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One step forward, two steps back - Manchester United under Louis van Gaal in 2015

Bhargab Sarmah | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 2:36 IST
QUICK PILL
  • United manager Louis van Gaal is under fire for a string of poor results.
  • Under the Dutchman, United have played a predictable brand of football, and have failed to challenge for trophies.
  • As the year draws to a close, United will have to decide whether to keep faith with Van Gaal or hire a new manager.

"Do you think I want to talk with the media now? I am here only because of the Premier League rules. I have to talk with you. But I can only see that when I talk to you that you put it in your context," Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal fumed at the media persons at his press conference on Wednesday, 23 December.

The United manager said that he was focused on the game against Stoke City on Boxing Day. He sent his greetings to the press for the festive season in a rather hostile tone before storming out of the press conference after just five minutes.

One can understand Van Gaal's anger at the treatment he has been given by the British press in recent days. In the high-pressure environment of the Premier League, where every word, every action of a manager is scrutinised, it is sometimes convenient to forget that someone of the stature of Van Gaal could be human after all.

However, while some of his comments against the media are justified, it is difficult to absolve Van Gaal of any blame for the ongoing troubles at United. The Dutchman has failed to get United going this season, and his time in charge of the club so far can be described as underwhelming at best.

Predictable, one-dimensional football

Juan Mata, Manchester United. Photo: MUFC/Getty

Under Louis van Gaal, United's style of football has undergone a major change, but not for the better. The English giants have adopted a rigid, possession-based game under the former Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern boss. The results of the change have been far from impressive.

The football at Old Trafford has been one-dimensional and predictable, more so this season. Teams with a more flexible style of play have managed to upstage United without much difficulty. The team's lack of creativity up front is concerning, and things have taken a turn for the worse in recent weeks.

In their last four games, the Red Devils have managed just seven shots on target. More than anything else, this is proof of how the other teams in the league have been able to contain United because of the latter's predictable style of play.

For a team that has some of the best attacking players in the league on paper, United have managed just a total of 131 shots in their 17 games so far this season, which is not a positive endorsement of Van Gaal's footballing philosophy.

Inability to challenge for trophies

Anthony Martial, Manchester United. File photo.

The season is only about to reach the halfway stage, and United are already out of the Champions League and the League Cup. Their league title chances have also received a major jolt following just two wins in the last eight games.

While United have managed to put up some commendable performances under Van Gaal, the club has lacked any form of consistency on the pitch, which has become symptomatic of United in the post-Alex Ferguson era.

The FA Cup, it seems, is the only remaining title United can challenge for this season. With United having endured two trophyless seasons already, patience is fast running out among the Old Trafford faithful.

Earlier in 2015, United crashed out of the FA Cup after losing to Arsenal at home. This season, the team failed to step up in crucial against Middlesbrough and Wolfsburg, in the League Cup and the Champions League, respectively, ensuring their exit from the two competitions.

Given the evidence, there remain serious doubts about Van Gaal's ability to bring back the glory days at Old Trafford in the short run.

What next for Van Gaal and United?

Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola. File photo.

In the last few days, speculation has been rife about Van Gaal's future at the club. With Jose Mourinho currently unemployed following his sacking from Chelsea, it could be tempting for United, given the club's recent poor run of form, to replace Van Gaal with the Portuguese tactician.

However, will the change of manager help improve things at the club? Mourinho plays a more conservative brand of football than Van Gaal, and has hardly been at any managerial job for more than three years. It will be difficult for the club to trust him with the managerial reins in the long run. At most, he could only be a short-term solution.

Then there is Pep Guardiola, who has been linked with both United and Manchester City. However, the Spaniard will only be available in the summer, and it remains uncertain as to whether Van Gaal will be given time to complete the season. Moreover, the club could risk losing Guardiola to their city rivals if they do keep their faith with Van Gaal and keep him in charge for next season.

As the year draws to a close, clouds of uncertainty gather around Old Trafford once again. Life has been difficult for the club following the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson. The season under David Moyes, it seems, did more damage to United than most of the club's fans would like to admit.

Louis van Gaal deserves credit for somewhat steadying the ship, but the transient nature of modern day football means he wouldn't survive at the club for long if he doesn't start producing results soon.

First published: 24 December 2015, 7:48 IST
 
Bhargab Sarmah @BhargabSarmah

An avid fan of the beautiful game since his childhood, Bhargab has been writing about football in India for the last three years. He supports I-League club Shillong Lajong, as well as English giants Manchester United. Having recently graduated with a degree in commerce, he now writes about football and other sports at Catch.

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