The game against Norwich presented Memphis with an opportunity to remind people why United moved so decisively for him in 2015. United’s overall display was as drab as van Gaal’s worst naysayers have come to associate his teams with. In other words, a perfectly stark canvas for a creative wide forward to draw on. An above-average performance would have inadvertently been upgraded to ‘promising’, an assist would show he can be ‘effective’, a goal, one perhaps stemming from him cutting in from the left, would be labeled ‘dazzling’. Instead, what fans were served was yet another exasperating exhibit of unrealized potential. Another bat swing at an already-smashed pinata bleeding hype all over your expensive rug.
That Norwich’s full-back and midfield pressed him fairly tightly in the first half is a paltry excuse. His decision-making was either poor or just slow to materialize, and his execution of either passes, shots, crosses or dribbles made fans question the exclusion of Ashley Young or Adnan Januzaj. A 10 minute highlight clip I found online contains no Memphis moments bar his second free-kick attempt during the dying moments of the game.
One instance during the game was particularly frustrating. During a transition he found himself running down the left flank and towards the box one-on-one with a Norwich defender. It was the ideal scenario for him to make an impact. Instead he tried to elude the defender by cutting in and then cutting back to the left again, only the move was neither adequately sudden nor was it in any way difficult to read. He was dispossessed as easily as Regan MacNeil surrounded by a swarm of angels.
During a conversation with a Dutchman on twitter we both noted that the saddest thing about him at the moment is that a solution is nowhere near obvious. That his confidence is shot is fairly easy to see. He’s visibly trying to make things work which in turn slows his play down even further. It’s no coincidence that his best game in a United shirt was against FC Midtjylland. Granted, they are arguably the worst team United have faced in recent memory, but beyond the opponent’s lack of quality it was the overall tempo of the game which facilitated such a performance from Memphis. He had time to think, space to run into, little threat of being punished on the counter and the cushion of the collective focus that the threat of disqualification had ushered.
That his favourite position is that which Anthony Martial currently dominating from is also quite unfortunate. Excluding the two center-back positions there is no other outfield player as accomplished and as effective as the Frenchman. There has been experimentation all over the pitch. Had Memphis shown signs that he could be effective at number ten or as an out-and-out striker I believe we would have undoubtedly seen more of him. Sadly for all involved that’s not the case.
The other worrying thing is his physical condition. A lot has been said about him bulking up and he himself has denied that it has hindered him in any way. Seeing him play, however, tells a different story. He simply seems to be too stocky to pull off the moves he so clearly has the talent and inclination to pull.
You can see him standing with the ball at his feet labouring over his options or slowly rolling it towards a defender but the quick flick to either side is so telegraphed the ball is intercepted more often than not. He can’t face poor old André Rømer every time, god bless his soul.
I never subscribed to the notion of wanting United to miss out on Champions League football in order to solidify the case for van Gaal’s dismissal. That said, last night’s loss to West Ham might be positive for Memphis. Expectations have been lowered already, but perhaps a Europa League run would suit his strengths.
On the surface it would appear that he requires three things to happen before he even begins justifying the financial outlay: an altered training regime, a less choppy appearance streak and a healthy dose of tranquility. The latter two are naturally intertwined, but he seems to be so aware of what he does and what he wants to achieve that even consecutive starts would do little for him if they are not personally productive.
Most of the criticism of him is now qualified with wishes of future regret, that Memphis kicks on and makes us all eat our words. Perhaps he will do just that. Maybe a managerial shake-up and a tweaked style of play combined with improved decision-making and less time dwelling on the ball can elevate him in a similar manner to Érik Lamela. This is easier said than done, of course, but he’s young and talented enough for one to remain hopeful.