Ultimately, it boils down to whether you're a football purist or realist. There is little doubt that Louis van Gaal's methods have secured results for Manchester United but by the same currency, it cannot be outrightly stated that United are themselves again.
Pragmatism was probably what United needed after the David Moyes debacle. Indeed, the manager was praised in most quarters for guiding United back into the European elite last season but questions now abound as to whether pragmatism has run its course.
The reality is that football is a results based business and for as long as van Gaal keeps them coming, the pressure will remain just under the surface. If anything, those he works for can have little complaints about his tenure so far. For the fans however, the frustration is seemingly growing; not at the plight of the season but at the edge on which the football renders the campaign.
For starters, lose against West Ham tomorrow and the league standings will not look as rosy as they seem at the moment. Fail to beat VfL Wolfsburg in Germany next week and United will suffer the ignominy of Europa League football in the new Year. And then we shall spend the start of the year listening to the manager's complaints about a Thursday night and Sunday afternoon football schedule.
On the flip side, win both games and the criticism of Louis van Gaal suddenly lacks locus standi. Such are the margins. A school of thought suggests the egg shell approach to games is what has gotten United on the margins of success and failure. The money that has been thrown at the problem suggests that we should, in fact, be expecting the current situation as the minimum achievement. Perhaps that is the source of the frustration; that it can be better with the available resources.
Half-way into the current manager's contract, it is increasingly the case that Manchester United might be yet again strained by the decision of the next managerial appointment. Indeed with Pep Guardiola's future at Bayern Munich up in the air and Gary Neville taking up the reigns at Valencia, there will be nerves as to whether United will be without many options left to pick from in 2017 when the top choices are already picked off by rival clubs.
We are led to believe that Ryan Giggs will follow van Gaal and yet it remains more of a theory than a fact. A lot, it seems, depends on whether the van Gaal project is seen as progress by the club or a threat to their finances.
A busy festive schedule for Manchester United kicks off this weekend with the visit of West Ham United. Slaven Bilic has gotten his side about beating the big boys away from home in a sort of FA Cup third round mode. Certainly, victories at the Emirates, Anfield, Etihad and at home against Chelsea (although everyone beats them lately) mark them out as tricky opposition for United.
Whereas United have become masters at dictating the flow of the game, West Ham are just as content without possession and playing on the counter-attack. Successfully defending at the largest pitches in the country already will give them confidence that they can shut out United at Old Trafford.
United themselves are in the middle of a minor injury crisis. Marcos Rojo's dislocated shoulder could mean that the much vilified 3-5-2 formation could be well and truly be back to stay. In attack, Wayne Rooney's struggles to adapt to the Louis van Gaal system continue with Anthony Martial seemingly in need of an equal up top.
The narrative has recently been that the Frenchman runs the channels in a bid to create whilst Wayne drops deep leaving the opposition box unmanned. West Ham would gladly take an afternoon in which they don't have to chase anyone running in behind them.
The captain will join an elite group of players who have represented the club for 500 games if he starts. He might have his faults on current form but Wayne remains one of the club's most accomplished servants. It starts to say a lot though when your past starts defining your current value.
The Bottom Line
A blunt November that was no doubt a response to the shipped goals at Arsenal leads to a December in which United could easily stake a claim for the title with a run of very winnable games. Coupled with a make or break Champions League tie in Germany, this is the month when those margins alluded to earlier could be crossed, for the better or for the worse!
Labels: LOUIS VAN GAAL, PREVIEWS