If it’s ‘for the fans’ then Van Gaal must listen to their feedback

November 1, 2015 Tags: , , Opinion 35 comments
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“Such a strange style to bring to England,” noted one observer at Old Trafford recently. Even stranger to bring it to Manchester United, he should have added. On Saturday, with United racking up a third successive scoreless draw, the Reds’ raucous away support spontaneously chanted Paul Scholes’ name. It was a none-too-subtle rebellion by 3,500 travelling United supporters, many of whom are now deeply frustrated at the side’s lack of expression – let alone the inconsistent results.

The triumvir of bore draws over the past week was the first time that United has achieved that particular feat in more than 10 years. Nothing to be proud of there. And while inconsistent performances are, perhaps, to be expected from Louis van Gaal’s post-Ferguson transformation, results over the past week are very much symptomatic of a greater ailment. The Dutchman’s tactical caution has eased little since his appointment in July 2014.

It is, says Van Gaal, “a process that takes three years,” although supporters are cognisant of the difference between winning trophies and playing with flair. The latter certainly doesn’t take three years to establish – and Van Gaal is seemingly blind to accumulation of terrace disgruntlement.

Van Gaal reacted aggressively to Scholes’ comments in the past week, with the former United player frank about the Reds’ creative deficit under Van Gaal. In the wake of yet another moribund performance this weekend, Scholes is entitled to feel a sense of vindication.

“There’s a lack of creativity and risk,” said Scholes last Wednesday. “It’s a team now you wouldn’t want to play against because they’re tightly organised, but it seems he doesn’t want players to beat men and it’s probably not a team I’d have enjoyed playing in.  The hardest thing to coach is scoring goals and creativity. I played with some brilliant centre forwards and I don’t think they could play in this team.”

In turn, the Dutchman accused Scholes, who made 718 appearances for the club, of not being “responsible” and speaking out because he is “paid by the BBC or Sky.” It amounted to a low blow against a player who has earned the right to voice the opinion held by many supporters.

Notwithstanding this week’s spat, it says much that supporters camped in Selhurt Park’s Arthur Wait Stand should spend time in the second half urging the team to “attack, attack, attack.” Fans waiting to be released after the game declared that “we’re Man United, we want to attack.” It is a message falling on deaf ears.

Post-match, Van Gaal remained on the defensive, suggesting that fans have “the right” to protest, but that “maybe they shall sing at the next match another way.” Perhaps so, with the club facing a series of winnable games over the next month. Van Gaal’s side faces CSKA Moscow and West Bromwich Albion at home next week, followed by a trip to Watford. Games against Leicester City, West Ham United and PSV Eindhoven follow.

United should pick up points from many of those fixtures, although it is rare indeed that Van Gaal’s side wins with style. Indeed, there are perhaps less than half-a-dozen games in which the Dutchman’s side has achieved that goal: versus Liverpool and, perhaps, Everton this season, together with games against Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool last year.

The lack of attacking ambition is born out in some data. This season United ranks first for possession, but 16th for total number of shots taken. To put that in context, when it comes to shots taken, United’s total of 110 is more than 100 fewer than Arsenal’s. Inside the penalty area only West Bromwich Albion and Sunderland have taken fewer shots than United.

More damming still is the side’s inability to create chances, hampered it seems by the manager’s tactical straight-jacket. This season United ranks 11th for assists, last for key passes, and 15th in terms of dribbles. Van Gaal’s requirement for ball retention also means that his side has played more backwards passes than any other team in the Premier League, and ranks second in sidewards passing. No other team makes more passes per shot or chances created than United.

Perhaps, for all the Reds’ careful possession, the team’s ability to ‘walk the ball into the net’ is not aided by the manager’s insistence on deploying a largely ineffective and tactically ill-disciplined striker. Wayne Rooney, who has scored just twice in the Premier League this season, ranks 29th for shots taken. At Selhurst Park, Rooney’s penchant for wandering out of position, meant that the 30-year-old failed to touch the ball in Palace’s box even once.

Style is, of course, more than the numbers alone – although a team replete with players able to take on an opponent, or chance an arm at shooting once in a while, obviously quickens the pulse. Van Gaal’s terrace accusers can point to a lack of ambition that, at times, is far from ‘the United way’. On Saturday, with Crystal Palace pressing for the win, the home side was far the more ambitious of the two.

Here Rooney has become a significant inhibitor to United’s attacking evolution. The former Evertonian is by no means the only player to stand accused of poor-form this season, but is unable to provide the kind of pacey fulcrum required of a modern number nine. Nor does the Scouser hold up the ball with any quality. Worse still, Rooney’s seemingly sub-par conditioning means that he is no longer sharp over 10 yards – evidenced by the way the Scouser was unable to latch on to Anthony Martial’s fine first-half through ball against Palace.

In deeper roles Rooney is unable to affect the tempo of United’s attacking play at all, let alone put up the numbers that justify his selection. The Englishman has proffered no assists in 12 Champions and Premier League games this season, and made just 12 key passes. Deployed at 10, Rooney has scored once, taken just four shots, and made just three chances for his team-mates. Rooney’s first touch, long a barometer of the player’s form, continues to ensure his second is the proverbial tackle. He has become a significant barrier to United’s attacking ambitions.

The required change is seemingly obvious to all but Van Gaal, with Martial offering a range of skills and pace at number nine that completely changed United’s attacking outlook through September. With Memphis Depay having benefited from a spell out of the limelight, Ashley Young fit, and Ander Herrera a positive contributor at 10, there are fewer reasons than at any point to retain Rooney. Once unthinkable, few now doubt that dropping the captain will aid United’s attacking verve.

But if Van Gaal has fully retrenched into a conservative outlook, then neither is United’s manager able to affect a game from the dugout. When change comes, Van Gaal falls back to like-for-like substitutions, or those pre-determined through sports science. On Saturday, while Rooney struggled on for the full 90, Van Gaal once again withdrew United’s most creative midfielder – Juan Mata. It was followed by the now inevitable Marouane Fellaini-Bastian Schweinsteiger job share substitution. All too predictable; all too lacking in ambition.

It leaves Van Gaal under increasing pressure: to deliver not only the results that keeps his employers happy, but at least a modicum of entertainment for supporters expecting more.

“I know that if I lose and lose then I will be finished, I know that,” admitted Van Gaal. “But I shall do everything for this club and these fans, who are unbelievable.”

Starting, it must be said, with just a touch more attacking ambition. The fans demand it.


Pete Naphasorn Webb - November 1, 2015 Reply

Van gaals head is way!!! to big to listen,sacked at the end of the season for sure,thinks more of himself than utd..Naa…

Wamiq Fida - November 1, 2015 Reply

He listens to the fans when necessary. We aren’t performing so it’s easy to point fingers. But hear this, LVG is the man for us.

bigbaddwolff - November 1, 2015 Reply

I like it. Rooney has played at OT for over 10 years, he’s only a few goals away from Charlton’s all-time goalscoring record…and he’s only just turned 30. Yet in this article he’s sneeringly referred as a “former Evertonian” and “the Scouser” x2.

Ed - November 2, 2015 Reply

Why is that “sneering”? Is he not both a former Evertonian and a Scouser?

Peter - November 2, 2015 Reply

Yes, both of those statements about Rooney are true, but that doesn’t stop them being sneering. It is quite possible to be both truthful and sneering at the same time. Which is what you were.

Ed - November 2, 2015 Reply

I’d congratulate your abilities as a mind reader, but that you are so clearly not. The derision was in the deconstruction of Rooney the player and his utterly shameful performance this season. I pour scorn on the fact that he earns £300,000-per-week and yet, with 44 passes made to him, could managed just one shot on goal – a limp free kick. I laugh that one of Europe’s best young talents is pushed to the sidelines to accommodate a player well past his sell-by-date.

The “sneering” is not about where he played, or where he’s from, but burden that he now is. Clear enough for you?

NazManUnited - November 1, 2015 Reply

I’m gonna try to be positive LVH will get it on track, I hope 😀

Sidney - November 1, 2015 Reply

I just hope that our so craved for attacking flair will return to Old Trafford

Joseph - November 1, 2015 Reply

i just wish we got klopp cause liverpool aregoing to end up with alot more silverware than us

Noble - November 2, 2015 Reply

lol next time you pretend to be a man united fan you should change your profile pic 😉

Ed - November 2, 2015 Reply

It was good that wasn’t it. Made me laugh!

Peter - November 1, 2015 Reply

I am beginning to get rather tired of all this criticism of LVG and his methods. From last season to this season he has more or less fixed the defence and we now have Smalling and Jones developing and improving match by match. Under SAF they had potential and under Moyes that potential was squandered. They together with Shaw can form the backbone of our defence for years to come. The midfield has started to look better than at any time since Keane, Scholes and Fletcher were in their pomp. OK schweinstiger and Carrick will need to be replaced over the next three season but Schneiderlin and Herrera are ones for the long term. Where were are short is in the front four. We could do with a couple more really pacy players but again LVG has avoided falling into the Liverpool trap of buying players who are second level rather than top level. Everyone in the media said United were mad to spend the money we did on Martial but they were wrong and LVG was right. Over next season I expect him to improve the attack as he has improved the defence and midfield and to leave a club that is ready and equipped to really compete at the top European level once again. Whatever people may say about LVG very few if any have ever said he left a club in worse condition than he found it. In a way LVG is also right about Paul Scholes. Notwithstanding the fact that many of his comments are quite valid, it is too easy to snipe from a distance.

The real problem for United is not LVGs methods and so called philosophy but the fact that the organisation is not run as a football club aiming to be one of the best three or four in Europe but is run primarily as a money making machine for the Glazers. The football product is incidental as far as they are concerned. Sad it say it is City who have the ambition we should have. United are still way richer than City and Chelsea, so why haven’t we got Aguero and De Bruyne? Because the Glazers don’t need them to keep the money rolling in (to their pockets).

bobbynoble - November 2, 2015 Reply

You are going to get a lot more tired because the crticism of van Gaal and his methods is only going to increase.

Opti - November 2, 2015 Reply

I would separate the Glazer and LvG problems — they are separate as LvG had plenty of financial backing.

No doubt LvG has improved United over 12 months and will do so over another 12 months. However, when Moyes took over, I thought: “I can live without success for a couple years, if we just play with more flair than Fergie’s last two years (i.e., every since Young joined United).” Now, we are discussing if Moyes’ 62 crosses per game is more entertaining than LvG’s 62% possession…

I have no problem giving LvG another 18 months to tinker and smooth out the slow attack, which is the ONLY issue left at united currently. I hope he solves this by taking some more chances:
1) play youth — either expose that they’re not good enough or give them a chance to shine!
2) Don’t sacrifice goals for clean sheets. De Gea and our defense is more than good enough to handle what PL can throw at us, so let’s take some chances.
3) Dare to sub Rooney… just once, please.

Peter - November 2, 2015 Reply

I beg to differ on the connection or lack of it between the LVG issue and the Glazer issue. I think they are clearly connected because LVG was chosen by Woodward and the Glazers primarily to protect their investment and income. He was the manager most likely to deliver what they desperately needed, i.e., return to the Champions League in one year and no financial penalties in their lucrative contracts with Addidas and others. They don’t really care whether United is a great team beyond what is vital to keep those contracts intact. Any study of the history of their ownership of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFL will show the same picture. Rather than get LVG the best thing that could have happened after sacking the hapless Moyes would have been to let Giggs, Scholes, and Butt etc have a year of restoring SAF type football and possibly bringing Querioz, Muelesteen to help them. In that way the club traditions could have been restored and if it didn’t work we could still have gone for Klopp or someone with the same style of play. But that would be a risk the Glazers couldn’t take. They are safety first owners who appointed a safety first manager. So what else can you expect? Now we are into it we have to let LVG see it through, but it is far from ideal. The idea that LVG is suddenly going to become a different type of manager who takes risks is implausible and in any case would not be tolerated by the money men. Their question will always be ‘What do we need to keep the money rolling in?’ And never ‘What do we need to be one of Europe’s great teams?’

Opti - November 2, 2015 Reply

All these damn statistics. Show me how they compare with other title-winning sides. The stat on Arsenal’s 100 more shots than us: look at the table. Comparing against other teams (i.e., omitting the Arsenal-United game), arsenal have scored just 3 goals more than us in 11 games, we have the same GD (+10), and United have the best defense (not surprising given LvG’s emphasis and 32 holding midfielders!!).

Main point is: what is truly our main issue? If you use the passing stats, can you shed some light on what stats title-winning sides carry? For example, doesn’t Barca have similar backwards passing and possession stats? If so, it seems like our only real problem is Rooney not scoring… how the heck do you fix that, if you cannot bench the damn captain?

By the way: beautiful post. You are a brilliant writer: “Rooney’s first touch, long a barometer of the player’s form, continues to ensure his second is the proverbial tackle.”
— fooking football poetry!

Jesse Ace - November 2, 2015 Reply

LVG isn’t going to listen to the fans feedback. He’ll listen to his coaching staff and his captain and that’s it. #MUFC

Peter - November 2, 2015 Reply

When will Van Gaal revert to the 4-3-3 that was effective against the best sides last season, and when we have used it this season, made us look like a decent attacking team?

All I want in the lead up to Christmas is to see United play more entertaining football, I hate to watch a game and come away feeling like I’ve wasted 90 minutes of my life!

For me the team should be set up

De Gea

Darmian/Valencia – Smalling – Jones/Rojo/Blind – Rojo/Blind (Shaw when fit)

Schweinsteiger/Carrick (awful so far this season)

Herrera – Schneiderlin/Fellaini

Mata/Young/Valencia/Lingaard – Memphis/Young/Perrera


Opti - November 2, 2015 Reply

I like your idea of 1 holding C(D)M, but would like to see Schweini flipped with Schneidi, who has been good at breaking up play.

Who is your backup to Martial? Wilson? Rooney?

redzebs - November 2, 2015 Reply

A) Valencia is shocking, I wouldn’t have him near the reserves,

B) you’d play Schweinsteiger as our dm?

C) you’d start with Fellani

D) I don’t understand your 3 in your 4231, are you saying the first batch are the potential wide players and the second are contenders for 10? Otherwise it looks like you’ve either too many players or your attack is banjaxed, which is kind of the point of the whole article. Schneiderlin as a dm shouldn’t be playing further forward than Schweinsteiger.

Martial at 9, Mata at 10 and Perriera, Young, Lingard and Depay fighting for the two wide spots is the obvious change that would immediately improve us without any signings, it doesn’t really matter if Blind or Rojo is at lb, we need a back up RB to replace Valencia, Herrera needs more games at 8 beside a dm, preferably Schneiderlin, and the whole things improved, then you can use Steiger and Carrick as needed.

bobbynoble - November 2, 2015 Reply


Check out Barca’s stats if you like, but when they have Messi and we have Rooney comparison ain’t that easy.

Opti - November 2, 2015 Reply

I think you meant: “We have the White Pele… they just have Messi.” 😉 Cheers!

Fanuel Anteneh (MD) - November 2, 2015 Reply

drop rooney!!!!

grh - November 2, 2015 Reply

Let’s pick on Rooney for not touching the ball inside the box…easy target that! How is that meant to happen when, you point out, all we do is pass backwards and sideways?!
Leave it out, he’s getting frustrated by not getting the supply so of course he’s going to go looking for the ball. Stick Ronaldo up there and he’d have the same problem.
We need to start actually attacking and going forward, once we do that then Rooney will start banging them in, if he doesn’t, then we drop him. Until he gets the supply, he’s just an easy target to slate.

Ed - November 2, 2015 Reply

No, that’s the wrong way round. He needs to provide the outlet for his midfield. What happened when Martial arrived and played at 9 – suddenly the team was a lot more dynamic up front. Remove Martial from that role, and it goes back to slow slow slow. Rooney presents more problems than he solves by aimlessly wandering around the pitch.

grh - November 2, 2015 Reply

I see what you’re saying but the entire team aren’t playing like that now. Rooney has been making runs but isn’t been found, hence the wandering about. Would love to see himself & Martial play up top off each other.

grh - December 16, 2015 Reply

With Rooney out, things are still the same!! Guess he wasn’t the problem after all!

Oliver United - November 2, 2015 Reply

Its time for Giggs

Oliver United - November 2, 2015 Reply

where are Kgawa & Rvp ? New top defense like hummers? Why Sign too left defense,where is top atack like Reus ?

Blacke - November 2, 2015 Reply

LvG is the worst,not manager, but football person ever,
Scholes is right,He is so afraid to lose so he is content with drawing and playing the most boring football in Europe this season.
I am a Man utd fan and last week I’m a bit ashamed to admit I enjoyed the match when palace attacked,
at least I got to see an amazing De Gea fingertip save,
when they ‘settled’ the game became a snooze.
And wats up with playing Young in defence,
that lost kid Lingard and the one dimensional Fellaini, when you have Carrick on the bench.
And that drag Rooney should be dropped full stop.
My ideal 11,

De Gea, Darmian Jones Smalling Rojo Valencia Schneiderlin Schwein Young Ander Martial,

And yes, no place for Mata he is too slow,
Depay too selfish,
Rooney (need I say more)

subs McNair, Carrick ,Mata , Rooney, Depay(grudgingly) Romero, Blind

Quachett - November 2, 2015 Reply

Can I play Devil’s advocate for once and say LvG’s Philosophy works, kinda. The question though might be, do we have the right personnel. In each of the three games we failed to score, united did create one or 2 clear chances from which a natural finisher would have scored. In the Palace games, Martial created 2 chances we should have scored from. In the City game, Lingard and Smalling could have scored. I think the main issue becomes a lack of a lethal finisher in those instances, well more like the lethal finisher we have was creating them instead of finishing them.

Our Problem is that Depay, the other play that can create such chances is still readjusting from being the bully who does what he wants in the Eridevise to the team player that’s required in the Premier League and united. Mata on the right relies on more mobile players ahead of him but with Martial out wide then most of his work in nullified.

I think 433 with Mata, Martial and Memphis (M3) would yield more goals. While Memphis must adjust, we still miss his shorts as no one now seems to attempt any.

SKW - November 2, 2015 Reply


ashley rowles - November 3, 2015 Reply

fat chance of him doing that he’s stubborn as a mule

mufan - November 20, 2015 Reply

Can anyone see fellaini play as CB alongside smalling.

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