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Don't panic! Why Louis van Gaal will come good at Man Utd, eventually


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The time for Manchester United fans to panic was in 2005, when they were loaded with hundreds of millions of pounds of debt in a takeover. Almost a decade later, the result against Burnley today was merely continued confirmation that the team has long been neglected, and that the combination of David Moyes and Edward Woodward was not the one to rebuild the side.

Now is not the time for panic, or throwing toys out of the pram at Louis van Gaal - United are playing about as well as could be expected - the bad times will persist. There are, though, some reasons for optimism.


For one, the new manager, acknowledged that it would take several months for his team to get used to his requirements. Recently, Miroslav Klose said he did not feel free under Van Gaal, and Van Gaal also confirmed he would not use Shinji Kagawa in midfield because he was unable to follow his instructions.

He is an exacting manager who wants specific reactions from his players - evidently he believes the players he is in the process of selling cannot do that: Kagawa, Anderson, Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez. That he has had to use them makes the team’s underperformance inevitable.

He should not adapt his approach for a few games if it does not suit the longer term - a point Van Gaal has made so often you understand why he treats the media with contempt.


Further to that, the squad that finished seventh last year was weakened further by the losses of Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra. There are few defences that would not be shaken by the need to almost totally rebuild, and this is clearly exacerbated by swapping the team’s formation from 4-4-2 (or some variation) to 3-5-2.

Ryan Giggs might also have been inconsistent, but his experience in games like this would certainly be an upgrade on Anderson and Tom Cleverley’s recent contributions. This is compounded by a lack of availability for players he would normally use.

You would imagine that Michael Carrick would be a superior player to the faded Darren Fletcher, even as out of form as he was last year, and the same is true of Marouane Fellaini. Luke Shaw is plainly a better left wing-back than Ashley Young. Ander Herrera is exactly the kind of midfielder that United require. Angel Di Maria was only signed this week but offers pace and creativity. Marcos Rojo is yet to resolve his work permit problems and Daley Blind’s transfer is only now being completed, and both will offer defensive solidity.

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Wayne Rooney

Wayne Rooney

So far, Van Gaal has had, in total, 107 minutes from his new signings, combined, and yet the perception is that he is somehow failing by not making a poor squad capable of winning after just three league games.

The focus on 3-5-2 has now become a bizarre obsession for some journalists and fans alike, and they demand a change. So far, the back three for United has featured only Michael Keane, Tyler Blackett, Jonny Evans (returning from injury), Chris Smalling and Phil Jones. The wing-backs, Cleverley, Anderson and Fletcher showed last season they could not offer defensive protection, there is no reason to expect they will suddenly be able to after three games this season.

Ultimately, United have signed half a new side. The new signings will become available over the next few weeks, and it is then improvements will be made: in defence with Rojo and Shaw, in midfield with Herrera and Blind, and in attack with Di Maria. There is simply no point in judging a formation that does not have the players the manager wants to use in it, and to demand changes because United are currently miserably bad - the same as last season with the apparently ‘better’ formation - is the kind of headless impatience made by Twitter-obsessed attention seekers.


The 3-5-2 formation may indeed end up being rejected for all kinds of reasons, but ultimately it might be worth trusting Louis van Gaal, who was being praised for using it just a few weeks ago in friendlies and the World Cup, above Football Manager obsessives. He is no fool.

Manchester United have not had a good transfer window for the best part of a decade, and they are now overcoming retirements, executive incompetence and David Moyes. To do that they have introduced the best part of £200 million of players in the last three transfer windows, and more might follow. They are also trusting a tactically-demanding manager, and radically changing their formation.

The idea that Van Gaal can be questioned now makes previously sensible people look like Massimo Cellino. There will be much more of the same disappointment in the next few months for Manchester United but for the first time in a few years, there can be optimism that it is all part of a sensible strategy.

Alexander Netherton - @lxndrnthrtn

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