Klopp impact highlights Van Gaal's failings
Amid the increasingly frantic euphoria of Jurgen Klopp’s first few weeks Liverpool manager, it would be easy to neglect that Manchester United have, in fact, collected more points than their rivals in their last six Premier League games.
It is a somewhat surprising statistic amid an atmosphere that you could believe was bubbling up ahead of a crisis that is about to engulf Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal.
Next Tuesday’s Champions League clash against Wolfsburg may well prove to be a defining moment in Van Gaal’s tenure at United, with defeat leaving him to contemplate his first major failure in his second season at the club. It would also be the signal for his vocal army of critics to plunge their daggers into his oft-mentioned philosophy.
This game is a results business, we are persistently informed, yet Van Gaal is currently caught up in a firestorm that undermines that notion.
United have collected 12 points from their last six matches, sit second in the Premier League form guide standings, just one point behind leaders Manchester City. They have three points more than they had at this stage last season, boast the best defensive record in the division and are well placed to challenge for honours in the second half of the season.
With West Ham, Bournemouth, Norwich and Stoke on their agenda in their next few weeks, there is every chance the 13-time champions could claim the Christmas No.1 spot in this season’s Premier League and yet the grumblings of dissent continue to bubble to the surface.
At a time when Liverpool fans are cock-a-hoop with the impressive revival being inspired by the wonderfully engaging Klopp, United supporters seem positively miserable about the Van Gaal doctrine that promotes an uninspiring brand of football that has snapped the patience of many trying to watch it each week.
United’s players appear to be frustrated by the shackles Van Gaal’s doctrine places upon them, with smiles absent from a squad that appears to be visibly struggling to enjoy their work right now. The move from senior players Wayne Rooney and Michael Carrick to confront their manager about a ‘flat’ dressing room earlier this season hardly seems to have been resolved.
Then there are those high profile voices finding Van Gaal’s way horrible to watch. Roy Keane, Paul Scholes, Rio Ferdinand, Teddy Sheringham and Paul Ince are among the former United players who have questioned Van Gaal and his players this season, with Van Gaal left in little doubt that style has become as important as substance in the modern game.
It is quite a change of mood when you reflect on the excitement Van Gaal’s arrival inspired among United fans in the summer of 2014. That was heightened when marquee names Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao arrived in his first transfer window, yet that optimism quickly turned to annoyance when Van Gaal got his teeth into the job.
Complaints about the brand of football he was promoting surfaced early in his reign and they linger to this day, with rumours that Pep Guardiola could be eyeing up a move to Old Trafford next summer sparking many of the club’s supporters to suggest off-loading Van Gaal a year before his contract expires could be a wise move.
His desire to stand by misfiring skipper Rooney has infuriated many United fans, with his failure to get the best out of Memphis Depay since his arrival at Old Trafford last summer another worrying side show to the rising tide of discontent lapping round Van Gaal’s ankles.
On top of that, Klopp’s instant impact at Liverpool is not helping Van Gaal’s cause at United.
United fans who chuckled with increasing enthusiasm as their old rivals fell apart on Brendan Rodgers’ watch last season are not getting increasingly agitated by the rapid revival being inspired by the German, who has made a bigger impact in two months than his rival up the road in Manchester has managed in a season and more.
There are some echoes of the Giovanni Trapattoni era with Ireland in this story, as a celebrated manager outstays his welcome in a high profile job and ends up being hounded out of office without ceremony. While are not there yet with Van Gaal at Manchester United, the groundwork for such a fall from grace has been put into place.
Experienced, successful coaches are less will to adapt and alter what has worked for them in the past and it may be that in Trapattoni and Van Gaal, we have two men who tried to revive former glories when their sell by date had expired.
Trap’s end with Ireland was miserable and while there is still scope for Van Gaal to rescue his United dream, we will soon be in a position to pass judgement on his future.
The condemnation that has come his way in the last few weeks may well have been a little premature, but the time to judge Van Gaal’s increasingly unpopular tenure as United manager will soon be upon us. He need to keep winning.