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28th Dec 2015

Man United allow Van Gaal a sliver of dignity but everything points to the exit

Nooruddean Choudry

Saving face, rather than a point, looked to be the aim.

Manchester United were at home and had an unimpressive Chelsea under the cosh. There were still 20 minutes of the game to play. The Red Devils’ subsequent substitutions said it all.

Louis van Gaal brought on Memphis Depay for a tiring Juan Mata, and two defenders. His usual go-to weapon of choice to win a game is Marouane Fellaini. He sat dormant.

Manchester United v Chelsea - Premier League : News Photo

It suggested that a stalemate was enough, and that spirited display would more than suffice. There was certainly no merit in risking embarrassment by chasing the game.

Perhaps it was the ideal result. As United fans risked implosion by debating whether a win or loss would be preferable for ‘the greater good’, the result was a happy/unhappy kind of medium.

In fairness to both Van Gaal and his team, they actually played with rare verve and proactivity. The fullbacks pushed on, Wayne Rooney wasn’t awful, and both Ander Herrera and Anthony Martial looked dangerous.

Manchester United v Chelsea - Premier League : News Photo

But even that seemed like an exercise in damage limitation. The players can’t be accused of not putting in a shift, and the coach can point to unity under pressure.

That said, this was still a Chelsea side there for the taking, and they were not. Van Gaal’s game plan was not that of a man fearing the end; more of relaxed resignation.

Whether that means he sits confident upon his throne, or rather that he is demob happy and relaxed about his fate, is still unclear. But the stalemate signalled no panic whatsoever.

Manchester United v Chelsea - Premier League : News Photo

The Dutchman was bullish after the game, insisting that the very suggestion that he would resign was preposterous. Albeit a suggestion he made himself post-Stoke.

You can take that on face value, or you canbelieve he is playing a straight bat in public as arrangements are made behind the scenes on the next crucial step.

But actions speak louder than words, and Monday’s performance didn’t feel like a defiant signal of intent, nor a desperate last gasp of a man of the cusp of footballing assassination.

It felt like an engaging 0-0 draw was good enough. A face-saver before changes are made. It was either a semi-dignified farewell, or Man United have truly embraced mediocrity and everyone is past caring.