I’ve written enough about Manchester United to spare you the long intro about the transition period at Old Trafford, but let’s be clear: their 5-3 loss at the hands of Leicester simply isn’t acceptable for a club of United’s standing. It’s not acceptable given the depth of the talent available at the club, and the reputation of the manager in charge.
For those who didn’t see the game, a brief recap. United were leading Leicester 2-0. The game finished 5-3 to the Foxes. This represents the first time in Premier League history that United have lost a game from that position. That in itself is cause for concern.
Of course, there isn’t a whole lot to be concerned about in attack. With players like Radamel Falcao and Angel di Maria at their disposal, van Gaal’s side are always going to be dangerous going forward (although question marks must be asked about Rooney’s suitability to play that No.10 role at the expense of £37 million signing Juan Mata).
The issues are in defence. Although Marcos Rojo has definitely improved things in the back four, the fact remains that this United defence is still woefully short on quality. What’s strange is that not only was this observed as far back as last season, but it was also relentlessly documented when the transfer window was open; all sorts of media outlets speculated about which big-money central defender was going to come in to steady the ship.
Instead of recruiting a number of quality defenders, van Gaal bought di Maria and loaned Falcao. Neither of these are bad moves – far from it – but I feel that one has to question the mentality of van Gaal during the transfer window.
The best managers know that in order to attain a high level of success in the Premier League, it’s vital to have a strong defensive base on which to build. Look at all the successful teams over the last 20 years. Arsenal – Sol Campbell and Kole Toure. United – Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand. Chelsea – John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho. Man City – Vincent Kompany and … well, perhaps just Vincent Kompany with a few supporting players.
When you consider each title-winning side over the last few years, it becomes really clear that you simply can’t win a championship without getting that foundation in first. Van Gaal hasn’t done this.
I think that what the Dutchman is attempting to create is an ‘all-out attack’ environment whereby his team go and outscore the opposition. The trouble is that in the Premier League there are no easy games, and this philosophy falls down. Even a team like Leicester will come back at you, and if you haven’t got the players to deal with it, you’re going to be less successful.
If I’m honest, van Gaal’s tenure so far has been underwhelming. He came in, fresh from the Netherlands’ decent World Cup campaign and certainly seemed to suggest that he had a plan and that he was optimistic for the future.
Then he began to temper expectations. And temper them some more. And some more.
Make no mistake, the Dutchman has spent a lot of money, and when you spend a lot of money, in my view, the cash washes away your excuses. Van Gaal simply must deliver, but it’s looking less and less likely that he will this season.
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