Manchester United Vs Bolton 2007, ‘Ronaldo to Rooney, Rooney back to Ronaldo, Ronaldo through to Rooney – GOAL’ 10 touches in 12 seconds from United defending a throw in to running the full length of the pitch and Rooney capping a sizzling move with a glorious finish. It seems a distant memory from the Manchester United of old to the United of present.
It’s almost a decade since that goal went in at Old Trafford against Bolton and things couldn’t any more different.
United in 07 had everything heading in the right direction, Sir Alex Ferguson arguably the greatest manager the game will ever see at the helm and the squad was littered with world class talent with players such as Rooney & Ronaldo firing on all cylinders.
Fast forward to this current season with the club juddering towards the end of the season like Del’s 3 wheeler. The pressure on LVG to resign has quietened down since Christmas, but the United faithful are far from content.
I intend to highlight the key aspects as to why The Dutchman’s time at Man United might be remembered in a negative light instead of a positive one.
LVG’s Total Football Philosophy
Van Gaal arrived in Manchester with a plan ‘a philosophy’ in fact, he was supposed to revolutionise Manchester United. After the previous failings of David Moyes the man branded with the ‘hardest job in football’ after succeeding Sir Alex Ferguson.
His philosophy seemed reasonable enough, everyone had to buy into it and most importantly everyone needed to respect each other if they were to progress as a team. #TotalFootball
The underlying point of LVG’s philosophy was that he was trying to create a squad of multi – functioning players. Players who could use both feet, and were a presence in not only attacking but also defending situations. This would explain apart from the woeful luck with injuries why so many midfielders or attackers have found themselves playing at Centre Back or as a glorified right or left back (Cue Ashley Young & Antonio Valencia).
United fans were in dreamland, surely the best candidate for the vacant managers position off the back of a storming World Cup camping too with Holland had been appointed.
Fig. 1 (Previous clubs and overall Win Ratio
|Manchester United||51.1%* (Dated 6/3/16)|
As the diagram above suggests, Van Gaal’s coach centred approach to football management has severed him well in his time, no one can question that at all.
In Van Gaal’s first season in charge at Old Trafford it would suggest things were beginning to be returned to normal order, United finishing 4th in the league, and fans could dream once again of more electrically charged nights in the Champions League to come. Although they didn’t last long.
Van Gaal’s ‘Total Football’ philosophy is industrious, hard working and relies on all team members cooperating with one another. It bypasses any creative sparks to flourish. Possession stats might look impressive on paper (54% – one of the highest in the league), but they aren’t going to get you challenging for the title if you don’t use it correctly.
E.g. United trailing to WBA 6th March 2016, the last 10 minutes of the 90, possession stats read as 70% in United’s favour but the whole game MUFC could only muster 7 shots with 1 on target.
Martial, Mata, Depay and Herrera on the pitch and only 1 shot on target in 90 minutes? Madness.
If the possession stats could be matched with attacking flair, I have no doubt that United would be challenging Leicester City and Spurs for the title rather than scrapping for an Europa Spot.
So far this season;
- Leicester City – 52 goals (Average 1.79 goals)
- Man United – 37 goals (Average 1.19 goals)
In a table for goals scored at home this season; Manchester United rank 11th in mid table with only 19 goals so this campaign at an average of 1.27. Whilst their bitter rivals across the blue side of manchester have massed a whopping 39 goals at home at an average of 2.60! A big stat! One fans have voiced their concern at too, lack of goals in front of the Old Trafford faithful.
Returning to a point I discussed early, ‘players must be able to use both feet, and be a presence in both attacking and defending situations’. I completely agree all professional footballers should be looking to better themselves by trying to become ambidextrous with their feet.
But the issue I have is with nullifying an attackers ability to attack so they can improve in defending and staying within a rigid formation.
From what I can understand, LVG’s theory is for 10 outfield players being interchangeable with one another up to a certain extent. The perfect football team surely if this could happen? Even if you took the best team on this planet as an example; Barcelona.
Sure the front 3 (Messi, Neymar & Suarez) have been phenomenal this season, and they do interchange with ease during games, but they are all experienced WORLD CLASS strikers. But in the same game would you expect to see Sergio Busquets playing at CB like Carrick has done this season? Or would you see Inestia playing at RWB like Young & Valencia have done previously?
In my opinion, the only positions which can be interchangeable are Wingers and Forwards, and only if the winger has excellent shooting credential. I should take this moment to remind you that these opinions of mine are only aimed for elite level football such as the level Manchester United compete at.
Week In and week out, United face tough challenges in an array of competitions. Players need to be on top form to help United win games of football. If a player is playing out of position, or lacking sharpness in his particular area of expertise (e.g. Ashley Young – crossing) how can they possibly be expected to contribute 100% to the cause.
United’s shaky spine
During his 27th year tenure at the club, Ferguson had to continually rebuild fading squads. Players grew ever closer to retirement with the demand of being, physically fit and technically sound getting more intense. Due to the Premier League evolving into almost a ‘Super League’, with the calibre of international talent on show from week to week.
Even throughout this time, you can look back on history and clearly pick out Fergie’s leaders;
- Ince, Bruce, Robson, Cantona, Keane & Neville to name a few
In today’s current United squad, I struggle to pick out any genuine leaders who would rise to the occasion and get United over the line with a win.
Roy Keane might have spoken out of turn on occasions, but you knew as a fan that if Keane was playing, he’d get that extra 10% out the 10 other players which normally resulted in a win.
Under Keane & SAF other players almost developed an ‘paternalistic approach’ at United, the players would have complete faith and give total commitment in what the leaders believe. In this case giving all they could for the full 90 minutes.
Alongside United lacking in leaders, they are also missing a core spine through the team.
- Van der Sar, Vidic, Scholes, Ronaldo – 2007/08 Winners
- Schmeichel, Stam, Keane & Yorke – 1998/99 Winners
- Schmeichel, Bruce, Keane & Cole – 1995/96 Winners
Above shows some examples of core spines which have played a major factor in United winning the league on these occasions. United need to restore this and begin to build a team around a clear spine. Starting with Dea Gea and Martial up the top, they are the future.
Areas of Weakness
United throughout the years have always been feared for their ability to turn defence into an unstoppable counterattack, moving the ball at speed with multiple players up in support. In today’s world the players with pace to burn isn’t the problem, (Martial, Depay, Young & Valencia) it’s having a driving influence in the centre of the park.
Roy Keane, Paul Scholes, Bryan Robson and Nicky Butt all unique brilliant centre midfielders in their time at Manchester United. All were deemed as box to box midfielders, and to a ‘T’ that is what they did, defend and Attack!
Morgan Schneiderlin was recruited as a replacement to United’s midfield problems and he is a quality player (I’m a Saints fan, I know how good Morgs is!) but perhaps not what they needed at the time. Is he dynamic enough? Does he pass sideways instead of forwards too much? All questions which should be asked.
Take another Southampton player probably on his way out of St. Mary’s in the summer; Victor Wanyama. The Kenyan International is a machine of a player, not only is he the one putting in crucial tackles in midfield. But he then starts the attacks with powerful driving runs into the opponents half. This type of player brings the leadership qualities United are looking for.
If United had looked at someone like Victor in the summer instead of Schneiderlin, I can’t help think that they would be creating a lot more chances than they are at the moment.
I am not for one minute suggesting that the United players aren’t bothered by the results or the performances. But I came across an interesting stat which indicated that so far this season, from losing positions United have only gained 6 points. Whereas in the 2006/07 season they gained 19 points!
MUFC of old were well known for the ability to snatch either a draw or more likely a win in the dying moments of a game commonly known as ‘Fergie Time’. Players were’t allowed to be resigned to a defeat until the final whistle had been blown. It seems at the moment, with the lack of movement from LVG off the bench when they do concede, it draws the players into a relaxed mentality. You can imagine if Klopp was manger of United, they wouldn’t be so relaxed in the last moments of a game when in a drawing or losing position.
In conclusion it would appear that Van Gaal has provided the Old Trafford crowd with some positives. Such as his stand on giving youth a chance in the first team (Rashford, Lingard & Fosu-Mensah). But the majority of fans are praying the summer brings the appointment of ‘The Special One’ alongside the Stretford End’s beloved son; Ryan Giggs.
Thanks for reading!