Is Van Gaal Winging It At Manchester United?


When you look up Louis van Gaal, you hear a lot about philosophy and systems. Yet you look at his stint so far with Manchester United and you kind of get the impression he’s pretty much winging it at Old Trafford so far.

If you look at things from afar then you’d be tempted to say that things have gone well for the Dutchman.

His team are currently lying in third spot in the English Premier League (EPL) and have just negotiated themselves a safe passage into the fifth round of the FA Cup.

But those facts don’t gloss over the problems that continue to entrench the red half of Manchester.

As I mentioned previously, Van Gaal has been famed with his footballing philosophy, tactics and systems, yet at times United have looked like a ship without a rudder.

The Man Utd faithful have given the Dutch coach more time than his predecessor David Moyes but some of the support have become restless with Louis tactics and team selections.

They chanted ‘4-4-2’ at their own gaffer when they were struggling to overcome a weak QPR side at Loftus Road. Van Gaal’s preference at playing a back three hasn’t had the desired effect. United didn’t look comfortable against QPR until after he reverted back to a four man defence, when they then eventually won 2-0.

Why Van Gaal has decided to return to a 3-5-2 formation is bewildering as it cost his side valuable ground in the opening months with defeats to Swansea and Leicester City as well as disappointing draws with Burnley and Sunderland. They were absolutely humiliated by MK Dons when the League One side dumped Man Utd out of the League Cup by a 4-0 scoreline. Now Man United fans have to sit and watch Spurs and Chelsea fans snap up.

But that is Van Gaal for you, he is pig-headed and will always try and prove to everyone he’s been right all along.

But like everyone else he notices his side play better with a flat back four and will always revert back to it when they ultimately struggle with his preferred starting formation 3-5-2.

Usually when a manager can admit to his mistakes and adapt, it’s a good thing but with Van Gaal’s constant urge to go back to his original instincts it’s clear he’s still fighting between his beliefs and what is currently best for Man Utd.

Man Utd badge

His team line-ups also raise eyebrows with fans.

Firstly his decision to leave Radamel Falcao out totally from his squad against league rivals Southampton backfired when his side slumped to a single goal defeat at home. The manager stated that the Colombian forward was fit but was left out for tactical reasons. Now that’s fine if your team go on and win but when they lose and fail to have a shot on target at home, fans rightly start to ask why the striker with the most prolific instincts at the club was left watching in the stands.

The United fans have queried the constant omission of Ander Herrera from the first eleven. The Spaniard signed for £28m in the summer but that price tag doesn’t cut any ice with Van Gaal. Yet the Spanish midfielder has done reasonably well, playing twelve times (making six starts) in the EPL, scoring twice and creating three assists.

The supporters like Herrera’s calm style. He is easy on the eye, keeps possession (he has a pass succession rate of 87%) and likes to go forward. The Man Utd faithful have been waiting for a player of Ander’s ilk since Paul Scholes first retirement. His absence in the team is quite simple; Van Gaal said it himself…

“I can only line up 11 players.”. 

It’s clear that the United boss will try first in foremost to include the attacking stars like Robin van Persie, Angel Di Maria and Wayne Rooney. He will then add either Juan Mata or Falcao to that mix. That leaves two spots in the central midfield area and with all that attacking talent he wants to go with midfielders who have defensive discipline. That sees Van Gaal foot-soldier Daley Blind line up beside veteran Michael Carrick.

If Herrera is on the bench then he’ll not get a look in if his teammates are under performing (as has happened a few times this term) because Van Gaal will throw on a forward or look to the height of Marouane Fellaini and fling on a winger like Ashley Young or Adnan Januzaj to get the ball into the box.

So basically I think Ander Herrera actually loses out because he isn’t really a big enough name. Which asks us what is Van Gaal’s philosophy?

Going back to Fellaini, this was a player who was a laughing stock last season. Supposedly Man Utd were keen to offload the big Belgian in the summer before an injury k.o’d that plan. Yet now he is one of the first players that Van Gaal will turn too to change games as his style annoys opponent. It’s not a new tactic, Moyes used to deploy it all the time at Everton. It again shows that the Dutch legend reaches a point where his systems and philosophies get thrown out of the window.

Even superstars such as captain Wayne Rooney and Angel Di Maria are sometimes left scratching their heads at times as Van Gaal likes to continuously move them around the field. They go from full-back to the wings to central midfield to playing up top. It’s almost as if Louis van Gaal constantly sneezes on his tactics board and wherever the players markers end up then that is where they shall play for that particular game.

Then there is his reluctance to sign a defender that will actually improve the squad. Players like Chris Smalling, Johnny Evans and Phil Jones are inconsistent or injured. Whilst youngsters like Paddy McNair and Tyler Blackett are not experienced enough to help the cause in a full-time capacity.

Yet in the last transfer window instead of going for someone like the experienced Ron Vlaar or the impressive Winston Reid, United signed Bolton Wanderers novice Andy Kellett. Now Louis will say that the right players weren’t available but I can’t believe they couldn’t get anyone in who would have improved that defence.

Manchester Utd’s constantly injury problems have been a huge headache for this campaign. Their legendary sixty-three year old coach is notorious for his fitness and tactical intensive training plans. Now I have a theory, I think that you can basically over train these star footballers. By doing that, they become extremely fit and well tuned but at the same time they are closer to breaking down and tearing or pulling muscles. I cannot see beyond a tough training regime as being the main cause for these injuries. But alas I am not a doctor!

Now let’s look at those supposed positives from earlier, their league and FA Cup form.

Well in the EPL, Man United are only five points away from seventh spot. Teams (Spurs, Liverpool and Arsenal) around them are improving all the time and seem more balanced than the ‘Red Devils’. So a Champions League spot is far from a formality at this stage. The fact that Man United are currently lying in third spot is more testament to the fact that so many teams have struggled to consistently preform well all season in England than the fact Man Utd have been brilliant under Van Gaal.

They have only just managed to squeeze past League Two side Cambridge Utd on the second attempt in the FA Cup.  Now considering the ‘Reds’ are not competing in Europe this term, you’d think the domestic cups would be priorities this season. Yet, Van Gaal looks to be underestimating the English game and struggling to get his players inspired for each and every cup game.

It’s funny to think that David Moyes was totally lambasted for his bewildering tactics and his desperate attempts to change his own Old Trafford destiny. Yet really if you look past the smoke and mirrors or the money and arrogance of Louis Van Gaal’s current era in charge of Manchester United, you will see that the Dutchman is just like Moyes but has had slightly more time and luck.

The Dutchman needs to provide the fans with more long-term planning and show that he isn’t just living on a wing and a prayer.

He needs to sort out his defence, stop constantly fiddling with the tactics, deal with the injury issues and find balance in his starting eleven. Only then will he have a chance at truly steadying the ship!


2 Responses to “Is Van Gaal Winging It At Manchester United?”

  1. your argument is so are speaking like moyes himself..he has even failed to click into your research well and publish something meaningful

  2. Hi Ernest,

    First off it’s just a blog, so just my opinion. I know that people will disagree with it.

    Now I’m not a Moyes sympathiser, I don’t think he was the right man for the job. But this current regime seems just as disconnected and fragile.

Leave a Reply