herald

Monday 18 December 2017

The vultures are gathering over Red Devils manager

Louis van Gaal and Ryan Giggs
Louis van Gaal and Ryan Giggs

LOUIS van Gaal is threading water now. While the FA Cup remained a realistic hope, a very concerned Old Trafford jury suspended judgement. Now he's under a very harsh spotlight.

But while Manchester United and Arsenal fans were glued to the action on the BBC, neutrals were drawn to the half-time entertainment like moths to a flame.

Roy Keane and Alan Shearer sitting side by side in a very small television studio. How dangerous was that? The last time they were this close, head butts were in play

In front of Keane was Gary Lineker the man who dressed Keano in a leprechaun suit for a crisp ad and you wondered could the tiny studio cope with them all.

But it all went well. Ireland's No. 2 kept his cool, dolling out a few harsh words about Manchester United and even smiling at one of Shearer's jokes.

These are the days of the celebrity No. 2 when the man who usually carries the cones has a big, big profile. With an endless acreage of digital space to be filled, Keane and Ryan Giggs have been receiving attention out of all proportion to their role.

Last night, Giggs was full of chat but you had the distinct impression that anything he has to say to van Gaal goes in one ear and is sent to the part of his Dutch brain which deals with irrelevancies.

Van Gaal just ploughs on with his process and when Manchester United are in full flow down either flank, there is a momentum about them which is both attractive and effective

His defence gave Nacho Monreal a free run into the box for Arsenal's opener but after that, van Gaal's men cranked up the tempo and Angel di Maria, who looked threatening every time he got the ball, pinged a brilliant early ball onto Wayne Rooney's head. A flying dive and the teams were level.

It was a wild, jittery game, riddled with mistakes and a decent indication of how far both clubs are behind Chelsea and Manchester City. They look like FA Cup teams and it was appropriate that a huge blunder should decide it.

Valencia tried a back-pass, Danny Welbeck pounced and that was that.

No surprise that the main topic of debate after the match was Welbeck and the fact that van Gaal showed him the door during the summer.

assumption

It seemed an odd decision, mitigated at the time by the assumption that van Gaal and Manchester United had other targets in mind and wouldn't need him when the season revved up.

When he was substituted late in the game, both sets of supporters rose to him and there was a very clear feeling that this was as much a judgement on van Gaal as an ovation for Welbeck.

Manchester United fans are beginning to take sides now and Giggs is a recognisable rallying point. Paul Scholes has been sniping from the sidelines and Keane weighed in with his own, savagely accurate assessment of this Old Trafford vintage.

"Disgraceful", "Not acceptable", "Awful" and that was at half-time when Manchester United were level and looking like the winning team.

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