooney made his 500th appearance for United in the match commemorated by an opening ceremony that celebrated the United captain's career. The match, however, would not be the fitting celebration the captain sought.
Again, United forgot their identity, losing their defensive shape ahead of the back four on both Norwich City goals. Fellaini played the part of culprit on the first goal, allowing Norwich to breakout and drive at the United defense. In the 38th minute, Cameron Jerome received a through pass from Nathan Redmond, dribbling to the penalty area. He received a good bit of fortune, after a slide tackle by Ashley Young failed to dispossess him of the ball, allowing him to stride into the penalty area and strike his finish past De Gea, who barely had any time to react to the danger.
United went into the dressing room at halftime down a goal to the visitors, but in desperate need of reorganization and inspiration, usually provided by attacking the Stretford end. Things were more positive for the Red Devils following the return to action, but still their defensive midfield failed them, giving them no shielding from the Norwich attack. Norwich's Tettey proved the beneficiary of the United lapse in defense, as he was allowed to casually stride into the penalty area and slot home a finish that would have required a great deal of intuition from De Gea.
United responded well to the adversity of a two-goal deficit with increased work rate on the ball. Ashley Young became an essential cog in the machine with a cross that found Anthony Martial in the box. The play still required a great deal of strength and savvy from the French youngster, who fought off a challenge and played quick feet before blasting home the finish from just outside the six yard area with his left foot to bring United within a goal of leveling the match.
United's major chance to draw the game was a free kick earned on the right side of the field about 25 yards from goal. Juan Mata and Memphis discussed plans for the attempt and, ultimately, the try landed to the more suitable left foot of Mata. Mata's attempt, beating the height of the wall and dipping to go on frame, did nearly everything correct but failed to beat the Norwich goalkeeper for pace, as it was parried out for a corner kick. United failed to score before the match's end and for the second week in a row fell disgracefully to underdog competition as the Barclays Premier League approaches the midseason point.
With the recent sacking of Jose Mourinho, many consider Louis Van Gaal the next manager to fire. He certainly has been on the hot seat for much of the season, failing to win convincingly with the style of play that the United faithful have come to expect, and more recently failing to win at all. Some believe that depending on the result of their next match, Van Gaal may coach his last match for United against Stoke. He has stated that he does not want the final job of his illustrious career to end in a sack, but simultaneously he fails to realize that it becomes ever more likely and even more out of his hands as he strings together poor results. Still, an about face in terms of United's play style is even more unlikely due not only to Van Gaal's stubbornness, but also the nature of the season with United just barely out of the top four on goal differential. The availability of Jose Mourinho also places Van Gaal's job in palpable jeopardy, as United management will be keen to avoid missing out on a key hire approaching what could be a critical turning point at the season's halfway mark. As it stands, United face a difficult decision in the next few weeks.
United will face a resurgent Stoke City side on Boxing day, December 26th, at 7am. Bastian Schweinsteiger serves the last match of his three-match ban and will be unavailable for team selection. Matteo Darmian, Marcos Rojo, Jesse Lingard, Antonio Valencia, and Luke Shaw also remain unavailable due to injury. Morgan Schneiderlin could possibly return to the team in inspiring fashion, providing the stability and defensive attention that United have missed in his absence. His performance could prove vital against Stoke's Marko Arnautovic and Xherdan Shaqiri, who have come into an excellent run of form. Tune in to NBCSN at 7am for this pivotal fixture in the United season.