Tuesday 21 November 2017

How Van Gaal's Man United measure up to Moyes' boys

If Louis van Gaal can improve Manchester United's away form, it should be enough to
guarantee a top-four finish. Photo: Clive Rose/Getty Images
If Louis van Gaal can improve Manchester United's away form, it should be enough to guarantee a top-four finish. Photo: Clive Rose/Getty Images

Mark Ogden

United boss is under attack after winning just 12 of his first 24 games – like his predecessor. Mark Ogden asks is he just David Moyes with a better CV?

Style of play

Louis van Gaal has tinkered with formations and personnel from day one and, with two-thirds of the season gone, it remains unclear as to what his best and most reliable system is.

David Moyes, in contrast, stuck resolutely to a four-man defence, largely protected by two holding midfielders, but the Scot struggled to settle on a successful attacking approach. United sat too deep, encouraging opponents to attack, with supporters ultimately losing patience with the negative and cautious playing style. But Van Gaal, who has tightened up United’s defence, is now generating similar frustration among the fans, with the Dutchman admitting to wanting his players to move forward without “risky passes”.

United supporters brought up on the bold, adventurous and risk-taking approach of Alex Ferguson found football under Moyes boring and defeatist and, under Van Gaal, the concern is that the team are beginning to go the same, risk-averse way, with the lack of width a recurring complaint.

Rating: Moyes 0 Van Gaal 0

Selection

While Moyes was uncertain in team selection and too often swayed by the fear of a negative reaction from media and supporters alike, Van Gaal’s stubbornness has proven to be as much a weakness as a strength.

Moyes admitted to refraining from substituting Robin van Persie during a home defeat by Newcastle because of concerns over how the decision would be received in the stands, but Van Gaal appears to relish the exasperation caused by ignoring the claims of players such as Radamel Falcao, Adnan Januzaj and Ander Herrera.

Moyes often shied away from big calls in terms of dropping under-performing senior players such as Nemanja Vidic and Van Persie, but Van Gaal, despite his dictatorial reputation, has also shown a reluctance to drop Van Persie or Wayne Rooney, despite recent below-par performances.

Van Gaal has also caused bemusement by deploying the likes of Rooney and Angel di Maria in unfamiliar midfield roles.

Both Moyes and Van Gaal have at least displayed a readiness to promote youth, with Januzaj, James Wilson and Paddy McNair the main beneficiaries.

Moyes 0 Van Gaal 1

Dressing-room support

The general view within the United dressing room is that Van Gaal’s presence, track record and charisma have been crucial in rebooting a squad who were drained of confidence and belief by Moyes. Moyes alienated senior players and serial winners by introducing under-qualified coaches to replace proven operators Rene Meulensteen and Mike Phelan.

The Scot’s training regime was regarded as tedious and unimaginative and too focused on physical attributes rather than technique.

Van Gaal immediately impressed the squad with his more challenging and varied training methods and senior squad members such as Rooney and Van Persie have thrown their backing behind the Dutch manager.

Crucially, Van Gaal has earned the trust of his players, who admire his self-belief and conviction. Moyes never achieved this and his nine-month reign was ultimately a tale of trying, and failing, to persuade his players that he had a plan.

Moyes 0 Van Gaal 2

Star signing

Neither Moyes nor Van Gaal can say that he made a crucial difference in the transfer market as United manager.

While Marouane Fellaini has now found form and confidence under Van Gaal, Moyes never got the best from the £27.5million buy from Everton and the Belgian’s struggles last season reflected his manager’s.

Similarly, Moyes lavished £37.5m on Juan Mata in January, yet appeared not to know how to accommodate the Spaniard – a puzzle which Van Gaal is also finding difficult to solve.

But Van Gaal’s signings have been mixed, with only Daley Blind and Marcos Rojo adjusting to life at the club so far.

Di Maria, at £59.7m, has been hugely disappointing, to the point of being a flop, while Falcao has done nothing to suggest that he is a better option than Danny Welbeck, offloaded to Arsenal, or Javier Hernandez, who is on loan at Real Madrid.

Herrera cannot get a game and Luke Shaw struggles to stay fit, so Van Gaal has done no better than his predecessor in the transfer market.

Moyes 1 Van Gaal 1

Fighting spirit

‘Fergie time’ – United’s incredible ability to score crucial goals at the death when Alex Ferguson was in charge – had a year off under Moyes, with late winners or equalisers being replaced by killer goals conceded in games against the likes of Southampton, Everton and Tottenham Hotspur.

Under Moyes, United simply panicked late on and invited efforts on goal.

United’s fighting spirit has returned under Van Gaal, with Blind salvaging draws from defeat at West Bromwich Albion and West Ham United, and Van Persie earning an unlikely victory at Southampton. But while the fightbacks under Ferguson were largely a tale of opponents caving in under pressure following incessant attacks and United dominance in the final third, Van Gaal’s team are salvaging points through the battering ram of long balls and punts towards the head of Fellaini.

The latter approach is based on desperation rather than belief in any attacking qualities and there is a danger for Van Gaal that the tactic will quickly be found out by other Premier League teams.

Moyes 1 Van Gaal 2

Points

United sit fourth with 44 points from 24 games under Van Gaal and are just about on course for a top-four finish.

At the same stage of last season, Moyes’s United were seventh, with 40 points from 24 games, and already seven points adrift of fourth-placed Liverpool.

Moyes’s team were more impressive away from home, with a haul of 20 points from 12 games at this stage a year ago being earned by six wins and two draws.

Under Van Gaal, United have won just three times away from Old Trafford in the Premier League, drawing seven, and have collected just 16 points on the road.

Van Gaal has steered United to nine wins and a draw from 12 home games, however, after Moyes’s team won just six of their first 12 home games, losing four – a haul of 20 points.

If Van Gaal can improve United’s away form, it should be enough to guarantee that top-four finish.

Moyes 1 Van Gaal 2

Total scores: Moyes 3 Van Gaal 8

(© The Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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