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Van Gaal has better CV but Rodgers is the better coach

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'Louis van Gaal's teething problems in the Premier League have largely stemmed from the fact he does not know his best XI or his best formation'

'Louis van Gaal's teething problems in the Premier League have largely stemmed from the fact he does not know his best XI or his best formation'

PA

'Louis van Gaal's teething problems in the Premier League have largely stemmed from the fact he does not know his best XI or his best formation'

Louis Van Gaal has won the Champions League, two La Liga titles, the Bundesliga and four Dutch championships.

He has taken Holland to the semi-finals of the World Cup, taken Ajax to UEFA Cup glory and then to two separate Champions League finals, a place he also brought Bayern Munich to.

In contrast, the biggest thing Brendan Rodgers has won in his brief managerial career is respect. Yet it is the enormous amount of respect I have for him that forces me to declare that Rodgers is superior to Van Gaal (right) when it comes to tactics.

In fact, the only Premier League manager who I believe is tactically smarter than Rodgers is Jose Mourinho. The Ulsterman stands beside the Portuguese on the podium, however. His cleverness, his capacity to adapt to different, challenging situations allows him to keep such lofty company.

Do tactics matter more than players? No. Never. But they have their place. This season, as an example, Van Gaal's teething problems in the Premier League have largely stemmed from the fact he does not know his best XI or his best formation.

Forced

You can't say that about Rodgers. He has changed his system completely from last season, forced to, by and large, by the fact that Luis Suarez was in Barcelona and Daniel Sturridge on the treatment table.

And when the heat was really beginning to be felt at Anfield, when some people were questioning Brendan's position, he showed his mettle as well as the depth of his intellect, by changing his side's shape.

That new formation - based around three players at the back - is not set in stone. Against Southampton recently, he resisted the temptation to play Sturride and Mario Balotelli, focussing instead on counter-acting Southampton's strengths.

The result? A 2-0 win and a big moment in Liverpool's season.

They're definite contenders for a place in next season's Champions League now. And if they beat United tomorrow, which I think they will, then a psychological blow will be hammered into the mindset of the United players.

Will they be able to recover from such a setback? I have my doubts. Given how they went 10 points clear of Liverpool just three months ago on December 14, after their 3-0 win at Old Trafford, it is incredible to think how the season has turned. Victory for Liverpool tomorrow would send them one point clear of their great rivals.

It would also lay down a marker.

Both managers need to deliver Champions League football, Van Gaal because it would represent progress from last season, Rodgers because it would cement his reputation as a rising star in the managerial game.

Since he came to Anfield, the team has made major progress. They've developed a system of play which is both easy on the eye and hard on the opposition. The tactic of pressing opposition teams high up the pitch is matched by a willingness to guard the ball jealously when they get it.

Can you say definitively that Van Gaal has put his stamp on United? That they are upholding the traditions laid down by Matt Busby and Alex Ferguson? Until last week, you would have said no.

Then came Tottenham. United seemed as if they were back to their old selves, getting forward at pace, stretching opposing teams by placing an emphasis on width, overpowering them with a non-stop desire to attack.

That doesn't mean they will win here.

I still fancy Liverpool and one factor persuading me to take such a view is Wayne Rooney's record at Anfield. Ten times he has played at Anfield. Just once has Rooney scored.

It's incredible really because he is a world-class operator. Yet this statistic does not belong in the company of lies and damned lies.

This statistic counts. I should know. As a player, it took me 11 seasons before I scored against Manchester United. The issue grew and grew and it affected me.

Issue

Whereas against Everton, I always felt I would score - and nearly always did - against United, my head was filled with doubt. And the longer the record went on, the greater the issue became.

Eventually, I did score - getting the goal in a win in 1992 which stopped them winning the league. I'd score against them again. But until that first one went in, I was mentally scarred. My poor record against United played on my mind. My strike partners - Paul Walsh, Kenny Dalglish or Peter Beardsley - always seemed to score. But I couldn't.

Credit Paul McGrath for that. He was brilliant. But consider too how a constant reminder of a bad statistical record can affect any player.

So with this in mind, and with Rooney so key to United's form, I fear for their chances tomorrow. Liverpool are in a good place. By tomorrow, they will be in an even better one.

 

City should keep Pellegrini but clear out some big-name players

The running joke last year was that Vincent Kompany needed to have some better defensive company.

This year, the queries aren't so much about the Manchester City captain's defensive partners but the man himself.

Along with Yaya Toure, questions have been asked about their future at City. Do they have one? Does Manuel Pellegrini?

Out of all the cups and out of the running for the league title, the pressure is mounting on the City manager. That is just something that comes with the territory of being at a top club.

You don't get time any more. It is sink or swim from the word go. So even though Pellegrini had a fantastic first season, winning a league and League Cup double, they have failed to progress this year.

It's obvious they need new blood in the team. Too many of their key players are the wrong side of 30. And as a person who does not believe in the constant chopping and changing of managers, I'd be inclined to reform from the bottom up rather than from the top down.

That may mean saying goodbye to some great players. But it has to be done. At Liverpool, Bob Paisley and Kenny Dalglish were able to rebuild without anyone knowing the revolution was ongoing.

One minute a great player was getting his game, the next he was gone.

The 1985-86 Double-winning team was actually a side in transition with old stalwarts Phil Neal and Dalglish featuring less frequently and new guys like Steve Nicol and Jan Molby increasingly influential.

City, it seems, haven't planned for the future. They've spent a lot of money but maybe they need to spend a bit more time thinking about how to move forward. Sticking with Pellegrini wouldn't be the worst idea.

If they were to get rid of him, then realistically the next manager would need four years.

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