Will the real Louis van Gaal please stand up

van-gaal

Louis van Gaal. Photo by Mikey, http://www.flickr.com

Liverpool v Manchester United, or was it the Dog & Duck v The Red Lion as Gary Neville suggested a while back? (Incidentally, if he doesn’t start getting a few wins in Valencia soon then he might find his next managerial job is a little closer to the pub leagues). There’s no question it was a decidedly uninspiring game.

The fact that both sides had drawn 3-3 the previous midweek suggested that the game would at least involve plenty of incident and perhaps a fair few goals. Alas, not so much.

Jurgen Klopp seems to be finding the English winter rather harsh and appears on the touchline with more and more layers of clothing. He increasingly resembles a budget airline passenger who’s attempted to beat the checked luggage charge by putting on all the items in their suitcase.

Moreno’s hairdo also causes me some wonder: largely regarding the essentially unfinished nature of it. Did a fire alarm go off halfway through and the cut was never resumed? Was the barber an Everton fan and only realised who Moreno was at the midpoint of the cut, upon which he downed tools?

Equally bemusing was the sight of Jones, Carrick, and Rojo sat (or rather stood such is the fashion again) in the stand with the away fans. Presumably a plush seat in the director’s box with a great view wasn’t so appealing since they’d be watching Manchester United – a less than riveting experience at the moment as Paul Scholes never tires of reminding us.

Fergie time at Old Trafford these days is nap time.

The game started surprisingly gingerly and although Liverpool were on top it was obvious just how much Coutinho is missed when absent.

Not long into the game, Fellaini went down (as it were) following a clash of heads with Lucas. Co-commentator Jim Beglin was moved to observe: “you just hope for Fellaini’s sake that his hair cushioned the blow.” Indeed, Jim, we can only hope.

Shortly afterwards, Lallana missed a sitter when clean through on goal. As the ball bounced up he headed it weakly at De Gea, making no attempt at the lob which was the glaringly obvious option in the circumstances.

Elsewhere, I remain unconvinced by Firmino as a false nine but I am convinced by his talent and his ability in front of goal. It’s just unfortunate that when Benteke comes on he plays rather as a false nine now as well.

Klopp was his usual animated self on the touchline. He definitely takes the kick every ball approach to coaching. Van Gaal sat mostly impassive throughout as he tends to. He recently said that managers screaming on the touchline have little effect and I suspect he’s right – it seems to me more of an outlet for their own nervous energy than anything else.

Still, sitting stony faced while your team produces another stony performance is not generally a good look for a manager.

I counted the number of saves required of both goalkeepers in the first half; it was not a taxing effort mathematically, there was one.

A more taxing question: Jordan Henderson, what is he? He’s not a playmaker, that’s for sure although he sometimes forgets that fact and tries to play Gerrard-esque long passes. They mostly endanger the front few rows of the crowd. He’s not a ball-winning defensive midfielder.

He does run around a lot. With the effort demanded by Klopp, maybe that’s enough for now but he’s a poor man’s Stevie G – the poor man being whoever sanctioned the transfer that involved paying Sunderland around £17 million for his services.

Talking of overpriced transfers, that brings me to Lallana and Clyne, both of whom seem to sum up the Rodgers era to me. They’re both decent enough footballers but no more than that. Lallana on his day is actually pretty good but most of ‘his days’ seem to have been used up when he was a Southampton player. I can only hope that Clyne’s day is still to come.

Too much money spent on not nearly enough quality. That was what happened under Rodgers.

Van Gaal has not exactly been reluctant to get the company cheque book out but as with so many first halves this season, the return on investment was nil in a very literal sense.

There were thus not many highlights at halftime, a shame for Paul Parker who does some of the analysis here in Malaysia. He was poised at the giant iPad (or whatever it is) that all studios must seemingly possess by law now, but no amount of knob twiddling could conjure up much to ‘highlight’ from a pretty forgettable opening 45 minutes.

The second half began with an example of Klopp’s love of near post corners. I think every Liverpool corner of the Klopp era has been chipped just short of the near post. I don’t recall any goals, or even highlight worthy chances, materialising as a result.

Beglin, not remembering the Gary Neville quote as accurately as me, pondered: “what did Neville describe this fixture as? The Dog and Duck v the Prince of Wales?” The Prince of Wales? I think Jim must have been in for a good few toasts to the prince before this particular co-commentary gig.

Soon he was offering more insight, on Rooney playing at 10 this time: “as he gets older, that’s probably his best position.” You mean the position in which he’s played almost his entire career Jim?

The main commentator (I can’t remember who it was) suggested that the game had “rather trundled.” It was an apt description. Indeed the combination of a tropical storm plus a paper cut suffered by my wife meant that there was more blood and thunder at my house than at Anfield that day.

Then Rooney scored. A corner that made it beyond the near post (take note Mr. Klopp) was headed towards goal by Fellaini. The remarkable thing was not that the Belgian won the header but that he did so while surrounded by four Liverpool defenders. The header crashed back off the bar and Rooney hammered in the rebound.

One of those four Liverpool defenders might have been just slightly more usefully employed attending to Rooney.

Van Gaal still didn’t leave his seat. He just made a note. I suspect he’s writing a novel in preparation for life after management.

There had been much speculation that defeat at Anfield would have brought the Dutchman considerably more time to spend with his novel. A win saw him cling on but subsequent defeat at home to Southampton has again raised speculation to fever pitch.

I’m amazed that he’s still in the seat that he’s so reluctant to leave each match day.

There doesn’t appear to be a long-term future for Van Gaal at Manchester United but there surely is for Klopp at Liverpool. Progress has been stuttering so far but progress it undeniably is. Manchester United meanwhile are going backwards as steadily as their passing.

Liverpool may have lost this battle, but the more optimistic set of fans in the ground, even at the end, were not those sat alongside Jones, Carrick, and Rojo.

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Losing sleep over Liverpool

Old Trafford. Photo by: Paul www.flickr.com

Old Trafford. Photo by: Paul
http://www.flickr.com

Why do I do it to myself? I’m still a little tired as I write this, mostly as a result of staying up until 2.30 am on Sunday morning to watch Manchester United v Liverpool. The Greater Manchester police force weren’t the only ones less than impressed at the chosen kick-off time.

I have to presume that the Liverpool players weren’t informed of my commitment in staying up late as they produced a dismal performance from early on. Gloating Manchester United fans should not get too carried away – the performance of your side was only marginally better.

In a blog post last November, I wrote that this fixture ‘is the biggest game in England such is the stature, history and rivalry of the two clubs.’ It didn’t live up to that billing on Saturday. In fact, it came a lot closer to Gary Neville’s quip last year that watching the two sides these days resembled the Dog and Duck versus the Red Lion.

Neville’s observation did not go down well with Van Gaal at the time, who promptly labelled the former Manchester United fullback an “ex-legend.” I wonder if the same now applies to Rio Ferdinand who described Van Gaal’s tactical approach as “not football I enjoy watching” due to it being “really slow going.” The first half was certainly slow going; it wasn’t just tiredness that kept me on the verge of nodding off.

It’s not just ex-Manchester United players that appear to have something of an issue with the current manager.  The build-up to the game was dominated by talk of a rebellion among senior players over training sessions that they deemed to be too structured and that were making them too robotic.

The first half did rather resemble one of those news clips where scientists from Japan unveil their latest life-size robot inventions and seek to demonstrate the dexterity of the machines by having them play football. Lovren, for instance, could certainly use a software upgrade and a bit of reprogramming to approximate the centre half that he was at Southampton.

Apparently some in the Manchester United squad are also unhappy at the amount of time they are required to spend in meetings for video analysis. They should spare a thought for their Liverpool counterparts today, because that video analysis session is not going to make for pleasant viewing.

I imagine the chief analyst gathering the squad together and saying: “we’ve just picked out the sections of the game where we believe a bit of improvement is needed lads. Just press play and I’ll see you in about 93 minutes to take any questions. There’s one small cut for Christian’s goal.”

Brendan Rodgers’ tactics deserve a bit of analysing for a start. Jamie Carragher said post-match: “I don’t understand this obsession with playing 4-3-3,” correctly pointing out that Liverpool have a lot of strikers but a severe lack of wide players. Carragher’s assessment was actually quite generous, Liverpool’s formation was 4-5-1 and Rodgers set his side up looking for a 0-0.

Liverpool also continued to employ Rodgers’ preferred method of playing the ball out from the back. The problem was that most of the time they played it out to a Manchester United player. Don’t get me wrong, I applaud the manager’s desire to play possession football but the current way of doing so invites huge risks because the goalkeeper and centre backs are not comfortable enough on the ball to do it confidently or consistently.

At the other end, Liverpool lack directness and their build up play is too slow, the same issues that Rio Ferdinand identifies in the current Manchester United side. Little wonder then that the game was so ponderous for long periods.

Benteke was an isolated figure up front and despite scoring a spectacular goal, was never given much of an opportunity to put pressure on United’s defence. The creativity of Coutinho was hugely missed (he’s now Liverpool’s most influential player by far) and so of course was the drive of Gerrard.

It was revealed this week that Gerrard almost certainly would have remained at Anfield if he had been offered a coaching post. I find it absolutely astonishing that no such offer was made. In fact, back in November 2014, with Gerrard’s contract situation still unresolved, I wrote in a post that ‘I’m sure an offer will be forthcoming (and would expect it to include the option of a coaching role).’

In Gerrard’s words: “what would have kept me at Liverpool into this season was the chance of shadowing Brendan Rodgers and his staff as well as playing. Those ideas were only mentioned to me after I had announced I was leaving.” How many clubs would have lost a player of the former skipper’s status in such circumstances? Especially a club that was once famous for promoting from within the Anfield boot room.

I wonder what he made of Saturday’s performance. The match kicked off at 2.30 am LA time so Gerrard is likely to be a little tired as well if he tuned in. The man losing sleep this week though must surely be Brendan Rodgers.

A cameo and a Classico

Photo by Ana Belen Ramon www.flickr.com

Photo by Ana Belen Ramon
http://www.flickr.com

Domestic football returns in Europe this weekend following the break for international fixtures. In the last round of games we got to assess two of the continent’s greatest leagues, and four of the biggest clubs in the world with plenty at stake – it truly was a Super Sunday (or Super Sunday/Mega Monday combo for those of us watching in the Far East) as Liverpool took on Manchester United before Barcelona squared off against Real Madrid.

El Classico is not only the biggest game in Spain but also the biggest game in the world these days and, in my view, Liverpool v Manchester United is the biggest game in England such is the stature, history and rivalry of the two clubs. Having both games played on the same day offered an interesting opportunity to compare two very different football cultures.

It may be the biggest game in England but this was no title decider. Both clubs are focused on a top four finish and qualification for the Champions League. United’s victory was a huge one in this particular race and Liverpool, despite excellent form in 2015, may have left their charge a little too late.

Van Gaal and his expensive acquisitions have found themselves under pressure all season with their stuttering and inconsistent form. The Dutchman speaks often of ‘philosophy’ and his team has mostly employed the Socratic method: posing many questions but providing precious few answers.

Things change rather quicker in football than philosophy however and victory at Anfield would prove to be a second assured display in a row from United following their convincing win over Spurs a week earlier.

Liverpool started the match as slight favourites but quickly found out how little that matters when Mata calmly stroked in the opening goal. Van Gaal was jubilant on the touchline but Giggs’ reaction to being embraced by the manager – stonier of face than Michelangelo’s David – did not exactly dispel rumours of a rift between the two.

Liverpool tried to counter but looked unusually flat and threatened only rarely in the first half. Sturridge briefly got confused and thought he was Marco Van Basten, attempting a volley from an audacious angle. De Gea wasn’t troubled by it but some supporters high up in the stand behind him may well have been.

Manchester United were dominating the game with Mata and Herrera pulling the strings in midfield and Rooney looking lively in his preferred position up front. Liverpool needed some inspiration: enter Steven Gerrard as a half time substitute.

38 seconds later Gerrard exited, rightly sent off for a stamp on Herrera. Captain marvel hadn’t even lasted a marvellous minute. It was an atrocious loss of control from a player of such experience. His subsequent apologies were swift and well made but the incident will leave a longer lasting mark on the end of Gerrard’s Liverpool career than it did on Herrera.

The remaining Liverpool players appeared to still be in shock when Mata scored his second of the game with an acrobatically elegant volley. It looked like game over at that point but Liverpool deserve a lot of credit for forcing their way back into the match. Sturridge scored with twenty minutes remaining but the unequal numbers were a factor in an equaliser remaining beyond them.

Rooney had the chance to wrap up a more comfortable win for his side when Manchester United were awarded a late penalty after Can clumsily tangled with Blind in the box. It summed up a rather clumsy Liverpool performance overall. Rooney’s penalty was in the category marked tame and Mignolet was able to make a relatively straightforward save.

Liverpool quickly ran out of time to save themselves but there was still time for another expensive stamp as Skrtel left his foot in on De Gea. The referee took no action but Skrtel subsequently received a retrospective three match ban.

Manchester United left town with three precious points. I went to bed for about three hours sleep before the Classico kicked-off.

When it did, the two best forward lines in the world were lined up against each other: Neymar, Suarez, and Messi versus Bale, Benzema, and Ronaldo. This potentially packed more of a punch than Mayweather versus Pacquiao next month. As the players lined up, it was Bale who looked by far the most apprehensive even though he was playing away from the Bernabeu where the Madrid fans have given him such an unnecessarily hard time of late.

Modric was back in the Real midfield to set-up an interesting Croatian confrontation with his fellow countryman Rakitic. I’m not yet fully convinced of Luis Enrique’s managerial abilities but he has at least been smart enough to restore Mascherano to a midfield position. The Argentinean had a superb game, snapping Real’s midfield out of their stride and using the ball intelligently in possession. The only black mark against him was some pitiful playacting on more than one occasion.

The opening exchanges were cagey, there was more dancing around the ring than direct engagement. Then Messi decided enough was enough and whipped in a free-kick that invited Mathieu to nod it in to the net, an invitation he duly accepted. The two best strike forces in the world come together and the first goal is scored by a centre half.

It didn’t take long for Real to respond though. Modric found Benzema inside the box and his brilliant back-heel bemused the Barca defence and allowed Ronaldo to find a sliver of space to score. Ronaldo is apparently refusing to talk to the press until the end of the season; his bizarre outburst at the Ballon d’Or awards suggests that we’re perhaps not missing much.

Before half-time there was still time for Ronaldo to get booked for diving (I wish he would give that up, even just for lent), for Bale to have a ‘goal’ ruled out for offside and then miss a glorious chance from just six yards out. Ancelotti will have headed down the tunnel the happier of the two bosses.

Ten minutes into the second half though, Enrique was enlivened and leaping with delight as Suarez scored a goal of pure composure to put Barca back ahead. If anybody needed reminding, this game was no Messi versus Ronaldo. It was probably the best collection of football talent you are likely to see on a pitch anywhere in the world this year (consider the fact that Xavi was on the bench).

Real Madrid had the world club cup winner’s crest on their jerseys but there’s no doubt that this is the game that determines the world’s best. In the last Classico back in October, Real looked very much the best in the world with an utterly convincing 3-1 win.

Barcelona looked disjointed and uncertain in that game. This time round they were full of confidence and conviction. It was a bit like the Barcelona of a couple of seasons ago under Guardiola but with ‘quicker ball’ as they would say in rugby. The midfield three used to be the basis of Barcelona’s game, now it’s the front three.

And with that front three it’s hardly surprising. Tactics don’t have to be very complicated when you have the option to give the ball to Neymar, Suarez, and Messi, all of whom are very willing to constantly show for it.

At the final whistle Barcelona had three points to show for their efforts and a four point lead at the top of the league.

Two great games, four great teams, six great goals. If the four teams played in a mini league the two Spanish sides would finish at the top. They are the best two teams in the world with Bayern Munich not far behind. Liverpool and Manchester United are striving to close the gap but given that the former didn’t make it out of the Champions League group stage and the latter weren’t even in Europe this season, they still have a long way to go.

The English sides return this weekend to their battle to qualify for the Champions League. They know that if they get there they’ll find the world’s best waiting. Gerrard won’t be there, he’ll be in L.A. But like the rest of the world, he’ll be watching.

Long ball Louis

Louis van Gaal - Vanchester poster. Photo by: Mikey www.flickr.com

Louis van Gaal – Vanchester poster. Photo by: Mikey
http://www.flickr.com

Paul Scholes said this week that watching Manchester United has been “miserable” at times this season, and he gets paid to do it as a pundit. Pity the poor punters who are paying for the privilege.

Manchester United’s style of play has come under increased scrutiny since Sam Allardyce labelled them a “long-ball” side after their late equaliser against West Ham. Louis van Gaal’s reaction was as surprising as it was revealing: he turned up at a press conference clutching a dossier of stats from the game in a bid to prove big Sam mistaken. The Louis doth protest too much, methinks.

For a man who always appears so supremely self-confident it was a gesture of remarkable insecurity and weakness. Could you ever imagine Sir Alex responding in such a way? He never did because he never felt the need to publicly justify himself.

Manchester United’s players still don’t seem very comfortable with the manager’s tactics. For the first three months or so that could be understood and forgiven, not least because the Dutchman was implementing quite significant changes in playing style, including moving away from the reliance on 4-4-2. By now, with the quality of players he has at his disposal, there should be much more fluency and coherence in his side’s play.

I wonder if Van Gaal’s slightly hysterical reaction to Allardyce’s claims is a sign that he has begun to doubt himself just a little. There’s no doubt that he’s frustrated with the way his side is performing. The midweek win over Burnley didn’t provide much comfort.

Chris Smalling revealed that Van Gaal had been “shocked” at half-time by how poor the first half display was. I’m not sure that too many others were though, including the Old Trafford faithful who have got used to generous helpings of mediocrity to accompany their prawn sandwiches this season.

The Van Gaal stat attack had a touch of the Rafa Benitez ‘facts’ fiasco about it. It is not a flattering comparison for the Dutchman. Instead of handing out tactical diagrams to the media, the Manchester United boss would find his time better served going over them for longer with his players. His players frequently look as bemused as the journalists that attended the educational press conference.

Despite United’s dodgy defence most of the recent questions have focused on the misfiring strike force. Falcao’s loan is looking decidedly subprime while Van Persie’s prime looks to be some way behind him. Rooney has been shunted to midfield in order for Falcao and Van Persie to be paired together up front but it doesn’t seem to be working.

The Colombian and the Dutchman are too similar. Either would benefit from playing alongside Rooney but neither appears to enjoy the current set-up. Both are penalty box predators; they don’t get too involved in build up play. In the absence of Rooney dropping off the front to link with the midfield it is inevitable that the ball will hit the strikers from deeper. Whether most of those constitute long balls or long passes (the statisticians make a clear distinction) is not really the point.

Is Rooney wasted in midfield? By and large I think he is although it’s certainly not his fault. He’s shown himself to be willing to play there and has more than enough quality to do so. Some of Rooney’s natural dynamism is curtailed in midfield though and he’s not experienced enough in the position to control games in the way that you would expect a player of his quality to.

Every time that Rooney lines up in midfield it’s a reminder that Manchester United have never replaced Scholes. They should have signed someone such as Modric when he left Spurs. Fabregas would also have fitted the bill perfectly. Fellaini, alas, does not.

The summer spending spree did bring the creativity of Di Maria to Manchester and after a spectacular start his recent struggles have been a bit of a surprise. He was one of the best players at the World Cup in Brazil and he’s most suited to roaming quite freely in a role similar to the one that Bale plays now at Real Madrid and used to play at Tottenham. Di Maria’s stuttering form seems to be setting the tone for the rest of the side.

For all the dark clouds supposedly gathering over Old Trafford, Van Gaal can still point to the fact that his team are in third place in the table and on course for a return to the Champions League. The fact that they are tells you a lot about inadequacies elsewhere.

West Ham probably won’t be playing in Europe next season but that hasn’t stopped Allardyce claiming that there is no coach in the Premier League as sophisticated as him these days. It’s a bold claim but it’s perhaps not as outlandish as it first sounds. He has been around at the top level for a long time and has always been known as a keen student of the game not least on the sports science side of it.

With his tie loosened, his extensive frame, and his furious gum chewing, Big Sam doesn’t look quite as sophisticated as Mourinho, Wenger or even Van Gaal and that may be one reason he’s not credited with the level of sophistication that he feels he’s due.

When Van Gaal used more direct tactics at certain stages of games at the World Cup, he was hailed for his tactical flexibility. When Big Sam does the same, it tends to be dismissed as unreconstructed directness of the old school. Let’s not forget that Manchester United’s directness at Upton Park brought an equaliser.

Van Gaal’s team remains a work in progress with more emphasis so far on work than progress. Under Moyes, Old Trafford lost its fear factor for visiting sides; Van Gaal’s tactical tinkering hasn’t yet brought it back. That’s the long and the short of it.

Louis can Gaal

 

louis-van-gaal

Louis van Gaal. Photo by Ajith Kumar, http://www.flickr.com

On the 19th of May Louis van Gaal was announced as the successor to David Moyes as manager of the 20 time Premiership Champions. A sigh of relief and a wave of optimism was the general feeling around Old Trafford and the global fan base. So, is LVG the man that can?

The ill-fated Moyes era came and went and nothing more need be said about that. So what lies in store for the Man United faithful?

Well they can rest assured that they have a manager that has total faith in his ability, will tell it how it is, and will be ruthless to anyone who is not on board with his methods. The days of last season’s dressing room unrest will be no more; the unrest is still currently sat in the stands.

Like last season United’s transfer activity seemed to start late. With LVG at the World Cup, Ed Woodward and the board may have been hoping for an early Dutch exit so he could get to work, however this was not the case. Hererra arrived before the World Cup had finished although reports suggest this just required LVG’s ok and Shaw followed a day later. These signings provided early optimism that they would not be left holding the Fellaini this time when the transfer music stopped. A centre half and a central midfielder seemed the most pressing requirements.

The opening fixture, a home defeat to Swansea, a team many fancied to struggle this year highlighted this need even more. A more than encouraging pre-season campaign had maybe led the fans to believe that Shaw and Hererra would prove sufficient additions with the emergence of young talents such as Reece Jones and Blackett doing well on the US tour. Morale boosting wins over Roma, Inter and the Galacticos of Real Madrid had United fans chomping at the bit for the new season. 3 games in and it feels like last season all over again. The usual suspects reared their ugly head from 2013/14, good possession with no penetration, a lack of cutting edge and a defence that’s shakier than Shakin’ Stevens.

So why should this season be any different to last? Because LVG is a man with a plan. A man that has enough self-confidence to drop his trousers to make a point to a player, hardly a tactic you can envisage the great Sir Alex doing, but maybe just as effective a way to get a point across as the Hairdryer. He gives an air of confidence and authority at his press conferences, no sign of the squirming demeanour of Moyes when facing such questions a little over a year ago. He is either incredibly confident or very naïve but he walks the walk (clipboard in hand) and he looks the part.

When Holland turned up at the World Cup, they did so without great expectation. Yes they have world class players in Robben and RVP, but with a number of youngsters and a somewhat unknown defence, coupled with a group including reigning world champions Spain and the much fancied Chileans, getting out the group would have been considered a success.

So fast forward a month, and Holland finish a very worthy 3rd place in the tournament playing a disciplined yet attacking brand of football in an unconventional 3-5-2 formation. Van Gaal raised eye brows along the way by substituting Cillessen for Tim Krul with a minute to go in order to be in goal for penalties. This shows the confidence that he has in his own ability.

Arriving at Old Trafford mid-July, LVG quickly moved to implement his favoured 3-5-2 formation at United on the US tour. On arrival he felt he didn’t have the right players for it although playing some players out of position seemed to pay off pre-season. For example Young played well in a wing back role but for this to work , and by that I mean qualify for the Champions league, LVG still appeared a few players short.

The transfer window has now slammed shut and it remains uncertain whether the deals completed (Falcao & Blind) are enough to resurrect Manchester United’s season. For a start, who does he drop? Will he continue with his 3-5-2 system? Van Gaal has already stated he was restricted with personnel, so do the latest signings change this? 4-3-3 is widely suggested as a suitable alternative but this may well lead to playing players out of position (something Moyes was constantly slated for), or leaving some big names out altogether.

Seen as a saviour last season, a big question mark now hangs over Juan Mata, although a player of his ability surely has to be included. Will Blind take on a central midfield role or will he play at the back? I guess Van Gaal has a pretty good problem in the fact that when everyone is fit, he now has several options in terms of personnel and formation. Below are options available without even mentioning the likes of Carrick, Fletcher, Januzaj, Evans, Young etc. All of a sudden Manchester United have a very healthy squad:

(4-3-3) De Gea – Rafael, Jones, Rojo, Shaw – Hererra, Blind, Di Maria – Rooney, Falcao, RVP

(3-5-2) De Gea – Jones, Blind, Rojo – Valencia, Hererra, Mata, Di Maria, Shaw – Falcao Rooney

Defence is still the main issue although it is expected that Hererra or Blind can provide bite in the midfield which should take some pressure off those behind them. Van Gaal appears to still have faith in his defenders, including young Blackett. I have never heard a manager use a word as repetitively as Van Gaal does with “philosophy.” The only thing close to this I can recall was Rafa Benitez’s love of “Focus”, or going back to my Sunday League days, the coach’s most used phrase was “Neil, offside!” but that’s another story.

The club, the players, the fans have all been asked to have patience until the new “philosophy” is embedded which as we are constantly told will take time. With his faith in his own ability and proven track record, I am sure he will stick with his slow build up play from the back, working to make United’s defenders comfortable on the ball, bringing the play into midfield and trying to create space for their “strike players” in Di Maria, Mata, Rooney, RVP and Falcao. If the players can grasp the philosophy it is hard to see how even the most stringent defence will cope with that forward line.

So what will be a successful 1st season for LVG? Champions? Top 4 finish? Or will the fans and board settle for a steady improvement on last season, providing they can see a change in philosophy being put into practice? With the signing of Falcao, I think that United have sealed their own fate and now have to finish in the top 4. A signing of that magnitude and with a squad that possesses the attacking talent they have, it would seem unimaginable that they finish outside the top 4. Things need to click quickly, 3 months according to LVG.

3 months of course is a long time in football but if LVG can embed his philosophy before the turn of the year, and United are not too far adrift from the top of the league then there will be reason to hope that the manager will keep his trousers up when the season reaches squeaky bum time.