After going with the super-cheerful option last month and taking a rose-tinted look at the season so far, a month has passed. And it’s not been the most inspiring of months, to be frank. United have only lost once—and in a game the manager cared so little about he picked Sergio Romero. However, there was a dry spell long enough that children at Old Trafford were heard to ask “Daddy, what is a goal?”
Finally those children had their question answered as United’s brave captain rose like a salmon and headed home against CSKA Moscow. But it’s not all going right for Louis and the lads, so this month’s TOP FIVE is a look at what the great man should do to right the ship. Here are the TOP FIVE things Van Gaal should change if he wants United to be fun again.
Disclaimer. Some of these things might not work. Also, he probably won’t try any of them.
Number Five: Bring Back 4-3-3
Remember March 2015? Giddy, dizzying March 2015? We’d all heard about the Van Gaal click. It had happened with Bayern Munich, they’d struggled to assimilate all the information the Dutchman threw at them but then suddenly something had changed and they had marched on to a domestic double and the Champions League final.
It seemed to have happened at United, as City, Liverpool, Spurs and erm, Aston Villa felt the power of the newly assembled 4-3-3. Di Maria was out, Van Persie was out, Falcao was irreparably broken and Van Gaal finally found a system which got the best out of his players.
That 4-3-3 has been played for around 45 minutes of the season so far. The rest of the time it’s been 4-2-3-1 all the way. Dropping one of the holding midfielders might make United more vulnerable on the counter but for the love of all that is good and holy we might actually be a bit more fun to watch.
Number Four: Bring Juan Mata in from the cold
Of course, there is a slight contradiction here. After all, the above period probably featured Mata’s best-ever game for United—the trip to Anfield last season—where he played on the right in a 4-3-3.
However, it is not that much of a contradiction because there is a difference between the duties of a wide-forward in a 4-3-3 and a 4-2-3-1. In the formation United are currently playing, Mata has to do a ton of defensive work. The narrowness of the formation when we have possession is such that the space he has to work in is limited, and it is all just a little predictable. Make no mistake, he is a superb player, and he has almost never been given a chance by Van Gaal to play as an out-and-out No.10. Surely it must be worth giving him a go there for a bit.
Number Three: STOP DROPPING ANDER HERRERA OH MY GOSH WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU?
Ahem. Sorry. Lost the ol’ professional veneer there. But seriously. Louis. Me and you could be friends. I like that you gave out Christmas presents at Old Trafford, and that you seem like you really love being at United, and that you’re gonna do things your way whatever Scholesey says. But—whilst I recognise that friendship inherently includes the respect for each others’ differences—I don’t know if we can ever really be friends if you keep dropping Ander Herrera.
He’s brilliant. He might be our best outfield player. Okay, Chris Smalling is our best outfield player, but Herrera is up there. Stop leaving him out of the side. Having Herrera in the squad and not playing him is like, I dunno, like having loads of Star Wars figures to play with, including Han Solo and choosing not to play with Han Solo. Okay, the pain of this appears to be making me regress to childhood, so let’s change the subject.
Number Two: Drop Rooney
Not forever. Not from a great height. Just accept that he’s used up all those extra credits you gave him and stop trying to shoehorn him into your attack. It’s only very occasionally working, and it sort of ruining all the rest of what you’re trying to do. So try it, and see what happens. If the whole team suffer a collective mental collapse in the absence of their brave leader, then you can put him back in the side and say “I told you so,” which I imagine you would enjoy doing.
But it might just work.
Number One: Don’t listen to any of this
Ah, whatever, it’s actually going fine, right? I mean, we are top of our Champions League group and two points off the top of the league. We haven’t conceded a goal for 555 minutes. And only, like, 10 per cent of that has been down to the magical powers of David De Gea.
As the great Taylor Swift once said “Haters gonna hate, hate, hate and Van Gaal’s gonna Van Gaal, Gaal, Gaal.” He will continue to be intransigent about some stuff, and more adaptable than he is given credit for about other stuff. He will continue to be seem frustratingly close to building a really good team playing really good football. He might even win some stuff.
But he will leave us in a much better state than he found us, with a rebuilt squad, with a new star in Anthony Martial, with lots of kids having made their breakthroughs. He will leave a well drilled squad, balanced in most areas, with plenty of depth. So maybe he’s not doing such a terrible job.
Louis, you do you.
Oh, apart from the Herrera thing. I was serious about that one.