Following Sunday’s 1-1 draw at Upton Park, Sam Allardyce branded Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United as a ‘long-ball team’. Was this comment just sour grapes from the Hammers boss, or has he got a valid point?
Alladyce has always had the tendency to say exactly what’s on his mind, and he certainly did that in his post-match interview on Sunday. The West Ham boss, who was obviously extremely disappointed that his side threw away two points right at the death against Man United, didn’t hold back whilst speaking to Sky Sports:
“We couldn’t cope with ‘long-ball United’, it was ‘thump it forward and see what they could get’. In the end it paid off”, Allardyce said. “When you’ve got Fellaini up there it was difficult for us, it’s not how you normally see Man United play, but it got them a point in the end. The likes of Radamel Falcao, Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney and Angel di Maria hardly got a look in.”
So were Big Sam’s comments justified? According to statistics from Opta, the West Ham boss may have a point – Louis van Gaal’s side played 86 long balls in the draw with the Hammers – 29 more than their hosts. The stats are quite ironic, considering it wasn’t too long ago when Allardyce was accused with his side not playing ‘the West Ham way’ and thumping forward too many long balls to their target men. It would seem the tables have well and truly turned.
The Opta stats also claim that United have played far more long balls this season under van Gaal than they did in David Moyes’ reign. Nonetheless, the Scot was still heavily criticised with changing the way the Red Devils had been playing for a number of years under Sir Alex Ferguson. The statistics also show that Van Gaal’s team play a higher percentage of long balls than their respective rivals at the top of the table – with Manchester City playing the least.
But to be fair to Manchester United, their long-ball antics have unquestionably been effective this season. You could understand the criticism if United were struggling with performances and results – but they are not. In fact, if the Red Devils would have won at the Boleyn Ground on Sunday, they would have only been three points behind City, who occupy second in the Premier League table.
Whatever way United play their football, it can’t be denied that they have vastly improved under van Gaal. He may have mixed up the way they play at times this term, but if he gets the club back into the Champions League next season, the Old Trafford faithful won’t mind too much how they got there. Results are far more important than performances for United this season, and the Dutchman has undoubtedly done a good job.
So in theory – yes – Allardyce has got a point. But if the long-ball is effective, why not play like that? Manchester United have enough flair players to knock the ball about of the floor, but if things aren’t quite going to plan like they wasn’t on Sunday, then United proved to their Premier League rivals that they can chop and change when necessary and be as equally as effective.