Louis van Gaal's defensive and structured mindset hampering Manchester United's attacking style

Manchester United FC v PSV Eindhoven - UEFA Champions League

If you look into the history of Manchester United, it plots a course of immense sadness, incredible success and sensational firsts.

The Red Devils were responsible for bringing the European Cup to these shores, for example, ten years after the immense tragedy of the Munich air disaster in 1958.

Throughout the course of this expansive history, United have also cultivated an attacking style of play that has continued through the ages.


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This began with Sir Matt Busby’s gloriously talented post-war side who, whilst decimated by the Munich disaster, played with a unique attacking philosophy. Then there was the emergence of the precocious George Best, who became the first true superstar of the game when he made his Old Trafford debut on September 14, 1963.


While there have been highs and lows during this period, the 20-time league champions have never looked close to losing their identity - that is until now, however.

Last week's poor 0-0 draw at home to PSV Eindhoven proved to be the culmination of growing frustration; not only did it place their Champions League qualification hopes in jeopardy, but also highlighted the Red Devils' lack of firepower.

Despite starting with nearly £100 million worth of talent in Memphis Depay, Anthony Martial and Wayne Rooney in attack - alongside academy graduate Jesse Lingard - United struggled to break down a stubborn PSV rear-guard and created only a handful of chances.

Manchester United Training and Press Conference

This was despite a fast start which saw United play with a high tempo, but a distinct lack of composure in the final third rendered their efforts ineffective. Things got worse as players tired while questionable substitutions also hampered the club's creativity in the second half.


Louis van Gaal is primarily a structured and defensive coach who builds from the back and instills tremendous discipline and positional awareness into his players. This means that United are hard to beat, but while the Dutchman's rigid approach helps maintain possession and protect the defence it allows little freedom in attack.


This issue is exacerbated when creative and forward thinking players such as Michael Carrick and Juan Mata are absent from the starting line-up, reducing the number of forward balls fed into their strike force.

Once Bastian Schweinsteiger was withdrawn early in the second half, United were left with the cumbersome Morgan Schneiderlin in midfield and resorted to launching long balls towards the ineffective Marouane Fellaini.

Manchester United FC v PSV Eindhoven - UEFA Champions League

The game was crying out for Mata, and Van Gaal’s reluctance to use the Spaniard underlined his cautious and overly structured mindset. This is unlikely to change, though, and the question remains whether the ex-Bayern Munich manager will survive until the end of his three-year deal.

Even if he does, the fans will hope that United’s departure in playing style is temporary and will be reversed once the next manager is appointed.

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