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Decoding the Louis Van Gaal Philosophy and Process

Louis Van Gaal (LVG) would have been the perfect actor chosen by Christopher Nolan if he had to make a movie and one had vouch their life for it. The basic requirements to feature in a Nolan movie is that the person has to be someone rigid, stubborn and more significantly just go with the flow even if the tide is against him/her and, Louis Van Gaal fits the bill perfectly somehow. He likes being the underdog and he likes to save himself every time people have written him off.

With De Telegraaf floating rumors that the former Barcelona man may just stay one more year at Manchester United, fans have definitely voiced their concern. His glorified words like Philosophy and Process have got on to the fans nerves and have reached saturation level to one section of Old Trafford faithful.

Did the fans rate him so much because of a goalkeeping substitution or were they in awe of his rebuilding ideas in his homeland or was his failure in Barcelona in his second term a clear indication of his future failures? Sportwalk analyses what went wrong for the Dutch Mastermind at the theatre of dreams:

Where did the Louis Van Gaal philosophy go wrong?

1. Questionable tactics

Attacking football is an obligation for Manchester United under Louis Van Gaal. For, the older set of fans the club has been a symbol of attacking football and someone who wouldn’t give up if the score was 1-0 trailing or 4-0 leading. But under Louis Van Gaal, free-flowing football has been an absolute myth.

Following stat will give you an idea of what has been the crux of the problem for Louis Van Gaal :

Attack Stats

Full Home Away
Rank 10th 12th 9th
Goals Scored 39 20 19
Failed to score 9 5 4
Since failing to score 2 4 1

Defence Stats

Full Home Away
Rank 2nd 1st 8th
Goals Conceded 27 7 20
Clean Sheets 15 10 5
Current Clean Sheets 2 2 1

The main problem has been the players are asked to play risk-free football and that is not something which is synonymous to Manchester United. Rather than attempt a through-ball, United’s midfielders turn and pass to the centre-backs rather than whip an early cross in, wingers play it safe by returning the ball to the full-backs. If anything remains then the cross goes to the stands rather than the intended person.

2. Lack of Creativity

To win big trophies you need your creative spark right and you also need to make sure that the creative spark clicks right too. Juan Mata has been mediocre, to say the least, blame it on his wrong position initially or lack of his pace which the whole Premier League knows by now, he has been awful this season. Ander Herrera has been good in bits and pieces but he provides much-needed impetus but he is still not a guaranteed starter. Anthony Martial is clearly a huge talent and he is the sole driver in the midfield. A striker playing on the left side of the midfield and someone who is merely 19 years of age, once called a waste of money is the one guy who is making the team tick.

Memphis Depay has been cutting a sorry figure at Old Trafford. The Dutch prodigy started the season being out of shape and still seems unfit. Marcus Rashford has been prolific this season and seems as one for the future but still it’s too early to judge.

Stats for Manchester United 2015-2016 

  Juan Mata Ander Herrera Anthony Martial Memphis Depay Marcus Rashford
Matches 31 22 25 23 5
Assists 4 2 3 0 1
Goal Scored 5 3 8 2 3
Key Passes 39 15 27 10 0
Forward Passes 679 487 337 245 31
Backward Passes 709 424 376 269 58

Stats for Manchester United 2014-2015 

  Juan Mata Ander Herrera
Matches 33 26
Assists 4 4
Goal Scored 9 6
Key Passes 46 22
Forward Passes 664 828
Backward Passes 760 705

One of the best Number 10’s in premier league Juan Mata has more backward passes compared to his forward passes says a lot about Louis Van Gaal’s aristocratic style.

3. Injury Woes

As you are reading this article, currently Manchester United has 6 of their players injured and if you read this article a couple of months back then the number was 18. 18 of a possible 40 man registered squad, speaks volume of troubles the club has faced. Blame it on whoever you want to, a voodoo expert or stringent training methods by Van Gaal or sheer bad luck but you have to give it to the man some credit for steering this ship. But having said that it doesn’t give him an excuse either for his dismal show.

Luke Shaw started this season in a scintillating form before a horrific injury against PSV ended his season. Good news is that he is back training but we have to wait and watch when the young Englishmen returns on the pitch. The injury was not a problem but the problem was it also United without a natural left-back, forcing Van Gaal to rotate Daley Blind, Young and Marcos Rojo.  Phil Jones and Matteo Darmian have also had spells on the sideline, leading to disruption at the back. Further, forward, there have been injuries to Herrera, Michael Carrick, and Lingard and experienced Bastian now out, Manchester United have to rely solely on luck for their top 4 hopes.

4. Summer Blues

The problem started here, in my opinion, letting go of too many attacking players is not something wise. In fact, if you have different types of attacking players then you have the liberty to tweak your formation and pan out some plan to catch opposition by surprise. Louis Van Gaal is a fan of the idiom ‘My way or the highway’ and he did just that.

Angel di Maria, Real Madrid, La Liga, Football, Sportwalk
© Photographed by Jan Solo

A struggling Angel Di Maria suddenly looks like mini Bergkamp and is on a different level. One part of argument can be he is playing in Ligue 1 but you just can’t stand and tuck in 12 assists and 9 Goals.  Here is a stat of Di Maria comparing his tenures at Manchester United and PSG.

Manchester United PSG
Matches 27 24
Goals 3 9
Assists 10 12
Forward Passes 483 727
Backward Passes 346 496

Even though he may be labeled as a snake by the United faithful but he might be heaving a sigh of relief post his movement from Manchester United.

The notable omission would be Javier Hernandez.

  1. Is he the one for the future and currently in top 10 strikers of the world? No
  1. Would he sniff out chances in a toothless united Side? Yes

Poor choices have been made. Robin van Persie, Javier Hernández, James Wilson and Danny Welbeck have all been allowed to leave, with no full-time center-forward signed.

5. Dressing room Problems

There were rumors of some training scuffles and visible arguments on the training ground and later even Louis Van Gaal admitted that United players were unhappy at Van Gaal’s rigid approach on the training ground.  It was also reported that Rooney and Carrick had told him that the dressing room was ‘flat’  and I think that is the only place where he steamlined his experience and maturity by saying that intervention as a sign of his players’ maturity.

This has been the crux of all the issues of Manchester United but there is one issue which needs special mention and that is Marouane Fellaini.

6. Marouane Fellaini

Marouane Fellaini has been one of the major cause of worry for Manchester United and Louis Van Gaal. But, you have to accept that he has been played on all sorts of position by Louis Van Gaal. Under the Dutchman, the Belgium international has been used as an emergency striker on occasion as well as in his preferred position as a defensive midfielder. Fellaini, has struggled to replicate his Everton form since joining United in a £27.5 million deal when David Moyes took charge of the club in the summer of 2013.

Maroune Fellaini, Manchester United, Everton, Louis Van Gaal, English Premier League, Football, Sportwalk
© Photograph from Wikimedia Commons

Van Gaal has repeatedly told “When I put him on as a striker, he is only a striker in Plan B, not Plan A. He has played as a striker once, against Liverpool [in September], but that was because I had a problem [with injuries] and that is why I made him the striker from the beginning. However, that is not normal. He has to compete as a midfielder because he is more a midfielder than a striker.”

Fellaini makes the midfield look isolated with his clueless positioning and his side passes. The only thing which he apparantly is his elbowing and his backpass. He is not a bad footballer by any standards but he is not the one that Manchester United need right now. He was your go to man for big games and he performed well there but if you are talking of winning the premier league or let alone competing in champions league then Fellaini is not the Plan B, C, D or Z. Nor is the solution of introducing a 31 year old injury prone midfielder named Bastian Schweinsteiger.

If I have, to sum up Manchester United under Louis van Gaal – Timid, Disjointed, and Directionless. Only summer will tell us, what happens to the rudderless ship that goes by the name – Manchester United.