Louis Van Gaal’s first season at Manchester United was a rollercoaster to say the least, but how did the big man fare in his first, steep learning curve of a season in the Premier League?
You just have to ask yourself one question: In March/April last year when we were watching United get walloped by mid-table teams and, even worse, by Liverpool without even putting up a fight, would you have settled for 4th place this season? Of course you would; even as I sat in the East Stand at Old Trafford on opening day of the season next to the Swansea fans who were deliriously celebrating their winning goal… I would’ve snatched your hand off for top 4.
As the games followed and United looked like they’d gone backwards with some shocking results, LVG dealt expertly with the pressure of the biggest job in football, was unfathomably defiant in his methods and insisted things would improve, a stark improvement on the previous manager who was full of “we hopes” and “we’ll try our best”… Van Gaal was laying his reputation and (self-confessed) massive balls on the line on the biggest stage – a trait that instilled confidence in the squad and fans. Even with an horrific injury record in the first half of the season LVG’s team did gradually improve (as he predicted) and new youth graduates were getting chances in the first team – a Manchester United tradition.
A key difference between this season and last was we started last season as champions, and were slowly robbed of confidence…this season the club started with rock bottom confidence and needed rejuvenated and built back up. The Dutchman wasted no time in getting rid of the deadwood in the club (20 players leaving) and signing on fresh faces – most of whom have contributed well this season and look very promising additions.
One of the biggest compliments I can give LVG, is with top coaches like Klopp and Ancellotti now out of jobs, I’m not bothered…’content you might say.’ Whereas 12 months ago I’d be praying every time i log into Twitter there’d be confirmed reports of Ed Woodward flying somewhere to discuss terms with one of them.
A major improvement this season, and I mean major, was United’s record vs the teams around them. Only losing to Chelsea and City away (sweatily) 1-0 our record vs the top 6 was that worthy of champions. Just a shame our away record in general wasn’t… Nonetheless in 12 months we’ve gone from “being the underdogs at home to Liverpool” to taking 6 points off them and from “aspiring to being as good as City” to putting 4 past them… Amazing.
Speaking of improvements, LVG has demonstrated his man management skills by transforming players from scapegoats to key players nailing down their place in the starting 11 – Juan Mata, Ashley Young, Chris Smalling, Antonio Valencia, even (admittedly, I’m not a huge fan) Marouane Fellaini has even helped us out a bit this season!
Van Gaal was given a 3 year contract; the first year he has met his expectation and objective from the board, so technically it’s a success. However he’s well aware that it’s not where we want to be… a stopgap to bigger and better things and there is a lot of work to be done; his hunger was shown in intoxicating fashion at the club’s player of the year awards with his William Wallace-esque inspirational roar: “WE ARE VERY CLOSE.”
Similarly to the end of Mourinho’s first season back in England, Van Gaal now knows his new squad fully; he knows the weaknesses and work is already proceeding to rectify them with the release of Falcao and the signing of the extremely promising Memphis Depay.
Working early in the transfer window is key I feel, and with the lack of international football this summer the transfer merry-go-round is well underway. Who will come and who will go? Only time will tell, but besides some hilarious vines, Louis Van Gaal has brought a bit of swagger back to the team this season, and the pre season excitement and optimism has returned… Roll on next season!