Can Manchester United’s injury crisis be explained?
Not fully. 35 significant injuries, all suffered by senior Manchester United players in the space of just 107 days (2 injuries a week) is an impediment so severe that it can surely only be the evil work of the footballing Gods; following Gerrard’s slip last season, this injury crisis could some form of atonement. Just a theory.
Somebody with a more rational mind-set could probably attribute these astronomical injury figures to the alien, and most likely astringent training regimes instigated by Louis van Gaal; from my very limited viewing of what goes on at Carrington I can tell a couple of things: firstly, Louis van Gaal is a big fan of lots of fancy equipment like large balls that you pick up, circular weights, stretchy ropes, etc. Secondly, with the lack of any cup competitions Louis van Gaal has been overseeing double training sessions; and thirdly, it’s very different to what anybody in the Manchester United squad has experienced previously. Honestly, you give Phil Jones a massive circular weight and don’t expect him to injure himself and somebody else in the process? Behave.
Adjusting to a new training regime can mean certain parts of ones body is tested more, and other parts maybe less; the change in commitments the body has to make will invariably lead to strains. It’s like telling an accountant to go start a plumbing business; it’s going to result in a few mistakes emerging. I know my analogies need some work, but you get my point (hopefully)
Some people have attributed Manchester United’s injury problems to their style of play – Louis van Gaal’s team have the 4th highest average possession in the Premier League; it is implied that the more of the ball a team has, the more likely they are to get kicked all over the place. Although this theory does hold some logical sense it seems to be flawed by the fact that the team with the highest possession in the Premier League this season (Manchester City with 56%) have a disgustingly low injury rate.
Lastly, it’s important to consider the psychological side of this injury crisis; before Manchester United’s opening fixture of the season they had suffered 6 significant injuries following Louis van Gaal’s appointment. As injuries reached double figures amongst senior players, an already rather fragmented mind-set following last season’s trauma was further scrutinised. It’s like walking around an area occupied by snipers who are actively opening fire at people near you, it would make you panic and do things which aren’t necessarily natural, or in other words become increasingly mindful of being injured more than usual, meaning that United players become perturbed and distracted, and invariably they injure themselves. Everybody is being picked off, and that’s unsettling.
Has this happened before?
Not necessarily to such an extent, back in the 2011/2012 season Manchester United suffered 39 injuries that kept players out for a minimum of 2 weeks (that was over an entire season), the severity of the injuries back then were far greater, but the frequency of this seasons tumult is bulkier (an injury every 3.08 days as opposed to in injury every 6.8 days), which is potentially more concerning.
Injury crises occur at every level of football. From Sunday league, where a makeshift team is assembled via last minute recruitments of 14 year olds to beer bellied pub-roamers who are pushing 50, to internationally recognised club sides such as Arsenal, where they notoriously suffered cataclysmic injury setbacks to such an extent that Andrey Arshavin was deployed as a lone striker. Those were the days.
Its little surprise that in Manchester United’s worst start to a season during the Premier League era, they have by plagued by injuries to a record breaking extent.
How big an impact does it have?
A huge one – the consistent injuries that have arisen throughout the squad decidedly halt any kind of momentum. Since the closing of the transfer window, Louis van Gaal has been forced to use 9 (yes, nine) different centre back pairings. In my view, a successful team stems from a reliable and experienced centre back pairing, if they’re settled it invariably emanates throughout the team, resulting in assured displays of football week in week out; take Chelsea as an example, unbeaten in 17 games. In that time, they’ve used 3 different centre back pairings. Manchester United has had 9 in 8 games.
Defensive equanimity is paramount of one wishes their team to have success – Under the guidance of Louis van Gaal the team will not fully reach their potential until they have a consistent back line that isn’t made of glass. It’s as simple as that.
With that said, the injury crisis has, as ever, been typically over-elaborated by the media. There’s no disputing the fact that Manchester United are plagued by injuries at the moment; one of the main hobbies of a journalist is tell gullible Manchester United fans on Twitter that their star player has practically lost all use of his legs, when really he’s just had a slight knock.
Furthermore, as a result of signings made in the summer Louis van Gaal does have some relatively good strength and depth within the side. Additionally, a manager who advocates entrusting youth players will not be afraid to use the likes of Paddy McNair, Tyler Blackett and James Wilson among others when senior players are absent. They might be unproven, but the number of new faces seen at Manchester United this season does mean Louis van Gaal won’t feel like he has too many selection problems.
Furthermore, Manchester United’s showpiece aspect is still in relatively pristine condition. Falcao, who is suffering from a knee injury, looks set to return for Manchester United’s next game away to Arsenal. Subsequently, this shall mean Louis van Gaal all his attacking options available and raring to go. Manchester United may have a makeshift defence, consisting of teenagers and midfielders, but it has one of the finest attacking units in world football. Hence the reason as to why it’s been very entertaining this season, not necessarily successful, but entertaining.
Can it be dealt with?
Of course – like any tricky situation, this will eventually come to settle. Whether that’s through once again delving into the transfer market for added personnel or changing training methods, things will be done to rectify is. The former is likely to happen, the latter is most definitely already happening; Louis van Gaal has conceded the fact that the physicality and intensity of the English game has exceeded his expectations, and had changed his approach. Such modifications are tantamount to the aims behind his philosophy; meaning weak areas are being addressed. The constant change isn’t necessarily conducive to success in the short term, but it will eventually mean things will start to appear a bit rosier in the longer term.
A lot has been rightly made about Louis van Gaal needing time to figure out the personality and habitual manner of each player, the same goes for every other member of his team. To be more specific, the departure of Rob Swire, Manchester United’s former physiotherapist who departed the club in July following 23 years of service, has had a similarly detrimental effect on the club as the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson. The two departures are by no means on the same scale, but the transitional period for a physio must be taken into consideration as well.
Every player is different in terms of the way their body functions, and becoming acquainted to such a diversity of personalities can require time. The longevity of Rob Swire allowed players like Beckham, Rooney, Ronaldo, and so on return from injury properly and comfortably. The knowhow of Swire allowed momentum to ensue for Sir Alex’s title winning teams. Once the current phisio at Manchester United becomes more familiar with his surroundings at Carrington, the number of injuries should go from frequent to sporadic by the time the notorious ‘business side’ of the season comes around.