After witnessing arguably United’s best performance of the season, some opinions have changed in Manchester regarding the clubs standing. The Red Devils are without a win in their last eight matches, falling in the premier league table to 6th place (9 points behind first place). Under intense pressure and frustration from recent results, Louis van Gaal may have assured his role as manager of Manchester United for the time being. United’s performance against Guus Hiddink’s Chelsea was full of attacking intent, hard work and passion dismissing any claims about the players not playing for Louis van Gaal. Despite the match ending in a goalless draw, there are many positives to take into the future. Below is an analysis of some positives and negatives surrounding Louis van Gaal and his United squad.

  • By Michael Doodeman
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lvg bookStyle of Play

It’s no secret that Old Trafford has been dissatisfied and bored at times with United’s style of play this season. Louis van Gaal’s style has changed within his managerial career, ranging from his tactically superb 3-4-3 at Ajax, to his not so pretty, yet effective 3-5-2 with the Dutch national team, to his currently preferred 4-2-3-1 system with United. With different players at hand, the formations and tactics have varied, however, a constant desire for possession and control has always been present within a Louis van Gaal side. United have lacked goals and have had problems with creating chances in the final third, however have proved to have one of the best defenses in the Premier League. United have only conceded three goals at home all season, largely due to the form of Chris Smalling and Daley Blind. The defensive performances of the team was the reason for any good results thus far, however it comes at the expense of attacking football. United’s problem going forward is largely due to a lack of flare and willingness to attack at times. Van Gaal has admitted this problem within the squad several times throughout the season, and most recently encouraged his team to “dare to play football”.

In response to the Stoke defeat, van Gaal organized several meetings with the players and staff, in an attempt to get out of the slump they are in. In the draw against Chelsea, United finally gave the fans something to be excited about. The usual possession stats were heavily in United’s favour, however, for a change the possession was put to use and many great scoring opportunities were created. Players such as Martial, Mata, Young and Schweinsteiger were getting forward, attacking with flare and willing to take chances. Van Gaal’s men have faced many injury battles throughout the season. A very balanced team was on the field against Chelsea, controlled by the very impressive “Schmidfield” consisting of Schneiderlin and Schweinsteiger sitting behind Herrera in the number 10 position. Although Hiddink’s Chelsea side weren’t necessarily convincing, the performance demonstrated the team’s strength and potential for the future.

January Transfer Window

The performance against the Chelsea was positive, however, with United’s current form, their next game could be very different. The injuries and departures of Shaw, Valencia, Van Persie, Di Maria, and Hernandez has left large voids going forward with the under-performing Rooney in their place. There is no doubt United will need to secure an attacking player who can bring flare, goals and pace to their squad, players such as Arjen Robben or Cristiano Ronaldo. However United’s exit from the Champions League has made it that much more difficult to lure in world-class players. There is very little hope of securing a Robben or Ronaldo type player, playing in a team in the Champions League in January, thus putting all the more pressure on van Gaal and the board.

A new striker could also very well be in the search. Wayne Rooney has not looked himself in the past couple seasons, and United has lacked a consistent goal scorer since Robin van Persie during the 2013 season. The likes of the young Martial and Memphis could fill the striker void, however they have not nearly shown the consistency that is needed to be at the top.

Is Louis the Man?

In the modern-day Premier League, it is common to see managers come and go before they fully have the chance to build their own team. Just earlier in the season, van Gaal and his side were at the top of the table, and with a significant slump in form, the pressure is as high as ever. The media will consistently point out the mass amounts of cash the club has spent, but rarely touches on the amount of players they have sold in the rebuilding process. Van Gaal took over a very broken and old United squad from the work of Sir Alex and David Moyes. Taking a look at the side now, a great mix of youth, talent and experience is present. Moreover, the club is currently lacking consistency, attacking threat and that one world-class player who will make the difference. Perhaps the clubs most important piece of business was securing the work of one of the world’s best goalkeepers, De Gea. Ahead of De Gea, Van Gaal has found a solid defensive partnership of Smalling and Blind, with Rojo in the picture when fit. The side contains promising young full backs, Shaw (when fit) and Darmian, having Blind and Young for backup. Perhaps the most underrated aspect of the squad is its midfield. The middle of the park consists of experienced and talented players such as Carrick, Schweinsteiger, Mata, Schneiderlin and Herrera, which can make the difference through controlling the game. In the final third of the pitch, the potential is there with the youthful Martial and Memphis, however for the current, Rooney, and Fellaini haven’t been cutting it. Hence, it is evident this side lacks an established world-class attacker or striker to pose a constant threat and bang in goals for the team.

Below have a look at van Gaal’s strongest XI when fit, and decide if they look a world-class team when in form. The only players who were around before Van Gaal took charge are Rooney, Mata, Smalling and DeGea. The squad, when fit and in form, seem like they could pose a real threat in modern-day football, however, maintaining form and fitness has been a rarity this campaign.

Strongest XI: De Gea, Darmian, Shaw, Blind, Smalling, Schweinsteiger, Schneiderlin, Herrera, Mata, Martial, Rooney

If the board did not have faith in van Gaal, they could have sacked him a while ago, when United were eliminated from the Champions League or due to the unappealing style of football the club has been playing.

In general, the club still has a long way to go, to climb back to the top of world football again competing with the likes of Barcelona and Bayern Munich. In my opinion Van Gaal should be given time to have a final say in the January transfer market to see if he can strengthen his squad to get the results Manchester United should be getting. Having said that, the constant comparisons of the current United squad to past Sir Alex squads should not be made. Yes, United fans can and should expect their team to become a world football powerhouse again, however, not in the same fashion that Sir Alex did during his reign.

Michael Doodeman (12 Posts)