Sunday 18 February 2018

Comment: Has Louis van Gaal more money than sense?

Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal has signed four players in the close season
Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal has signed four players in the close season
Declan Whooley

Declan Whooley

In less than 12 months at Old Trafford, manager Louis van Gaal has lightened the club coffers to the tune of €300m. Yet why is there still a degree of uncertainty among sections of the supporters?

Cast your mind back to this time last year and the nightmare of the David Moyes era was still fresh in the memory. Van Gaal, after speaking at length with the United hierarchy, decided to accept the offer to take over the hot seat once Dutch interest in the World Cup ended.

What was clear was the squad needed an overhaul. What quickly became evident was that Ed Woodward and co. were prepared to back their man in a fashion that David Moyes could have only dreamed of.

The British transfer record was broken (Di Maria), the most coveted full-back in the Premier League was acquired (Shaw), a long-term target midfield target signed on the dotted line (Herrera), while one of Holland's key performers in Brazil (Blind) followed his compatriot to Manchester. Throw in one of the prized forwards in world football (Falcao) and it was a summer where the Red Devils showed their intent to get back to the top table.

Read more: James Lawton: Louis van Gaal's signings send a message to desperate Man City

The season was a bizarre one. New signings failed to hit he ground running, their most maligned player, Marouane Fellaini, outshone many of his esteemed colleagues and results fluctuated from losses to Leicester and Swansea to resounding victories over Man City and Liverpool.

Marouane Fellaini
Marouane Fellaini

More often than not the performances were not at the level expected for the Premier league kingpins and consistency was a key problem. A six game winning streak starting in February was followed by three successive defeats, before nine points in the final three outings secured a coveted Champions League place that looked out of reach at Christmas.

It was what was targeted by the club at the start of the campaign, but ambitions are loftier this time around.

Memphis Depay, Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger will bolster the options in the middle of the park, though question marks remain over the balance of his midfield personnel. Just how good is the French midfielder? Will he sit in front of the back four or be pushed higher up the pitch? Will the German World Cup winner be vying with him for a starting spot? Where does it leave Ander Herrera, Michael Carrick and Fellaini in the pecking order?

Where will the width come from if as expected Angel Di Maria leaves for pastures new?

Manchester United introduces three new signings: Morgan Schneiderlin (L-R), Bastian Schweinsteiger , and Matteo Darmian, at a news conference in Bellevue, Washington
Manchester United introduces three new signings: Morgan Schneiderlin (L-R), Bastian Schweinsteiger , and Matteo Darmian, at a news conference in Bellevue, Washington

Indeed balance has been a key word during the van Gaal tenure.. Last season he changed his formation four times in order to find the most effective strategy with his squad. One wonders if he knows his starting line-up for the season opener against Tottenham Hotspur.

A central defender is a must, especially if Jonny Evans leaves before the campaign gets underway. Sergio Ramos and Mats Hummels look like joining the likes of Karim Benzema and Wesley Sneijder as players continuously linked to Old Trafford without ever making the move.

The signing of Matteo Darmian may finally solve the right-back conundrum, while all eyes will be on Luke Shaw to see if his end-of-season form will continue.

The major question marks will surround either end of the pitch. The goalkeeping position has the Stretford End still fretting with David De Gea's courtship by Madrid still ongoing. Victor Valdes' under whelming stay is coming to an end, while the Hugo Lloris speculation has died down considerably. Free agent Sergio Romero won't set the pulses racing so Anders Lindegaard may well be first choice come the season opener if the Spaniard returns home.

Minus the service of Robin van Persie and Falcao, at least one big buy is required and most likely two strikers if the club is to seriously challenge domestically and in Europe. Javier Hernandez doesn't seem to tick the boxes for Van Gaal and should the club struggle for goals during the season, the failure to reinforce could come back to haunt him.

Read more: Man United line up Serie A replacement for De Gea and prepare third bid for €90m Sergio Ramos

Last season the defence vastly improved (minus a huge upheavel in personnel) and midfield seems to have been the main concern in the close season, but it is in the final third that could well be the Achilles Heel.

Still, there is ample time before the first ball is kicked in anger. The former Bayern Munich man was afforded more leeway than most last year. His stubborn and ruthless streak offered as the perfect counter to the inhibited Moyes. The honeymoon period is now well and truly over for the 63-year-old.

This year, performances and results must improve or someone else may bear the fruit to the lavish spending.

Online Editors

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