Not good enough. Not for a coach with his pedigree, not for a manager with the type of resume Louis van Gaal has. So off with his head? Well not quite. He kind of delivered what his employers set as a minimum goal, or did he? The board expected re-entry into Europe as a minimum goal, however will United actually be in Europe?
Because all they achieved now is the opportunity to play in a 2-leg UEFA Champions League qualifier for the entrance into the UCL group stage proper. You would have to imagine that is the barest minimum achievement, in light of the gargantuan war chest LVG was entrusted with in his first phase of his rebuilding project. So mission not yet accomplished – almost.
Considering United’s schedule this season, in contrast with other genuine title challengers (sorry Liverpool), that were tested on multiple fronts, finishing fourth is a let down. Point in case, Arsenal, who had an extensive FA Cup campaign, will feature in the final at Wembley having knocked United out.
Wegner’s resources were extended with another injury hit season at the Emirates, not as bad as United mind you, but nevertheless they went deep into Europe while LVG had the luxury of focusing mostly on the league, after being unceremoniously knocked out of the League Cup by MK Dons. Arsenal will still finish third, ahead of United in an automatic champ league group qualification spot.
Van Gaal was too slow to make adjustments, too slow for the fierce competition in the EPL, the English game is unforgiving just as Brendan Rodgers said when he sounded a warning to LVG before the season kicked off, very rich coming from the Merseyside’s salesman, but he was right.
Let us not quickly forget Van Gaal was taking over a demoralized red devil squad, having finished in a shambolic seventh position under David Moyes the previous season, however it is now evident that with the required diligence United could have finished second or third. It was not out of reach by any stretch of the imagination. Here are 6 key reasons why Van Gaal’s inaugural season was not as stellar as it could have been.
Meddling with 3-5-2
A carry over from his successful world cup campaign with the Netherlands. The Dutch coach adopted this formation early on due his injury ravaged backline, and the need to protect the starlets he drafted in from the youth squad. The biggest problems with the formation was his wingbacks not being able to adapt to it, often leaving massive space between themselves and midfield. LVG would go on to buy Angel Di Maria with this formation in mind, who actually did great with this formation as one of the midfield three, but once this setup was ditched the Argentine’s form plummeted.
Starving the Squad of Pace Up Front
The arrival of Di Maria and Falcao saw LVG send Chicharito and Nani on loan, while he sold off Welbeck outright. This rid the squad of the much needed pace in dangerous areas as Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie, and Radamel Falcao were all short of the necessary pace to get behind organized and resolute opposition backlines. They combined for 26 goals, short of the output from rival title contenders. The Falcao loan experiment failed outright, initially it looked like he was the better option than Van Persie who looked well off the pace, but early on Van Gaal kept Falcao on the bench for long periods so we will never know what could have been.
Rooney was shuttled from midfield, to very deep in midfield at times. The captain was tenacious but had a very inconsistent season. LVG always advertised that he wanted Wilson in the side for pace, probably same for Januzaj. However, it became apparent that it was one season too soon for Wilson and the Belgian wonderkid. Van Gaal would have been better served keeping Hernandez and Nani, whilst sending Wilson and Adnan out on loan to gain 1st team experience. Whenever United were in need of a game changer, someone with a bit of pace or trickery, there were slim pickings on the bench.
Poor Utilization of Di Maria
The attempt to use Angel Di Maria as a striker has to go as one of the most ill advised moves of the entire campaign. It only served to kill off whatever was left of Di Maria’s confidence. His stats during, and after this period were downright abysmal.
Freezing out Ander Herrera
Only Van Gaal will know why he thought Wayne Rooney could perform better in midfield than the Basque wizard, who he sanctioned over £30m to get to fill in the gaping hole Scholes left behind. It was a poor early decision to try to squeeze in all three of Rooney, RVP, and Falcao – basically sacrificing team balance for star names. Herrera’s performances before he was unceremoniously dropped proved he was the right fit, so his exclusion seemed very heavy handed from LVG and was a terrible decision.
Rigid Tactics and Poor Substitutions
The inability to sacrifice possession based tactics for more direct and incisive football nailed in the slip to 4th position. The losses at Everton and at home to West Brom at the business end of the season were a direct result of LVG not being flexible, and not understanding that at the tail end of the season teams with nothing at stake sit back and go for the counter. Van Gaal also had the habit of making curious substitutions, quite often pulling off better performers to give others cold starts. The Blackett for Rojo substitution, for example, against Arsenal was bewildering since it seemingly was not injury related. It gave the gooners a way back into the match as veteran winger Walcott ran right at Blackett forcing him into the own goal error.
Not Providing Cover for Carrick
Well not exactly. Van Gaal did bring in David Blind and Ander Herrera, but a mind-boggling series of injury incidents, 55 plus different injuries, meant he had to have players in unnatural positions. United struggled massively without Carrick, and LVG has come to terms with the need to bring someone in the ‘No. 6’ role next season.
Infographic showing Manchester United's 2014/15 season under Van Gaal. Created by Chuky Akosionu @thedailymanc.
Louis van Gaal Report Card Grade
Louis Van Gaal without question deserves to carry on, and will as you can plainly see his influence on the club gaining a foothold. He has done some remarkable things despite his disappointing finish. He has raised the morale of United fans everywhere when our collective spirits were in the dumps following the reign of the chosen one.
He has re-ignited some players who had been summarily written off a season ago, the resurgence of Ashley Young, Marouane Fellaini (an ugly and inglorious end at Hull not withstanding), Chris Smalling, and Juan Mata has been stunning. Even more stunning is how he coached United to keep the ball within a single season. His possession-based football saw the Red Devils eviscerate the keep ball stats. United started scoring from the midfield again, putting an end to a historical problem with the side since the waning of Paul Scholes.
Putting into consideration the various issues he had to face in his first season, a learning curve, a plague of injuries of mystifying proportions, and an unsettled dressing room. We give Louis Van Gaal a C, for average heights reached, because we now know that he was capable of more, not much more…but more all the same. A fourth place finish was below what he was capable of delivering this season.