When Radamel Falcao joined Manchester United on loan, rival fans were frightened and jealous at the potential goals that could come from a frontline that would also include the likes of Robin Van Persie and Wayne Rooney. United fans on the other hand were of course ecstatic, claiming that even if we did concede several goals then it would be impossible not to outscore opponents. Talks of a potential title challenge began to heat up yet none of these things happened as the season went on. So what was the reason for this? Did the strikers fail to live up to the potential or was it a failing of the team to produce the goods for them to deliver?
Team
As a team, I’m sure most United fans would agree, the performances definitely improved as the season went on. Although the performances were inconsistent, you can tell the players began to grasp the philosophy of Van Gaal the more time they had as a team. As you can see the performance score reinforces this point, with the particularly interesting statistic showing that we improved most in an attacking sense compared to the possession and defending scores. However, despite Van Gaal stating he is a risk taker when it comes to football his team shows quite the opposite with the fans observing a possession based low block lying football for most parts of the season, with games against Tottenham, Liverpool and City representing significant moments in the development of Van Gaal’s team. The statistics seem to back this claim with the team registering last out of the top four in terms of attacking score, far behind the rest. Even our total performance score sees us only ahead of Chelsea, who are shockingly last.
Performance comparison

Performance comparison

Out of the top four, United is the team with the least goals scored and least shots taken too, yet shot accuracy is a single percentage higher than Manchester City’s, suggesting that we’re getting our shots on target. It also suggests shot accuracy isn’t necessarily directly linked to most goals scored as City have scored the most goals out of the top four with the least shot accuracy. The statistics heavily point out that as a team we’re nowhere near as risky as Van Gaal claims to be or wants us to be. Not only did last season see us shoot the least often out of the top four but we’ve also had the least shots in and out of the area too; we’re shot shy.

Shots and goals comparison

Shots and goals comparison

In terms of passing, we’re yet again the team with the most back passes out of the top four, with the second most being City, almost 500 back passes less than us. The more worrying statstics is that league champions Chelsea have almost 1000 backwards passes less. We’re also the team to make the second least forward passes out of the top four with Chelsea surprisingly being the least, suggesting the ‘boring, boring, Chelsea’ chant might have some truth to it. On the other hand though, Chelsea do have more key passes and chances created as a team than we do despite less forward passes meaning it is definitely more about quality of passes over quantity. As a team, we’ve often dominated possession against our opponents only to lose, consider our defeat against Everton 3-0 away from home. Another worrying factor is that we produced the least chances and also have the least key passes out of the top four, with the statistics showing that we’re not even close in these departments compared to Chelsea, City and Arsenal.

Individuals

Every United fan knows without any statistics needed to prove it that Rooney was quite obviously our best striker the last season. Despite his central midfield and even defensive midfield cameos, Rooney tops the clubs scoring charts and has the most minutes out of all our strikers. I’m sure all the strikers would admit that their goal records the past season are not flattering at all. However, Rooney is the striker who has the least excuses compared to his striker compatriots. After all, he’s had the most minutes and the least injuries with his only worthwhile excuse for a poor scoring season being his central midfield cameo which lasted a few games. On the other hand, Rooney has had the most shots, goals and key passes out of all four of our strikers, once again proving to be our talismanic striker.

Wayne Rooney

Wayne Rooney

RvP is second best in terms of his role as a striker and in terms of minutes played. His poor scoring record may be excused by several interrupting injuries yet he’s still managed to hit double digits despite featuring irregularly. All strikers are known to perform best with runs in the sides and Van Persie has managed to be second best without having this luxury. He’s only just behind Rooney in total shots and his shot accuracy is the best out of the strikers. He’s once again second to Rooney in the key passes department yet this could be argued that Rooney has bettered him due to his central midfield role where key passes are more required to be made. In truth, when Robin Van Persie has played, he’s quite often been isolated up top with Rooney more capable of being a lone striker when working with Van Gaal’s philosophy so Van Persie hasn’t had as bad a season as most would make it out to be.

Falcao has technically been involved in only one game less than Van Persie yet has less than half the minutes Rooney has had and is about 800 minutes short of Van Persie. This startling fact means it could be argued that Falcao hasn’t been given as much of a chance as Van Persie or Rooney to perform and that even when he has started games he has quite often been substituted. Once again, strikers need game time to perform at their best and it could be argued that Falcao needed the most minutes as he was returning from a serious injuries. He needed a manager who would show faith and be patient with him. Van Gaal had more pressing concerns however and needed to return United to the Champions League or his team would be deemed a failure.

Radamel Falcao

Radamel Falcao

To delve deeper into his sporadic game time, Falcao played for a month from mid September to mid October but did not complete a single game. His statistics read at five games: two on the twenty minute mark and three on the hour mark. Then Falcao didn’t make an appearance until the end of November. From the end of November until the end of December he played very infrequently, not even passing the twenty minute mark. It was around this time with Rooney deployed in midfield that Falcao had a run of four games with two of them being the full ninety minutes and two sixty minutes. Then he was dropped followed by another run of four games; completing two of them and featuring for seventy minutes for the other two. It seems that after this Van Gaal lost faith in Falcao with him featuring irregularly for the rest of the season and barely passing the 20 minute mark other than the 1-0 loss to Chelsea where he was the only striker available apart from Wilson. Falcao was often the fall guy for the team and Van Gaal knew he had to deliver on Champions League football, therefore he couldn’t give Falcao the frequent game time he needed without risking our chances of qualification via a top four finish. On the other hand Falcao very rarely showed glimpses of his quality. He was quite often isolated up top and didn’t show enough to convince Van Gaal that he deserved selection. Many United fans justifiably stated that Falcao just didn’t seem capable of fitting into our philosophy.

Falcao statistics 2014-15

Falcao statistics 2014-15

Fluidity and balance is needed all over the pitch but it is arguably more important up top than anywhere else on the field. With Van Gaal and the team taking quite a while to settle on a selection and find the right balance, it is understandable that the team have taken so long to become fluid thus hindering our strikers finding their shooting boots. The other teams in the top four arguably have a more settled starting eleven and you could almost always predict who would start for them up top. Our side has had the most injuries out of the top four and have rotated heavily compared to the rest. However, injuries may not have been an excuse as everyone has underperformed in what was surely a transitional season for Louis Van Gaal and his team.

Everything appears to be moving in the right direction however, and the signs are positive that we will improve next season. The team have managed to do the bare minimum and are set for what is sure to be a season that will define Van Gaal and the team. With fluidity and a more balanced starting eleven the team will naturally be more creative and more willing to take risks. Louis Van Gaal has already addressed the need for more goals by adding Memphis Depay, who has scored over 20 goals last season, to the team. United have been linked with several strikers and if reports are true Van Gaal is looking to rearrange the strikers department there may be a risk of the signings once again taking time to settle into the team and his philosophy. It may on the other hand be best to promote from within, with James Wilson given more game time as some may have expected last season, and to give our remaining strikers a second chance to make things right.

Article by Marwan Harraz. Follow Marwan on twitter @MarwanHarraz