After Tuesday’s tie, United has just 34 points in 21 EPL games, putting the club on pace for 62 points, which would be its lowest ever in the Premier League era, this after finishing fourth and seventh the last two years. United also disappointed in the UEFA Champions League this year, finishing behind VfL Wolfsburg and PSV Eindhoven in their group, exiting before the knockout rounds for just the third time in the last 20 years.
With title contention unrealistic, the Red Devils must focus on finishing fourth in the EPL, and returning to the UCL, which is hugely important for attracting top players, who all want to perform on soccer’s biggest club stage – but even finishing top four in England may prove challenging, as English soccer’s crown jewel appears to be drifting without a rudder.
How the mighty have fallen. You don't have bring up George Best or Eric Cantona to underscore the talent gap between today's United and past teams, as the club's 2011 UCL finalist that lost to Barcelona was full of stars, with only the ghost of Wayne Rooney still remaining. Louis Van Gaal, the man replacing the man (David Moyes) who replaced Alex Ferguson, was a popular choice initially, but he’s been under heavy criticism all year for a United product that’s consistently referred to as boring, which the United boss made the curious choice of confirming.
"There are also matches where I’m very bored or angry because we are not disorganizing our opponent’s defense but that is football, " Van Gaal said after United's lackluster, and late, FA Cup win over Sheffield United on Saturday, 1-0.
Ironically, Van Gaal received more compliments for Tuesday's come-from-ahead draw at Newcastle United --- the 18th-place-team in the EPL --- than for most of United’s sleep-inducing wins, after a club with a history of late-game heroics coughed up a 2-0 lead, then a 3-2 lead, in a draw that dropped the Red Devils into sixth, but after entering with just 24 goals in 20 EPL games, fans were happy to know the club could still score.
With Van Gaal’s job in jeapordy, even Pep Guadiola’s announcement he’ll be coaching in the EPL next year didn’t merit rumors tying him to Old Trafford, an indictment of the club’s paucity of talent, with club legend, and current assistant, Ryan Giggs favored to inherit the hodgepodge of jigsaw pieces that don’t seem to fit.
On Tuesday, Rooney converted a penalty, added a nice assist, and smacked this beautiful curler to go ahead 3-2, but the 30-year-old English captain no longer has what it takes to lead any United revivals, and after his big day, Rooney still has just five goals and two assists in EPL play this season.
United was named the fifth most valuable sports team in the world by Forbes, at $3.1 billion. Majority owned by the Glazer family since 2005, and most fans have not been happy with the club's American ownership: "This is an asset to them -- it is not something that they are interested in in terms of what Manchester United really means to most people," said Jim O'Neill, a former United board member who led a takeover attempt in 2010.
Is it possible that United, with 13 Premier League titles, is in danger of becoming lost in the in the wilderness, as Liverpool has in the Premier League era? With the billionaire-backing of Manchester City and Chelsea, along with all the cash being handed out to other EPL clubs, no one team will dominate England anytime soon --- and even after finally opening up its checkbook, the club has little to show for it.
Van Gaal has been at Manchester United just over 1 year and is only £71 million away from equaling Sir Alex's total spending in 27 years smh— Joe Blue (@JoeKarizma) December 12, 2015
Buying the wrong groceries. United finally acquiesced to fan pressure with big spending under Van Gaal, but $450 million later, the only really promising additions were 20-year-old attacker Anthony Martial, and perhaps injured left back Luke Shaw, joining defender Chris Smalling as outfield players United can build around going forward, but none of them have Ballon d’Or reservations any time soon -- this for a club worth more than Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City or Bayern Munich.
In 2014 United paid a record fee for Angel Di Maria, who was coming off UCL and World Cup success, but even then, Van Gaal made no attempt to put Di Maria in position to succeed, with the winger made a scapegoat by many fans and pundits. Oddly enough, not only has Di Maria been far more productive than any United player since he was sold to Paris Saint-Germain, for a hefty loss, his stats in his lone season at United were far better than anyone at United this season.
Di Maria had three goals and 10 assists in 1,600 EPL minutes at United, Juan Mata leads United with three EPL assists this year, after having already played more Premier League minutes than Di Maria did. This season Di Maria has played 21 games in Ligue 1 and the Champions League for PSG, during which he’s totaled nine goals and 10 assists -- no player on United has more than five goals or three assists in the EPL this season.
Not only does every big team in Europe have more highly coveted players, even smaller EPL clubs have more promising players (amazingly, United's highest rated player, Martial, is only the 37th highest rated player in the Premier League, per WhoScored). Tottenham has Harry Kane, Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli, Leicester City has Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez and N'Golo Kante, Everton has Ross Barkley and Romelu Lukaku, Watford has Odion Ighalo, and West Ham has Dimitri Payet, whose brilliance on Tuesday gave the Hammers a one-point lead on United after its 3-1 win over Bournemouth.
Feeling burned by the record sum for Di Maria, United bought several slightly more affordable reinforcements this summer, but the only clear success story has been Martial, but when it comes to winning games right now, Dmitri Payet is head and shoulders better than any player on United’s roster, and Payet cost $17 million, less than one third of what Martial cost ($56 million).
Payet was incredible in West Ham’s come from behind 3-1 win at Bournemouth on Tuesday that saw the Hammers leapfrog United into fifth. West Ham has now earned 1.93 points per game in the 14 games that Payet has played, compared to the 1.14 in the seven games he missed.
“I told the coach before I signed: "If I come here and the balls are going over my head, I am not going to be of much use," Payet told l’Equipe about his conversation with West Ham coach Slaven Bilic regarding English soccer. A confident player ready to make a difference immediately, which sounds exactly like what United could use, and Payet is the primary reason these Hammers keep clanging, once again sitting above United in the standings.
Manchester United doesn’t just need a new coach and a plan for the future -- the Red Devils desperately need someone who knows how to go grocery shopping.