Lesser lights' technicians show up Van Gaal's lack of sparkle
Published 02/09/2015 | 02:30
Courtesy of the latest in a long line of gargantuan television deals, the Premier League's burgeoning middle classes have been spending big in recent times.
I can't think of another season in English football which has been blessed with so many silky technicians right across the board. Dimitri Payet, Yohan Cabaye, Yannick Bolasie, Jefferson Montero, Bafetimbi Gomis and Andre Ayew have particularly caught the eye.
We're seeing lots of fast, incisive counter-attacking football, with runners going beyond the ball. There is an intent to wound the opposition.
It is in this context that Louis Van Gaal's Manchester United frustrate more than ever. We can surmise that his primary objective is to control a game through structure and possession. It's a bit like Brendan Rodgers' now abandoned 'death by football', only without the death. Nobody dies in Van Gaal's current version.
This absolute premium on possession has stifled the team. Barcelona aren't just about possession, there is intent in the passing.
For Van Gaal, it seems runners beyond the ball are a no-no. Gary Neville was visibly angry on Sky Sports on Sunday. Good attacking play is about risk, was his essential message. It's about speed.
At Rio Ferdinand's first Man United training session, Roy Keane told him to stop squaring the ball and get it forward to feet. 'This is Manchester United' was the message. 'We take risks'.
It makes the current Old Trafford impasse so glaring. Doubts are setting in. His record is so sparklingly brilliant it is weird to question Van Gaal, and yet the football remains so dull.