Trailing 1-0 at League One opponents Preston North End in the FA Cup after nearly an hour on Monday night, Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal decides to take off one of his two strikers and replace him with a winger who has played nine minutes since New Year’s Day.
At this stage, his sole remaining striker, Wayne Rooney, hasn’t scored in nine matches. Is the Dutch manager brave or crazy?
It paid off as Manchester United scored three goals in the remaining half hour to progress into the quarter-finals. That substitute, Ashley Young, set up the equaliser.
Has Radamel Falcao seen his final action for Manchester United? Very, very unlikely with Wayne Rooney being forced to play in midfield due to a lack of options in that position, according to the manager.
That leaves only Robin van Persie, the inexperienced James Wilson, and Falcao fighting for the two positions up front. It simply means Falcao will play again because there’s little to replace him with.
Yet, Falcao is not performing. Manchester United were significantly better after the Colombian left the field after 59 minutes at Deepdale earlier this week. Marouane Fellaini was pushed further forward and he had much more of an effect on the game, not just because he scored the second goal either.
Falcao’s numbers are only just starting to become a concern – four goals and four assists in his 16 Premier League games (11 starts). One goal in his last seven games in all competitions should be a bigger concern to Louis van Gaal. On top of that, it’s his non-existent performances that should be a greater concern.
The striker who is believed to be earning around £250,000-a-week at Old Trafford whilst on loan from AS Monaco barely put a foot right on Monday, against lower league opposition. The same can be said of his performance versus West Ham less than two weeks ago, and against Tottenham at the end of 2014. In fact, his only goal in 2015, against Leicester City came on a rebound, when arguably, goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer, should have held onto Ángel Di María’s initial attempt.
Or should we be praising him for being in the right position at the right time?
Make no mistake about it, Manchester United are in a dog fight for a UEFA Champions League spot – something that has been expected of Louis van Gaal and his side for a couple of months now. They head into the weekend just two points above fifth place, while they face Arsenal in the FA Cup in the first week of March – you can get the tickets here – and their chances of overcoming both Arsenal and Liverpool (the other big team left in the FA Cup) are slim. Even a FA Cup win won’t mask the failure of not qualifying for the Champions League though.
With Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool all currently outside the top four, it is vital for United’s Champions League aspirations that they do not drop too many more points in their final 13 games of the season.
Playing Falcao right now is just too much of a gamble. But a world class striker doesn’t lose his ability in 12 months, right? Just ask Fernando Torres how challenging the Premier League can be…