Friday night’s draw at Cambridge saw some United fans begin to question Louis van Gaal with his formations, team selections and transfers being called into question. Whilst van Gaal clearly doesn’t really care what anyone thinks of him, I do and here’s why the manager deserves to be given more time by the fans.
Chelsea may be well on course to win the title this season but the Jose Mourinho’s first season back, last year, can draw comparisons to van Gaal’s first at United. First of all, United have been accused of being too negative when playing his preferred 3-5-2 formation. This is not dissimilar to Mourinho who at times last season came in for similar criticism not least when Chelsea played at Old Trafford in a 4-6-0. There’s a number of factors that would cause a new manager would take this approach. Firstly, he doesn’t fully trust all of the players he’s inherited. I could fully justify van Gaal not trusting his players by just writing “Jones and Smalling” but I will elaborate.
In Mourinho’s case he seemed to question the balance of his side due to defensive abilities of player’s like Mata, Hazard and Oscar whereas van Gaal understandably has concerns over the personnel he has been forced to use defensively at times, with McNair and Valencia regularly featuring in defence. In the Moyes era the Valencia to right-back experiment almost always directly led to United conceding a goal however with the added protection in the new system Valencia’s defensive work has been largely solid.
Another Mourinho comparison can be made in van Gaal’s treatment of Ander Herrera which has puzzled many fans. Chelsea went through a similar situation last season with Juan Mata who had been twice player of the year at Chelsea before Mourinho decided that his face no longer fit. The simple fact is that Herrera is clearly a talented player but van Gaal may eventually be proven correct in his treatment of the player just as Mourinho was with Mata.
As well as Herrera van Gaal has drawn criticism for his use of Falcao. First of all his decision to leave out the Colombian can be fully justified by his lack of goals and because he looks like part of his rehabilitation from his knee injury involved him putting someone else’s legs on. The facts are also not really in Falcao’s favour because while United have struggled to create chances Rooney (8), van Persie (8) and Mata (5) have all produced reasonable goal returns in the League. Even away from United Romelu Lukaku has been able to score 6 league goals in an Everton team who’s troubles far outweigh those United are experiencing.
van Gaal’s decision to leave Falcao out of the squad against Southampton also led to many questioning the manager. Ignoring the obvious positive of him putting faith in a homegrown striker even Sir Alex Ferguson made similar decisions based purely on gut instinct that didn’t always look good in hindsight. One example being his fairly inexplicable decision to select Michael Owen on the bench for the Champions League final rather than Dimitar Berbatov, despite the latter being top scorer that season and Owen being, well, Owen.
The final area where criticism for van Gaal has been over the top is around transfers. Yes, he’s spent £150m but he also lost four of the clubs greatest ever players in the summer in Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra and Giggs so that level of spending was hardly extravagant and if anything more is required. On top of players coming in van Gaal has shown the ruthlessness required to ship out the deadwood. His decision to offload the popular Danny Welbeck is looking like right one while other fan’s favourites like Darren Fletcher and Rafael aren’t likely to be shown any sentiment from the Dutchman. Another comparison can be made here to Mourinho’s decision to clear out Lampard and Mata at Chelsea and drop Petr Cech in his attempts to shape his own side.
Even if you ignore the all these justifications as to why van Gaal’s doing a good job the simple fact is he has United in the top four and favourites to win the FA Cup which is exactly what most realistic Red’s were hoping for in August.