Sunday 25 February 2018

Van Gaal hits back at Allardyce's 'long ball' jibe

Manchester United manager Louis Van Gaal has come out fighting to reject Sam Allardyce's 'long-ball United' jibe. Photo: Clive Mason/Getty Images
Manchester United manager Louis Van Gaal has come out fighting to reject Sam Allardyce's 'long-ball United' jibe. Photo: Clive Mason/Getty Images

Timothy Abraham

For the first time in Louis Van Gaal's tenure at Manchester United, that brash air of Dutch managerial self-assurance has perhaps shown a few chinks of weakness.

Of all the managers in the Premier League, West Ham's Sam Allardyce seems one of the most unlikely to prick Van Gaal's ego.

But Allardyce's critical assessment of United being a long-ball team who used "thump it forward and see" tactics in the 1-1 draw at Upton Park last Sunday appears to have achieved just that.

Van Gaal waved pieces of paper in a pre-match press conference inside the Jimmy Murphy building at the club's training complex yesterday afternoon in attempt to hit back at Allardyce.

In his four-page dossier was evidence, in Van Gaal's eyes at least, that Allardyce's claims were factually incorrect. What Allardyce has said was wrong - and the United manager had the statistics to show that.

"When a colleague of mine is saying this kind of thing, you have to see the data and you have to put the data in the right context," said the Dutchman.

"Because I expected this question, I have made an interpretation of the data for this game. And I have to say that it is not a good interpretation from Big Sam.

"I am sorry, but we are playing ball-possession play. After 70 minutes we did not succeed, in spite of many chances in the second half, so then I changed my playing style.

"Then, of course, with the quality of (Marouane) Fellaini, we played more forward balls and we scored from that, so I think it was a very good decision of the manager.

"But when you see overall the long ball (statistics), you see West Ham have played 71pc of the long balls to the forwards and we (played) 49pc."

The 63-year-old's response to Allardyce's comments brought stunned looks among the gathered media and left the club's press staff shifting uncomfortably, as the television pictures readily emphasised.

It is hard not to make comparisons with Rafael Benitez's infamous 'facts' rant in January 2009 when he was manager of Liverpool, and indeed it is difficult to think of former United manager Alex Ferguson so readily biting on the bait offered by Allardyce.

The document, compiled by the performance analysis team at United, had diagrams of where every single pass had been intended to reach.

Successful passes were highlighted in blue and unsuccessful in red and also for the time after the introduction of Fellaini in the 76th minute.

Van Gaal quipped that anyone who was under the impression United were a long-ball team was "talking in behind" as he went on to elaborate on the difference between his side's direct play and West Ham's.

"I will give you this data and you can see that the blue ones are the good ones because long balls are also very difficult," Van Gaal said.

"Of course we play some long balls. But more long balls in the width than to the strikers.

"A long ball to the forward striker is mainly called long-ball play. When you have nearly 60pc ball possession, do you think you can do that with long balls?

Possession

"Yes long balls, but it was in the width when you switch the play. I am sorry but we are playing ball-possession play," he added.

United face Burnley tonight with statistics showing the two teams to have hit more long balls than any other Premier League side.

However, with his team scoring just seven goals in their past six league games, prompting criticism of a cautious approach, Van Gaal insisted he was happy with United's performances, while at the same time admitting that they can play better.

"I think we have played attractive games and less attractive games, with every club I think, so there's no discussion," Van Gaal said.

"You have to improve and every team has to improve, which is why we are training. I am happy with the results, but I also think we can improve, which is also the process.

"We have talked about already from my first day, but we have to improve. In this world you have to win and play attractive, but that's not so simple. We do our best."

"You know that when you see my career, I think that it is enough answer about the style, but in this world you have to win and play attractive

"But that's not so simple. We have never played with the same team. I was not allowed to play with the same team as I had to always look for a solution because of the injured players.

Van Gaal, who confirmed that promising 19-year-old Northern Ireland defender Paddy McNair had signed a contract extension until June 2017, hinted at a return to a forward role for Wayne Rooney with the captain's goal drought now extending to eight matches - his worst run at United since 2005-06, when he went 12 games without scoring.

"When you play him (Rooney) in midfield you are not always in the situation to score," Van Gaal said. "So when you say he is not scoring then, of course, midfielders are not scoring too much.

"He is not in the front three, he is in the back three of the midfield. It (Rooney's position) is dependent on the circumstances." (© Independent News Service)

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