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With less points than Moyes at this stage - what next for van Gaal and Manchester United?

Manchester United need Louis van Gaal a lot more than Louis van Gaal needs Manchester United.

A manager of van Gaal's calibre must be trusted and given time.
A manager of van Gaal's calibre must be trusted and given time.
Image: EMPICS Sport

AFTER THE HYPE and drama around yesterday’s Manchester derby had died down, a very interesting stat began to emerge regarding Louis van Gaal’s time at Old Trafford so far.

Just three and a half months and 10 Premier League games into van Gaal’s reign he has accumulated four points less than David Moyes had at this time last year. He has also only managed three league wins, compared to Moyes’ five at this stage.

The ten teams that United have played this season are: Swansea City, Sunderland, Burnley, QPR, Leicester City, West Ham, Everton, West Brom, Chelsea and Manchester City. Curenntly, four of those teams make up the bottom four of the Premier League table.

The glaring difference between this time last year and now? Moyes had spent just £28 million whereas van Gaal has spent £149 million. This is United’s worst start to a season since 1986. It is a long, long way from the turnaround many expected when van Gaal came into the job.

Changing systems

Before a Premier League ball had even been kicked in anger last August, all of the talk was of what system van Gaal would employ at Old Trafford. The much built up 5-3-2 formation used by the 63-year-old with the Netherlands in the World Cup was widely expected to come into play at United.

It did for their first game, a 2-1 home defeat to Swansea. Since then van Gaal has reverted to 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1, and 4-4-2 as well as using five at the back again. So far the Dutchman has used 31 different players in his team.

With the team and formation constantly changing, the players have not been allowed to settle into a system. Good football teams have always been built on repetition and a relatively similar starting 11 each week. Van Gaal has not done this at United so far.

Granted, injuries have played their part. United have possibly been unlucky with players missing games this season but many of the changes have been implemented for different reasons. Surely this constant changing must instill doubt in the players about the manager?

Defensive frailties

It has already been discussed countless times this year but United’s defence simply is not good enough for a team that is expected to challenge for league titles.

Phil Jones, Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling, Marcos Rojo, Tyler Blackett, Paddy McNair and Michael Carrick have all featured at central defence for United this season. Five of those players are under the age of 24.

Smalling’s recklessness yesterday shows that he is still inexperienced, despite having played 124 matches for United.  Since the departures of Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra the title of experienced defender has been forced on Smalling and he is not coping.

With experience beside him he could be good enough; the partnership of Evans and Smalling has probably worked best for United out of all the options available.

When you look at the stats Smalling has a 90% pass completion rate this season and has made no defensive errors. He certainly has the ability to be a regular centre back but needs experience beside him to help along the way.

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Manchester City v Manchester United - Etihad Stadium Eight minutes of madness from Smalling saw him dismissed yesterday. Source: Martin Rickett

This still does not get away from the fact however that van Gaal should have signed a central defender in the summer. Marcos Rojo came in but he doesn’t look comfortable in the middle. His injury yesterday was as a result of a needless, reckless tackle that left McNair exposed with City attacking.

The fact that United started yesterday’s match with the most expensive Premier League team ever assembled and finished it with a back four made up of a right winger, a central midfielder and two 19-year-olds shows how poor a decision it was of van Gaal not to make a quality centre-half his priority during the summer.

Now, by the time January comes around, it could be too late for United to salvage anything from this season.

Confidence in van Gaal still there

Despite United’s poor start there still seems to be a lot of confidence in van Gaal turning the tide. Rightly so, as well, given his reputation.

This same confidence wasn’t afforded to David Moyes because there was nothing to go on. Moyes had never won a trophy before joining United so naturally it was difficult for fans to believe he could do so when he was appointed.

Soccer - David Moyes File Photo Moyes' record did not instill confidence in United fans. Source: Anthony Devlin

A glaring difference between the two however is the way in which both deal with the media. Moyes never looked comfortable in press conferences, allowing the media to get on his back. He has said since his sacking that he didn’t fully realise just how big a club United was before he joined and that was clear to see in his media dealings, he was simply out of his depth.

Van Gaal, on the other hand, is completely the opposite. He is more experienced, more confident, and more self-assured when talking to the press. His arrogant persona gives the feeling that he is in charge. Naturally this will lead fans to believe in him, despite the poor results.

United cannot afford to make the same mistake as they did with Moyes and sack van Gaal this season. With seven league titles and a Champions League medal to his name he is simply too good a manager to get rid of so early. He needs to be given time, something Moyes wasn’t. There are not many managers in the world that are better than van Gaal and, even of the ones that might be, none are available.

However, the possibility of van Gaal resigning must be considered. He must be growing increasingly frustrated with the poor results, despite trying so many different options. Perhaps he might say that the job is too difficult and simply walk away.

With the current situation that United are in and with van Gaal’s career glittering career already made, one thing is for certain: Manchester United need Louis van Gaal a lot more than Louis van Gaal needs Manchester United.

Smalling’s recklessness typifies United’s defending – talking points from the Manchester Derby

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