United's going nowhere with LVG's decisions
United won't finish in top four with van Gaal's mad decisions
NORWICH CITY 0
MAN UNITED 1
(Juan Mata 72)
Manchester United supporters should be careful what they wish for.
A top-four finish comes with an unwanted caveat. Louis van Gaal might keep his job.
And he should not be in the Champions League next season. He doesn't deserve to be there, not now, not after yet another lifeless performance from the Red Devils.
Juan Mata's goal pinched the points at Norwich and the top-four target is still achievable, but van Gaal will not guide this disjointed club into Europe.
His selections are too erratic, too confusing and too infuriatingly inconsistent to achieve the desired outcome.
Any sympathy for a manager straitjacketed by his own dogma vanished weeks ago, but last night's baffling decisions were something else.
Earlier this morning (Singapore time), Leicester City were presented with the Premier League trophy - the club's reward for a revolutionary campaign that involved selecting the best available players in their best positions and keeping them there.
Such a simple approach appears to offend van Gaal. It's beneath him.
The Svengali of systems, philosophies and farcical formations doesn't believe in common sense, logic or pragmatism.
The Dutchman enjoys giving the impression that he operates on an intellectual level beyond those around him, like a stray dog picking up a high-pitched frequency.
But, like so much of United's performance last night, it's rubbish.
Van Gaal came out in sunglasses, evoking memories of Big Ron Atkinson in his flamboyant prime, but he was blind to the obvious opportunities presented to him at Carrow Road.
Norwich are, and always will be, a club of limited means.
They are a benign community club that are hard to dislike, but appear destined for the drop.
The Canaries' ageing back four were susceptible to pace and penetration so, naturally, van Gaal left Marcus Rashford at home.
The Dutchman insisted the nascent star required rest. Rashford is 18 and made his debut in February. He can sleep when he's retired.
In a British TV studio, Paul Scholes appeared close to bursting a blood vessel over van Gaal's decision to rest key players with only three games remaining.
When Antony Martial got himself injured in the warm-up, United rarely looked like bursting through anything.
Van Gaal will inevitably highlight the misfortune of Martial's injury, forcing him to field a lethargic Wayne Rooney up front.
But the Dutchman's insistence on leaving Mata in the wilderness of the right wing was equally bewildering.
The Spaniard lacks the very pace that Jesse Lingard wastes in a No. 10 role he is equally ill-suited for.
Rooney up front, Mata out wide, Lingard in the hole, Rashford at home, Memphis Depay anywhere in the starting line-up; none of van Gaal's tactical selections could be justified.
Both sides had everything to play for, but struggled to show it. Norwich had an excuse. They are tiptoeing towards the trapdoor.
Their leading marksman, Cameron Jerome, does for the scorers' union what Donald Trump does for Mexicans.
He hadn't hit the target in 16 previous games. His wasted header, from six metres in the sixth minute, summed up his season.
But United hardly tested John Ruddy either.
Rooney and the football were passing ships in the sunshine, in the same vicinity but never close enough to make contact. He was denied service.
Lingard, Ander Herrera and the hapless Depay displayed all the invention of the Nutty Professor.
Poor Depay has come to define the van Gaal era - a talented Dutchman that promised so much, but delivered so little.
Extraordinarily, as the game progressed, the hosts largely dominated. But Norwich just cannot score and paid a colossal price.
Against the run of play, United broke the deadlock in the 72nd minute.
Rooney seized on a dreadful mistake from Sebastien Bassong and rolled a neat reverse pass across the box for Mata to slide home.
The uncomplaining Spaniard deserved his tap-in, particularly after a 30-metre dash into the box.
But the Red Devils got lucky nonetheless.
On Tuesday, they head to Upton Park and must be aware that the Hammers present trickier opponents than Norwich.
But then, 11 wet paper bags present trickier opponents than Norwich.
United will probably need maximum points from their last two games to have any hope of reaching the Champions League.
Based on last night's evidence, however, they've got no chance.
"We needed to win and have to win our three games then see what Manchester City and Arsenal do. Today was about winning. We do everything for the fans. They have had a difficult season, but deserve happiness. "
— Manchester United midfielder Juan Mata
"It looks a lot difficult now and we have to rely on Newcastle and Sunderland to lose games. We have to keep fighting. We have to stop making errors, but it is a bit late in the day."
— Norwich manager Alex Neil
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