Having led the Dutch to the semi-finals at the World Cup, Louis van Gaal had everything when he arrived at United. Impeccable credentials, tactical nous, fans' support and most importantly the aura and arrogance of a man who knew exactly what he wanted from a team.
Basically, he had every thing that David Moyes didn't. That was exactly what endeared him instantly to the Old Trafford faithful. Eight months down the line United sit fourth in the league, in a 'rat-race' as Van Gaal has described it, for Champions League qualification.
After suffering an embarrassing loss to MK Dons in the League Cup, United also went down to Arsenal in the FA Cup this week. Philosophy has been a recurrent theme in every press-conference of his and it is this philosophy which must be scrutinised to delve deeper into United's failure to perform better this season.
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Lack of goals
Van Gaal has always been a proponent of possession football and that has been evident in United's play. But for all the possession, United don't seem to be doing much with it. United have managed only 56 goals in 34 games this season across all competitions which comes to roughly 1.6 goals per game.
That's 1.6 goals per game from an attack which comprises of Wayne Rooney, Angel di Maria, Radamel Falcao and Robin van Persie. That, frankly, is nothing short of a debacle.
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A defence which has been ravaged by a spate of injuries has further damaged their prospects. United have conceded 33 goals this season which is much better than what everyone expected at the beginning.
A key contribution to this, however, is also the outstanding form of David de Gea who has kept them in games quite a few times this season. In essence United have been over-reliant on a great keeper and have held on to the ball without doing much with it. Lacklustre, blunt and laboured would be accurate descriptions of most United performances this season.
Van Gaal has always emphasised that all he cares about is how the team plays and the individual does not matter. This mentality may have served him well at other European clubs but the pressure of performing in a United shirt is something else.
The form of Di Maria and Falcao, Juan Mata and young Adnan Januzaj has been a worry for United. All of the above have great talent and are game-changers who have performed at the highest level in the past.
Yet, they somehow seem to lack that confidence and killer-instinct this season. Add to it the refusal of Van Gaal to play Rooney as a striker until recently instead choosing to play him a central midfielder has also affected the goals department.
Van Gaal needs to use his man-management skills or depute Ryan Giggs to actually talk to the players and reaffirm the management's faith in them and assure them that one good performance and fans will be chanting their names from the Stretford End. Even the greatest players find it difficult at Old Trafford as Juan Sebastian Veron and Carlos Tevez will know.
This was supposed to be another transitional year for United but the aura of Van Gaal has given rise to expectations of the Mancunians and Champions League football is now considered a must considering the £160 million spending spree in the summer.
Even if Van Gaal doesn't lead United in to the Champions League, he needs to realise that he will have to make certain adjustments to his outlook and probably look at an increased role for Giggs, who knows United football better than anyone else, and tweak his philosophy rather than his team which he has done many a time this season.
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