Well… I can’t say January filled me full of confidence, there was only one convincing performance all month and in a month where you play 6 matches against either lower league or lower table opposition, I didn’t really know how things were going to pan out in February. Having said that, we were still in the F.A cup and finished January third in the league and fighting for a European spot, having lost only once since November…it could be worse.
We didn’t think things could get too much worse from a performance point of view from the games we played in January and things didn’t start off too badly, a seemingly comfortable 3-0 win against Cambridge in the F.A Cup ensured a last 16 game against Preston was on the cards. Marcos Rojo got his first goal for the club in another strong performance at the back and Falcao was again struggling for form up top, many believe Falcao is running out of time to prove himself as a United player, unfortunately I think I am slowly coming to that realisation myself. I am a big fan of Falcao, his reputation and stats in Europe are very impressive, but he hasn’t really got out of first gear for us, and Louis Van Gaal cannot carry him unless the performances are greatly improved.
The first Premier league match of the month was West Ham away, not an easy team to play at home with a tall and physical team who press the box and looked threatening from set pieces. There is not a whole lot to say about this game, apart from thank god for a Daley Blind volley from a Di Maria cross which rescued a point in the 93rd minute. The Hammer were on top early on in the game and really pressed United, stopping us from getting into our stride. The went 1-0 up just after the break and will feel unlucky not to have taken all 3 points. From a United point of view – I feel it’s a point gained, but this is a fixture we have historically done very well in and therefore in another season would I be saying this is 2 points lost?
Moving on to United’s home game against Burnley, you could say “normal” service has resumed. A 3-1 win looks comfortable on paper, however it wasn’t a sealed win only being 2-1 when on the 82nd Di Maria went down and Van Persia converted to give United the buffer they needed to secure 3 points and jump to 3rd in the table. The other 2 goals came from an unlikely source in Chris Smalling but given United struggles up top at present, this is not surprising the break through came from a set piece. It’s still a worry that with the attacking options we have that they boys up to are not really contributing too much and this performance did not do anything to fill the fans with confidence that things are getting better, although being 3rd in the Prem ‘could’ suggest otherwise.
Our next Premier League game would be Swansea away but before that we had a FA Cup tie away at Preston. Given United chequered history this season again lower league opposition, especially away there was no way this game was going to be a certain win, and when just after half time (I’m writing off the first half completely, nothing to talk about and pretty disjointed and ugly from United) Preston took the lead. This was a bit of a shock and wake up call that United really needed to step up their game, and unfortunately for Falcao, he was the player struggling most and therefore got taken off for Ander Herrera (who is getting better and better each outing). Within 10 minutes of coming up Herrera equalised with an effort from the edge of the box, and 8 minutes later Fellaini put us in front. The victory was sealed with a Rooney penality who although was not playing as a front-line striker was at least playing higher up the pitch (looking more comfortable and threatening than where he has been playing).
So far this month, through to the next round of the FA cup and moved up to 3rd in the Prem, it could be alot worse (especially considering the points De Gea has single handedly saved us). Onto Swansea away, and simply put … we lost (our first since November). However I have to say, we played a good game, we dominated the 2nd half and basically forgot to score! The winning goal for Swansea took a mean deflection and the luck really was on their side, but putting the ball in the back of the net is the key, and if they do it more than you, they win, they won and the only saving grace for United for a decent performance and the continual improvement of Herrera who again looked confident on the ball and controlling the mid-field, another long range effort from outside the box was enough to put us ahead, even if only for a couple of minutes. This results meant we went back down to fourth, which was disappointing but expected as Arsenal who are seeming to be vying for 3rd and 4th with Southampton and ourselves won 2-1 a Crystal Palace.
The last game of the season was at home to Sunderland and it was a bit of a strange one. United won 2-0 and it was fairly comfortable in the sense that Sunderland never really threatened the United goal, but when Sunderland “Parked the bus” is seemed increasingly difficult to break down. The first half went by without much cause for issue or alarm, but approching the 60th minute United has to start trying something else as they were just not breaking down the defence and creating chances. Falcao who had a much better game, was brought down in the box after a clever turn to roll O’Shea and Brown and have a clear shot on goal, penalty was blatant and it was given, however the ref sent off the wrong player when Brown got sent off, although it was O’Shea’s tackle which brought Falcao down. Rooney converted the pen and shortly after Falcao got subbed, personally I disagree with the substitution, he had played well, he won the penalty and that would have given him confidence, taking him off didn’t make sense and I get a strong feeling all these little things are just putting the writing on the wall for Falcao. Janujaz was brought on and did play well, it was his shot that was parried by the keeper only for Rooney to slot in the rebound, 3 points and United back up to third.
Overall a frustrating month, I think we could of come out of it with a few more points, but the unbalanced nature of our side means we have to be a little less greedy and accept the transition is going to be a little more bumpy and have more up and downs than we are used to, through to the quarters of the FA cup and lying third in the table shouldn’t be moaned at, and it is a good place to be, although we have 2 tough months of fixtures coming up and we need all the points we can get!