Remembering back to the summer of 2014, reflecting upon the unmitigated disaster of the season just gone (with the exception of seeing Giggsy as the main man) the phrases being uttered by Reds everywhere was ‘top four next year – build on that’, ‘top four minimum next year – decent cup run would be nice’ and so on.
These phrases were also being offered up as ‘benchmarks’ for the success of Van Gaal’s first season by those with an opinion. It was accepted by the majority of all involved in the game, we would say even amongst the most staunchest of Reds, that it was highly unlikely that United were going to win the league, given the size of the job to rebuild the team and re-instate the winning and invincibility factor in the players, particularly at home. See statistics below showing how so far he has managed to reinstate this ‘mentality’ for our home games where results and performances have undoubtedly improved even allowing for games still to be played.
2014/15 Home Results/Performance
2013/14 Home Results/Performance
Have we got there yet?
However, 7 months into his first season and seeing his team sitting 3rd in the Premier League, into the Quarter Finals of the FA Cup and only 1 defeat in the last 19 games, it appears Louis van Gaal continually finds himself the subject of ridicule regarding the teams style of play and tactics, team selection, training methods. Is this fair?
As United fans does it feel like we are 3 league positions better off and 4 rounds further in the FA Cup than this time last season? Sometimes not if were honest, that is why we should continue to remind ourselves of the statistics above and remember what we wanted last summer. Why is everyone concerned with all of the other aspects also mentioned in the above paragraph if we continue to remain in the Top 4 and progress in the FA Cup as we have done?
Is the football we are currently playing pleasing on the eye all of the time, no it’s not, but we were not always masters of the art of free flowing football all of the time under Sir Alex particularly 2003-2006 and in the latter years of his reign. The difference being that in the main we were successful and this overrides everyone’s memory of how we actually played.
In some ways people have to adjust to Van Gaal’s interest in football and his philosophy which is far removed from the old ‘up and at em’ attitude to trying to outperform teams and people often seem unable to understand or comprehend Van Gaal’s interest in the tactical and philosophical side of the game. The image at the start of this article has been used to show a ‘man’ in defensive mode and being ridiculed for it. However, although this probably wasn’t his best idea, for him statistics and measurable information are key, this is what he believes in.
That is why we must continue to remind ourselves about the supposed ‘benchmark’ for ‘success’ this year which was qualification for the Champions League and a bonus would be a decent Cup run and ideally winning it. The team is still on target to achieve this ‘success’ this season so it would seem is utterly premature to be writing Van Gaal and his style of play off as a failure as some would have you imagine.
This club was and should be in this scenario about giving a Manager ‘time’ particularly if we are moving forward and being ‘successful’ however we measure it step by step. A lot of change occurred in the team during last summer both incoming and outgoing and this takes time to fully implement and assimilate. If we can bed the team down, with hopefully a couple of high quality additions for next season, we should kick on to greater things going forward.
Are the days of playing a flat 4-4-2 with two swashbuckling wingers, that some sections of the fans and media have been calling for realistic? Do they need to be confined to past memories? We must remind ourselves that after ’99 we failed in Europe playing this style until Queiroz joined and gave us a more measured European approach which also brought around our most dominant domestic performances particularly during his second stint.
It is difficult or near impossible to play this system and be successful in the modern game. Successful teams now try to dominate midfield by ‘flooding’ this area and keeping possession like Barcelona et al or to dominating the game by flooding forward on the counter attack like most German teams (Bayern Munich being the exception). By playing a flat 4-4-2 it does not allow you to successfully implement or counteract either style of play and leaves the central midfield area wide open for attack.
Patience is a virtue
To summarise, is it worth waiting until the end of the season to judge Van Gaal’s performance and to ask ourselves the question as to what we want from our club and team? Do we want a team that is glorious to watch but achieves little or do we want to achieve the aims we set out with at the beginning of the season. We might achieve nether but surely it is too soon to judge? If we have a little more patience we may find that Van Gaal can achieve both through his possession based approach.
Does it not seem ‘logical’ given his track record that both of the above can be achieved through Van Gaal’s playing philosophy?
This piece was written by Philip Connolly. Follow him on twitter @philip_1981