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Five things we have learnt from Yeovil vs United

Yeovil-v-Manchester-United (1)After getting knocked out in the third round last season, United managed to book a spot in the fourth round of the FA Cup but only after struggling than expected against League One side Yeovil Town.

It might have been United’s 11th consecutive game unbeaten but that was just about the only positive to take away from a trip to Devon. Here’s five things we have learnt from Sunday’s 2-0 win.

1) Three men and two steps back

For over an hour, United’s display against Yeovil was bad to the point of being embarrassing as the reds succeeded in making their abysmal effort looking like a good performance. United were hurried into mistakes by a side bottom of League One, struggled to get a foothold in the game and could have and should have gone behind either side of half-time, when the score was still 0-0.

Amid a pedestrian midfield and strikers who saw nothing of the ball, United’s achilles heel was again their three-man defence, which looked and behaved like its usual self: unorganised, shaky and utterly unreliable. Paddy McNair, Tyler Blackett and Chris Smalling suffered Yeovil’s physical impact, but a direct approach has to be expected by lower league sides and United’s inability to cope with everything that was throw at them was frightening.

Van Gaal’s has been criticised for persisting with a 3-5-2 formation but the decision might now be no longer in his hands, given that all of the four wing-backs at his disposal are injured. It might be a blessing in disguise, however, given United looked more comfortable when they reverted to a four man defence following the introduction of Jonny Evans, with McNair and Blackett deployed as make-shift full-backs.

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2) Darren Fletcher is finished

The fact this has been repeated ad nauseam over the last couple weeks doesn’t make it any easier to accept that one of the players United fans have most appreciate in the last decade has now become a liability. Against Yeovil, Fletcher was again horrendously off the pace, mis-placing simple passes – a sin he shared with almost every single one of his teammates – and struggling to ensure any sort of protection for United’s wobbly back three.

Things improves slightly when United reverted to a 4-1-3-2 formation with Fletcher deployed just in front of the back four, but not even that can disguise the fact that the Scots is no longer capable to meet the demands of football at the level United should aspire to play. His commitment in returning to play football after such a terrible illness was a brilliant example of defiance and determination and, particularly for that reason, Fletcher doesn’t deserve to be publicly humiliated against a fourth division side.

3) Ander Herrera must play more often

The standout moment of Herrera’s performance against Yeovil was obviously the superb strike with which he broke the deadlock and spared United some considerable blushes, but there was more to that to the Basque’s performance. With United’s midfielders hell-bent of passing the ball sideways and backwards at every available opportunity, Herrera injected some life into the game by showing attacking intent and passing the ball forward.

Herrera, to borrow a cliche so dear to TV pundits, is a man who “makes things happen” and Van Gaal must surely find a way to accommodate the Basque into the starting XI much more regularly than he has done so far.

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4) The injury crisis is beyond the point of being ludicrous

Having gone into the game without the injured Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young, United now face the prospect of entertaining Southampton at home on Sunday without any available wing-backs, after Luke Shaw and Rafael both succumbed to new fitness problems.

By fracturing his cheekbone, his 27th injury since joining the club, the Brazilian succeeded in the seemingly impossible task to injury a part of his body that had been left healthy up until Sunday and Van Gaal must surely consider signing a right-back either in January or in the summer.

Shaw, meanwhile, hobbled off with an ankle injury similar to the one he had suffered against Arsenal in November and while both full-backs suffered injuries during the match, questions must be asked as to what happens in training, for never has a United side looked as physically fragile as the current one.

5) United lack pace

Much has been made of United’s attacking options but while Robin Van Persie, Juan Mata, Radamel Falcao and Wayne Rooney have all contributed, United remain a machine not firing on all cylinders offensively.

That’s largely down to a lack of pace, a problem that has a been a thorn in this team’s side for quite a while now and which tends to be exacerbated against sides that are happy to defend very deep – as Aston Villa did last month – or to press United the way Yeovil did yesterday.

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Mata and Rooney have shone intermittently when playing behind the strikers but their task is made more complicated by the lack of genuine wide options – be them wing-backs or traditional wingers – which results in United directing all the traffic through the middle and ending in cul-de-sacs from which is almost impossible to escape.

Falcao’s performance was widely criticised but there was little the Colombian could do as he was utterly starved of service and Van Gaal’s must hope Di Maria’s return proves to be the spark United need.

Dan