Last Saturday provided the strongest manifestation to date of Louis van Gaal’s side starting to show what they’re capable of. Whilst the 2-1 win at the Emirates wasn’t necessarily the best all round team performance overseen by the Dutchman, its general importance and significance ranks higher than anything previously achieved.
Not necessarily easy viewing from a Manchester United supporter’s perspective, but the display against Arsenal was an exhibition of sheer guile and discipline, with everybody religiously following the demands of Louis van Gaal, all carrying out their particular job with impeccable efficiency and execution, a seemingly vulnerable back three looked resolute and confident for a good 70 minutes – which in itself is immense progress from that tumultuous lunchtime defeat at the hands of Swansea all the way back in August.
It was a performance reminiscent of the Manchester United team straight after the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo; not necessarily dominant, nor good to watch – merely a team full of well drilled players giving absolutely everything for the shirt, subsequently being very difficult to beat.
Following such a fantastic result, complacency can often occur. With that said, I have the inkling that, this week, Louis van Gaal would have had his players grounded and completely focused on their upcoming game against Hull – a game that would see Manchester United achieve 3 competitive wins on the trot for the first time in 2014.
With a third of the season gone, Manchester United sit in a very commendable fourth place; a side that has had 40 injuries since the new managers arrival, 14 players leaving and 6 players joining, as well as a severe lack of midweek games to rest players and give fringe players game time, it could be seen as very good achievement.
On the other end of the spectrum, Steve Bruce’s Hull side are a mere point away from the relegation zone following failure to win any of their last 5 games. The Tigers haven’t won an away match since the opening day of the season, and appear to be a team going through a slight rough patch with defensive issues turning out to be a real detriment to the side; a team managed by an ex-defender have conceded 13 goals in their last 8 matches.
Notwithstanding, its worth noticing that Hull have managed to achieve respectable draws at Anfield and the Emirates already this season – a team that lacks in skill and quality is compensated by their immense spirit and muscle, a quality that has stifled Louis van Gaal’s team on occasions this season (failure to beat lesser teams like Leicester, West Brom and Burnley can be attributed the midfield being outmuscled).
A large proportion of Hull’s success this season has emanated from the exploits of Mohamed Diamé; the Senegalese midfielder has proven to be a useful signing for Steve Bruce this season, netting 4 goals. The former West Ham man is a doubt for the trip to Old Trafford however due to a knee injury that forced him to miss out on their home defeat to Spurs. With Hull’s main impetus provider not 100% fit, a team that will also have to do without Alex Bruce could potentially fall apart against a Manchester United side that haven’t lost a home game for just over three months.
Louis van Gaal’s side is furthermore bolstered by the news of Falcao and Marcos Rojo being available for selection on Saturday, but are unlikely to start; with Robin van Persie in need of a rest there seems no better time to utilise the talents of James Wilson, who netted twice against Hull on his debut last season and has shown universally positive signs in his appearances off the bench under Louis van Gaal. Luke Shaw is ‘out for a few weeks’ according to the manager and the back line will once again appear quite provisional with Daley Blind, Phil Jones, Jonny Evans and Rafael also ruled out for this upcoming encounter.
With Manchester United only in the top four on goal difference, the next two games provide a fantastic opportunity for some distance to be made and some valuable momentum to be gained going into a busy December schedule; Steve Bruce’s side will arrive at Old Trafford poised to put on a display of doggedness and discipline, but a Manchester United team that is looking increasingly well drilled and assured (especially at home) should brush aside a team scrapping at the bottom of the table.
Prediction: Manchester United 3-1 Hull City