Tuesday, 12 May 2015

DOES VAN GAAL TRUST HIS PLAYERS?

Disclaimer:
The following is not necessarily a black and white account of the writer's views, but a presentation of another perspective out there somewhere in the cold.


By virtue of Liverpool's result at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, Manchester United effectively secured a place in next season's Champions League...even if it could only be for a couple of games if they lose the qualifier in August. In essence though, a season high target has been reached.

Lulling in the comfort of that knowledge, we can now examine Manchester United at a glance, devoid of the pressures of being a fan (who I'm I kidding, it never goes away).
In a season when Manchester United have explored just about every formation in a manager's manual, there is a relationship between a manager and his players that has to be explored. Trust.

After the debacle at the King Power stadium back in September, Louis van Gaal seemed intent on sending out only those players he could trust to stick to particular jobs. In many ways, the fate of Angel Di Maria's was probably sealed by this resolve. The Argentine would still go on to have further impact against Everton (scoring and setting up another) but from the moment Chris Smalling stupidly got himself sent off in the first leg of the Manchester derby, it appeared more than ever that the boss was going with trust more than anything for the games that would follow.

Little surprise then that United went on a joy-sapping run of just two defeats in 23 games. If United couldn't a win a game (and there were quite a bunch of them), they drew it. It's a run that would account for a prolonged stay in the top 4, third over Christmas, a position that kept the iron tulip insulated from criticism. His season-target was always locked-in during that painful but results oriented period.

Few things were constant during that run of games. In any event none of player personnel, tactics, formations and roles were consistent over 90 minutes let alone a couple of games. The chopping and changing had a lot to do with discovering the best system that suits the players LVG has had to work with this season and invariably suggest the best players tuned to execute the philosophy he proclaimed throughout the season.

The popular view is that the penny dropped in that Spurs fixture that started a run of wins against some of the top sides in the league. Since then, it's been easier to predict the style and formation that United have used to go about games. One would be forgiven for thinking at the time that finally manager and players had come to a consensus ad idem and thereby developed a bilateral confidence in the modus operandi. 

Fast forward to the recent run of consecutive defeats, and a closer examination of the matches reveals a tale or two about the trust relationship between players and manager which has been apparent all season. The speed at which Louis van Gaal easily loses faith in his own tactics is quite amusing. Whereas it is incumbent upon a manager to shake things up when Plan A is not working, it is also a responsibility of the manager to give Plan A time to come to fruition, especially when it is still obvious that Plan A could still work.


At home to West Bromwich Albion, it is fair to say that the fiery Dutchman probably panicked and a little too early. Even when West Brom somehow sneaked ahead early in the second half there was nothing on offer from the visitors to suggest that they would hold out for the best part of the remaining half an hour against Plan A. Changing to Plan B so soon probably made it easier for the visitors to see out the match. Why? Because Plan B involved pushing Fellaini upfront with Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie dropping deep---which is all nice and lovely except that for the period when Fellaini was up top, United did not exactly rain aerial balls in the box for the elbow-laden Belgian. This at a time when the personnel on pitch accounted for a 3-1-6 formation. It's hard to believe that in the helter-skelter last quarter of that game many United players knew their roles. What with RVP, Wayne Rooney, Radamel Falcao, Adnan Januzaj, Angel Di Maria, Marouanne Fellaini all on the pitch at the same time?  It was all messed up. Hardly the sort of mix to stir a comeback It's easily forgotten that even in the comebacks during the Sir Alex days, there was always an element of organisation about the onslaught in the final moments of the match. For instance the kind of organisation that gets Ryan Giggs to hit a measured pass to Michael Owen in the 96th minute of a Manchester derby despite a crowded penalty box.

I digress though. The point is, if it is true that the players spend up to a week preparing for Saturday's opposition in one way, then abandoning the tactics at halftime or before the hour mark all too often is perhaps the most blatant indication that there remains a level of trust to be built between the players and the manager. Football is one of those sports that can be won in a minute. There's 90 of them in which to do it. It is not a given that the 'Selecao' shall always make use of the first 45 to achieve a goal of 90. Sometimes, it takes the full 90 to achieve it. Sometimes, the space within which to execute a move worked on in the training ground avails itself in the 90th minute. If the personnel who can best execute it are continuously not available at the time or if the system in which it was worked is completely miss mashed then you risk selling yourself short. For Manchester United this season, Plan A has had just about 45-50 minutes to work and then out the window if it's nothing doing.

I've always thought it is harder to defend in the last quarter of a game against a passing team (which United are now) because the legs are much more tired to keep moving around chasing the ball and intercepting passes. It is easier to defend long punts upfront in the closing stages because as a defender you have all of three or four seconds to prepare yourself to head away the danger.  Again, this is not to suggest that the long ball approach in the closing stages of games cannot be occasionally effective.

Conventional wisdom is, all factors constant, to make changes after the hour game if there is a need to shake it up. United, and primarily van Gaal, has been guilty of abandoning Plan A almost as soon as they go behind. On the one hand, it looks smart as the manager appears to make changes to alter the trend of events whilst on the other, it can also be argued that it is a blatant lack of trust between the coaching staff and the players. Making a change at half time is not uncommon to address a tactical imbalance, however, doing it every single time in the face of adversity is, in my eyes, a tactical weakness and a vote of no confidence to the selected XI.

Perhaps after a transfer window when he will finally be allowed to get in his payers, we shall see more trust between the playing personnel and the manager next season to allow for a more settled approach to games and during games even in the face of adversity.            

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