Sunday 11 December 2016

Comment: Struggling Van Gaal and imbalanced Man United running out of excuses

Published 10/03/2016 | 22:07

Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal and assistant manager Ryan Giggs look dejected as Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp looks on
Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal and assistant manager Ryan Giggs look dejected as Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp looks on

As this one-side Europa League tie at Anfield reached its inevitable conclusion with a comfortable 2-0 Liverpool victory, the scale of Manchester United’s demise under Louis van Gaal was magnified like never before.

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This was a tie that meant so much to both sets of supporters and yet the performance offered up by a curiously imbalanced United side was a shocking indictment of Van Gaal and his much-discussed philosophy.

David De Gea’s remarkable performance between the sticks for United ensured that the second leg at Old Trafford next Thursday will be more than just a testimonial match, but the gulf in class between a Liverpool team in transition under Jurgen Klopp and a United side edging towards the end of a second season of Van Gaal’s philosophy was vast.

Okay, United have been affected by injuries to key men in recent weeks, but this was an example of a team blown away by a side working to a different agenda.

Liverpool were a team playing a high-tempo modern version of the game against a United side that were promoting a more conservative brand of football from the Van Gaal era, which has long since seemed like a blast from the game’s less complicated past.

United were simply unable to deal with high tempo opponents who finished this game disappointed that they did not win the first leg of this Europa League tie by a wider margin. Make no mistake, this could and probably should have been a 5-0 win for Liverpool, such was the chasm in class between the two teams.

Klopp’s side deserve all the credit for taking advantage of a United line-up that started with teenager Marcus Rashford asked to fill an attacking wide role, before he was quickly pushed back into an uncertain full-back. He had to be removed at half-time as a result.

Then same was true of Memphis Depay on the other side of a United midfield that had the towering and presence of Marouane Fellaini as its irregular heartbeat. Cumbersome, lacking a decent first touch and oozing with clumsiness, the Belgian became a symbol of a United side blown away by their local rivals in this first meeting on a European stage.

Van Gaal even tried a radical change at half-time as he threw midfielder Michael Carrick into a central defensive role that stemmed the tide of pressure on United's goal to an extent, but it was never going to be enough.

The first half penalty from Daniel Sturridge and the second half strike from Roberto Firmino was the least Liverpool deserved from a game that saw De Gea produce a string of sparkling saves that kept the score line respectable, yet there was little or nothing United could take from this latest no-show.

Even the most optimistic of United supporter would struggle to construct an argument to explain why they will be looking forward to a Europa League quarter-final and not their old foes from Anfield, with the debate over Van Gaal’s continued reign as United manager certain to gather momentum once again.

All credit to Liverpool for taking advantage of United’s incompetence, but there will be a moment when Van Gaal runs out of excuses.

Maybe that moment will come in the second leg of this tie is played out on St Patrick’s Day.

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