Manchester United are currently playing their own brand of ‘keep-ball’ football and Louis van Gaal’s side are currently sitting in contention for a Champions’ League finish this season. The IB Times went as far as saying Manchester United’s rise up the league under LVG was a “Tiki Taka Revolution”. But as United find therm selves in the ‘melting pot’ for a top four finish the pressure is building on the manager’s philosophy and style of play.
LVG’s side were drawing 0-0 away from home at Newcastle United on Wednesday evening and they desperately needed a goal, with all their rivals winning in the other Barclays’ Premier League fixtures. Louis van Gaal had made all his substitutions without bringing on Radamel Falcao and it’s not any wonder when you consider the Columbian’s dip in form since his most recent injury. In contrast Wayne Rooney played the full ninety and worked his ‘socks off’ for the 90th minute winner; chasing the ball which ricocheted to Ashley Young from a failed Tim Krul clearance, but there were also two ‘clear cut’ opportunities for Wayne Rooney to score which were put wide. Wayne may not be as clinical as he once was, despite averaging 20 goals a season in the past 11 years, he has score 20+ goals just once in the past five seasons.
With all the talk of tactics, philosophy and boring football, the match stats curtesy of whoscored.com somewhat contradict. United created 10 chances from open play with a successful pass rate of 87%, these are statistics FC Barcelona would be proud of, so why is there so much scrutiny on Manchester United under van Gaal? The majority of United’s attacking threat came down the flanks, with just 29% coming through the middle. So perhaps it’s the fact that United’s once hallowed striker Wayne Rooney only had a total of 2 shots in the entire match, that was less than Maruone Fellani with 4, which is causing some of the analysis. Against Newcastle, United played a wapping 500 short passes with the only real speed in behind the opposition defence coming from the wide men sticking to their flanks.
If you compare United’s stats with ‘possession kings’ FC Barcelona they aren’t too far apart, Louis van Gaal’s former team played Villarreal in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday evening. Their heat map is similar to United’s in terms of the majority of their chances are created from wide areas and very little is created through the middle. However, analysing their statistics they created fewer chances than United from open play, but they had a much higher conversion rate when it came to goal scoring, which is hardly surprising when you look at the talent they have up front, Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez.
We could draw many conclusions from this or none at all. After all, we are analysing two completely different sides playing in two completely different leagues. But the point is that United are trying to mimic the ‘possessional’ style of play we see on the continent from sides like Barcelona, well in fact you could argue that the majority of Barcelona’s attacking philosophy is entirely Dutch anyway, curtesy of LVG and Johan Cryff. The stats don’t lie, Manchester United are creating a number chances, so what is the problem? Well when it comes down to it it’s a lack of goals away from home which have left United floundering in 4th position.
Louis van Gasl’s side lack an attacking edge in terms of speed in behind defences. For Barcelona Neymar and Suarez offer that option, at United you don’t see enough quality in the final third, too many stray passes or poor control to increase that conversion rate up top. James Wilson is perhaps the only United player who has enough speed to cause problems for opposition defences in behind and he’s not starting enough games to get a consistent run of form.
For all the praise which Wayne Rooney ‘rightly’ deserves and no matter how hard he battles, he can not simply turn back time and find the pace he once had at the age of 19. United need to play with speed and tempo, only then will we start to see some exciting football. It’s now more obvious than ever that United need a clinical finisher and unfortunately that player is not Radamel Falcao either.