LVG's safety-first tactics will be United's downfall
Van Gaal's safety-first tactics will kill United's campaign
MAN UNITED 0
MAN CITY 0
The Manchester Derby was one of the worst in living memory, but only one half had excuses.
City missed their magicians Sergio Aguero and David Silva. United were all present but never correct.
They were clueless, hamstrung by sterile tactics and plodding personnel.
Louis van Gaal's judgment will again be questioned. His safety-first policy, one unfamiliar to millions of Manchester United followers, avoided defeat but was never going to achieve victory.
To turn Alan Hansen's infamous quote upside down, United will win nothing with old men.
Van Gaal's selections, seemingly weakened by both his loyalty and his innate caution, earned a point but emphasised a much bigger one.
This wasn't the Manchester United way, relying on old men rather than risk the livelier kids in an Old Trafford derby.
Wayne Rooney once again tested the boundaries of goodwill generated throughout an illustrious club career. He didn't deserve to start and his performance hardly vindicated his manager's choice. Juan Mata fared no better. The kids are all right at United, as substitute Jesse Lingard demonstrated later when he linked well with Anthony Martial, but unless van Gaal takes more risks with his rotations, they're on a road to nowhere.
For the first time since Opta was introduced, United failed to muster a single shot - on or off target - in the opening half. They almost repeated the trick in the second half.
Hundreds of millions of dollars have already been lavished on van Gaal's side and a tepid encounter provided another poor return on the investment.
Inexplicably, the hosts effectively played without a centre forward, leaving a gaping hole at the apex.
A day after celebrating his 30th birthday, Rooney went walkabout again, drifting deep or dragging himself out wide. He took set-pieces from either flank and spent more time with his back to goal than facing it.
Martial's sense of frustration was palpable. United's nominal left winger couldn't stick to van Gaal's baffling script.
Instinctively, he cut inside with the urgency of a runaway lawnmower. For much of the game, he was the only United player - really, the only United player - who worried City.
He alone offered acceleration. Elsewhere, United fumbled in first gear.
In midfield, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Morgan Schneiderlin managed Fernandinho and Fernando, but their commendable industry couldn't compensate for the lack of inspiration.
Without Martial, quite frankly, United can be a dull side to watch under van Gaal, short on pace and low on enterprise. Where Old Trafford once hosted electrifying performances from the home side, this one was static.
The match commentator went overboard with the adjectives to inflate Rooney's credentials. He was "ever willing", "committed" or "brave"; the latter certainly true after he took a couple of staples to the head to close a head wound.
What United's skipper didn't offer was an attacking threat. His side's first notable effort on goal was Chris Smalling's header, which whistled wide in the 51st minute.
Rooney's cause wasn't help by Mata. The Spaniard remains popular with the game's hipsters, but his football doesn't swing with any consistency.
Ander Herrera did Mata's running. Martial provided the glimmer of ingenuity. Mata, for the most part, made up the numbers. So did Rooney.
Van Gaal is clearly assembling a nucleus of brighter stars, in Martial, Herrera and Schneiderlin, but they struggled to illuminate a side with too many fading lights.
It came as no surprise when Mata was swopped for Lingard.
By the 75th minute, Joe Hart still hadn't been tested by a United player, in a Manchester derby, at Old Trafford, in a fixture that had major repercussions at the Premier League summit. It was that poor.
So van Gaal went to the trusty, dusty coaching guide once more, in search of a masterstroke. The guide must have been left over by David Moyes. Marouane Fellaini was thrown on, as he was against CSKA Moscow.
All those transfers, all that bluff and bluster and United's tactical and personnel tweaks still come with a hint of Moyes' mustiness. They are passing their use-by date.
United were reduced to hitting the big man. Van Gaal was expected to bring a legendary tactical template to the big occasions, but no one saw it coming from Wimbledon's crazy gang.
But the sudden directness almost paid off, when Lingard flicked Martial's excellent chipped pass onto the bar. United needed 85 minutes to get close and the move underlined those nagging questions.
Why didn't Lingard and Martial start the game, with the former feeding the Frenchman up front?
Van Gaal must find answers soon because the United faithful will tolerate defeat, but they won't accept a lack of ambition.
- Sunderland 3 Newcastle 0
- Bournemouth 1 Tottenham 5