When an egotistical manager finds himself on the losing side of a football match, often times their post-match press conferences become must-see TV. It seems that managers like Jose Mourinho, Arsene Wenger and Louis van Gaal simply can’t fathom how they could ever lose a match. And if they do, it’s obviously not their fault.
Whenever one of those sides fails to win, it’s always interesting to see how the manager spin-zones the loss to make sure it’s crystal clear that it’s not his fault. It could be the ref, the pitch, the weather, really anything other than being were out-managed or outperformed.
As you can imagine, with the results of Chelsea and Manchester United, this season has failed to disappoint.
But while Mourinho and Wenger usually throw their ire at not being given a penalty by the ref, or a missed offsides call, van Gaal’s press conferences have often taken a different approach. Van Gaal has resorted to blaming luck — United have just been unlucky because, according to van Gaal, they are playing really well.
Van Gaal is either trolling the fans or he has truly lost his mind.
Following Manchester United 0-0 draw with West Ham, their 5th 0-0 draw of the season, van Gaal had his usual to say: “I am pleased with the performance. When you create these kind of chances you have to finish. I cannot say we played bad. We started well and after that it was an equal game.”
“We dominated the second half and created a lot of chances and then you have to score. They could have scored also. They defended well but we created more chances than in the last matches so that was the most important aspect.”
The word dominant has been thrown around by van Gaal pretty often this season. Despite the lack of goals, van Gaal has often said that United dominated matches but just haven’t gotten the results. Following United’s 2-1 loss to Swansea in September, van Gaal said, “Swansea started in 4-2-3-1 and at 1-0 they changed their shape and we couldn’t cope.”
Van Gaal continued, “In the last 20-25 minutes Swansea were compact and it’s always difficult to beat a compact team so we were probably too dominant to have the sense to do that.”
That’s right, according to van Gaal, United were dominating the game so much that when the opponent made one tactical change, his team couldn’t figure out how to adapt to the change. They just went about their business and kept dominating but not scoring.
If this is what van Gaal teaches his team about what the word domination means, then perhaps it is time he accepts that the blame is partially on him. If this is how he feels United should be playing then he needs to accept that the lack of goals are his fault.
Van Gaal was quick to defend his style after the 0-0 draw against West Ham, “If they don’t like my style of Manchester United, everyone knows all the teams of Louis van Gaal play like that,” he said in his post-game news conference. “If you have that question, OK, that’s where I have been in Barcelona, Bayern Munich or AZ. We played like that.”
You were successful in Holland with that style — successful in the early ’00s La Liga, the late ’00s Bundesliga with that style. That doesn’t mean that style will work everywhere. It’s not working in the Premier League, not in 2015.
Van Gaal often says the lack of goals is due to teams playing structured compact defense against United and it’s tough to break that down. The problem is teams do that against everyone, and the other top teams don’t struggle to break it down. They do that by running at defenders, making runs off the ball and spreading out on the field.
Van Gaal’s system sees United players rarely moving off the ball and standing very close to one another, allowing two players to be marked by one defender. United never take advantage of the space that the vast Old Trafford pitch provides.
United never get to play against 10 men anymore because they never attack players that have already picked up yellow cards. They don’t attack players because van Gaal’s system doesn’t allow them to take on players with the ball. If you do and you get dispossessed, you’ll find yourself on the bench.
Against West Ham, United had just one shot [out of 20] that was on target. Most of their shots came from way outside the area, because without runs in behind the defense, United had no way of getting into the box.
United struggle to break down defenses because United make it so easy for their opponents to defend against them. With the results starting to fade, there are many questions of van Gaal that aren’t being answered.
Last season, van Gaal’s side saw their run of form take off when he switched to a 4-3-3 formation with one holding midfielder. Playing that style, United scored, defended well and won. So why this season, when armed with a better defense and an attack that is struggling to score, van Gaal has yet to even try that formation? Instead he’s been married to the 4-2-3-1 formation that struggles to score.
With fans growing frustrated over another 0-0 defeat, the Stretford End began chanting “Attack! Attack!” in the second half against West Ham. Following the match, van Gaal had the audacity to criticize the fans, “I don’t understand [why] they are shouting ‘attack, attack, attack’ because we are the attacking team, not West Ham, and it’s the same in every game because we are dominating more.”
If United were truly as dominant as their manager says they are, the goals should be there. If this is van Gaal’s idea of attacking football, I’d hate to see what his idea of defensive football is. After each game that United struggle to score, it’s time for the manager to look in the mirror and wonder if his system truly is working.