Why Man United have made progress under Louis van Gaal
Manchester United are in a better position under Louis van Gaal than the Red Devils were with David Moyes in charge
Louis van Gaal is readying his Manchester United side for the visit of Liverpool on Saturday in what has been described as a must-win game for the manager.
The season may be a mere five fixtures old but there is already a growing sense of uneasiness around Old Trafford with reports emerging on Thursday afternoon that senior members of the United squad are unhappy with Van Gaal’s coaching methods and some of his backroom staff.
The stats don’t make for favourable reading: Van Gaal has won 27 of his 50 games in charge and will match David Moyes’s record over the same number of fixtures should Liverpool beat United.
However, there are signs of progress under the Dutchman, although United’s transformation hasn’t been brisk, mirroring their cumbersome performances on the pitch.
The Red Devils are a more assured and cohesive unit despite Van Gaal playing his compatriot Daley Blind in an unorthodox centre-half position. Blind and Smalling have marshalled a United defence that has conceded two goals in four games despite David De Gea’s absence.
While the Blind-Smalling partnership has proven competent against average Premier League opposition so far, the real test will be in the Champions League group-stage and against their top-four rivals in the coming months.
Europe is a box which Van Gaal can tick in his favour. The former Netherlands manager was hired to guide United back into the Europe’s premier competition and he duly delivered with what ultimately proved a comfortable fourth-place finish.
This came just 12 months after the Red Devils finished in seventh position following Moyes’s doomed reign, and missing out on a top-four finish this term would be similarly catastrophic for Van Gaal.
The Champions League winner can take satisfaction from nurturing some impressive form from Moyes’s marquee signings, Juan Mata and Marouane Fellaini.
In particular, the towering Belgium international proved an unlikely talisman for United in the final section of last season with some crucial goals in their top-four race. Mata also had one of his best performances in a United shirt in a 2-1 win at Liverpool last March.
Van Gaal has signed battle-hardened Bastian Schweinsteiger, who looks primed to take over Roy Keane’s mantle as midfield dictator alongside £25m recruit Morgan Schneiderlin. Two shrewd summer signings that have given the midfield a much-needed facelift.
The Red Devils did improve their record against their main rivals last season, too. United completed the double over Liverpool, collected four points against Arsenal and beat Manchester City at Old Trafford. Under Moyes, United earned just a point against the same opposition.
Undoubtedly, Van Gaal has aspects to work on.
United are struggling up front, with Wayne Rooney taking time to readjust to a centre-forward role and new signing Memphis Depay has yet to translate his Champions League form to the Premier League.
The United manager, like his counterpart Brendan Rodgers, has spent a lot of money on new signings but only some have delivered. Van Gaal, according to most pundits and ex professionals, has rolled the dice on 19-year-old Anthony Martial, who cost £36m.
To say United haven’t taken some step forwards since Van Gaal was appointed in May 2013 would be untrue, but the outspoken Dutchman does need to deliver more if he wants to keep United players and supporters on side.