• Premier League

Spare us the plucky underdogs act, Manchester United

Alan Tyers
October 27, 2014
Should United celebrate a point at home?

We fans of teams other than Manchester United have had to put up with a lot over the last 20-odd years: the constant trophies, the fawning in the media, Fergie Time, the Theatre Of Dreams (TM), the plastic new fans from Kent to Kuala Lumpur, Ruud van Nistelrooy.

But the loveable losers bit might be the most irritating yet.

The celebrations and reaction to Robin van Persie's late goal, which gave United an undeserved point in Sunday's 1-1 draw with Chelsea at Old Trafford, were like those of a lower league side who had pulled off a famous giant-killing.

They spent £150 million in the summer and they need to man up and start playing like the financial and sporting behemoth they are

Van Persie, sluggish throughout, stabbed home an unmissable chance and was booked for a crazed celebration.

He said after the match: "It was one of those fantastic moments and the main thing today is that we got something out of this game because we deserved it. It was a big relief for the fans, for the players and for everyone at Manchester United. Today showed that we can compete with the best in England".

Bless little Man United, getting up on their hind legs and sticking it to the big boys.

Struggling manager Louis van Gaal, meanwhile, is always at pains to point out that he needs time to work his magic, noting before the match that Jose Mourinho has had a year more to work on his Chelsea project, and saying afterwards that the signs for United were "good, as Chelsea are top level, and we were at least equal today".

You can see why Van Gaal is trying to buy breathing space with this sort of expectation management. After all, even Messiahs need time. And he is not an idiot - it is perfectly clear that Chelsea are stronger in almost every department you can name.

But this is Manchester United. Celebrating a point at home like they've won the Champions League? Asking for patience while they try to catch up with the top teams? Come on.

Despite the narrative now coming out of Old Trafford, they are not loveable underdogs battling the odds to stay in touch with the super rich big boys. With their wealth, name and network, it is absolutely inexcusable for United to be anything other than the benchmark by which other English teams should be judged.

Despite what they would have us believe, United are not minnows - they just happen to have a sub-standard defence.

There's a lot to like about Chris Smalling but he is, as yet, an unworthy successor to the likes of Gary Palister, Rio Ferdinand et al. Marcos Rojo, meanwhile, just does not have the right attributes to be a centre-half at a major Premier League team. An excellent full-back, but he and Smalling are simply not up to it as a pair. Add in the perennially frustrating Rafael and the exciting but inexperienced Luke Shaw and it adds up to a woefully sub-standard unit.

Louis van Gaal said United deserved their point against Chelsea © Getty Images

That United are taking their chances with that back four is, in part, due to injuries. But it also serves to make a powerful antidote to the Cult of the Manager that formed the backdrop for the "Mourinho versus Mentor Van Gaal" story of the game. The fact of the matter is that Sir Alex Ferguson sold United down the river when he left them with the ageing squad that he did. David Moyes was doomed to fail for more reasons than that, but Van Gaal has come in with a real job on his hands and he's not going to look so clever for too long if he has to keep putting that back four on the pitch.

His early season attempts to play 3-5-2 had to be abandoned when it became painfully clear that the defenders available just could not get their heads around it. So now the great manager has to take on Chelsea with a back four that would be better suited to a lower mid-table side. United are not an underdog club and somebody needs to tell the defence that.

They spent £150 million in the summer and they need to man up and start playing like the financial and sporting behemoth they are.

It was bad enough when they were winning everything. But this battling have-a-go-heroes bit might just be even more of a turn-off.

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