A lot has been said, and written about Manchester United’s play this season, most of it adverse, some of it true but few taking into account the plethora of problems the squad has faced as it tries to implement the system Louis van Gaal wants.
No doubt, Louis van Gaal didn’t help matters, he talked about his system, his philosophy, and I was left scratching my head as I tried to figure out what that is.
Formations, injuries, form, and the media have certainly helped muddy the waters as I sought to peer through the murk to gain an understanding of what Louis van Gaal was trying to do.
Football is a passionate game and it’s really difficult to stay calm and look objectively at the circumstances, on the pitch at least, at Old Trafford. Time has helped, a lot; what Louis van Gaal is trying to achieve is starting to take shape. The subsequent points I raise in this article are however what I think are Louis van Gaal’s system and philosophy, I could be as far of the mark as a penguin in the Sahara.
• Ball control:
One of the first signs of van Gaal’s changes was the passing. At the beginning of the season, the passing frequency increased; this was pleasing to see at first but we weren’t incisive enough so teams were content to let us have the ball. They sat back and hit us on the counter; it worked, to devastating effect.
In recent games however, we have made passing moves that have spliced defences, even if finishing has been lacking. Defenders are now more comfortable with the ball and it’s not unusual to see Smalling or Evans bursting forward from the deep. Manchester United now passes its way out of defence, balloon clearances are last ditch.
The technicality of the entire squad has been upped, this is an effect of Louis van Gaal. It is not a finished article yet, far from it, but if one looks, the signs of progress are there.
• Team Work:
Louis van Gaal instructs his players to play for themselves. Attack and defend as a unit, defending starts from the most forward attacker; attacking starts from the goalkeeper. Van Gaal has made statements to this effect but he has been miss-interpreted to mean he doesn’t allow for individual brilliance, that he discourages intuition, that his system is a rigid structure that ferments discontent. This is far from the truth, Louis van Gaal encourages individuality and intuition but he wants his players to use their brains. Thinking, before acting gives skills direction. Dribbles are purposeful, not just as a crowd pleasing avenue.
As soon as we lose the ball, we start pressing. Attack, midfield, defence; the players use their brains to get into positions to stifle the oppositions’ attack. This was evident in the match against Newcastle. It’s still a work in progress though, as was also evident in that match.
As the season began, it was evident that Manchester United has trouble turning possession into goal. Fans were agitating over what they felt was an excessive number of back passes. Manchester United was playing it safe, this was not the football fans wanted to see.
For an entire group of individuals to effectively and efficiently shift from attack to defence and back, several times as the match demands, takes an immense amount of concentration, discipline and countless training ground hours. All it takes for it to unravel is a player switching off. This is why Louis van Gaal has made numerous assertions that football is played with the brain. Timing and decision making; having a better thought process improves these factors, intuition helps too. Practice improves intuition.
Manchester United now makes better passes out of defence as we seek to hurt the opposition but the fact that many of our counters have faltered shows that more work needs to be done in this area.
Sustaining the pressure. When some teams are faced with another that hogs possession and is seemingly impossible to get the ball from; they tend to sit deep in defence, hoping to nick the ball and counter. Such teams require being pressured and stretched until they break; even when broken, pressure needs to be sustained to completely finish them off.
Manchester United in the early stages could not sustain the pressure and let teams back into the game. This led pundits to point this out as the difference between Sir Alex’s teams and the one Louis van Gaal is building. Fast, incisive passes, turning the opposition one way and then another until it completely collapses upon itself is what intensity is. “…They just can’t handle the pressure…”
This is what total domination means, Manchester United is steadily moving towards that goal. With the matches against Sunderland and Newcastle, teams are beginning to see that sitting back and hoping for counters will not help them. When this mentality sinks in, teams will face Manchester United with the knowledge of losing gnawing at their minds.
Louis van Gaal’s philosophy and system is something only intricately known to the man himself. This, limited as it is, has been my view of things. I however trust his methods and the direction he’s leading the team. Even if we do not make the champions league spaces this season, a disaster that bears no consideration, I’ll stand by my assertion and I hope the board does too.
Here’s to us knocking Arsenal out and winning that cup, it’s been far too long.