Manchester United’s marginally improved performance against Chelsea last week seems to have bought Louis van Gaal some time, and the victory over Swansea seems to have put away some of the doubts surrounding his future – at least for now.
With Man United playing cautious and uninspiring football under the Dutch coach, the fact that Jose Mourinho suddenly became available forced many to put two and two together and make Mourinho favourite to be the United manager by the end of the season.
That seems to have been more to do with fan discontent and media speculation more than anything else. As ever, those that shout the loudest are those who get heard. The majority of Manchester United fans may well have been behind the coach, or at least in favour of giving him some time to sort out the bad spell, but those who wanted him out straight away were the ones making the most noise.
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After all, it is much easier to articulate the sentiment ‘LvG Out’ than it is to articulate the sentiment ‘I know the performances have been more cautious than a 90 year-old negotiating a roundabout, but a knee-jerk reaction is not what’s called for. Give him time to sort things out’. It’s not very pithy and makes for a terrible banner.
But surely the Manchester United board aren’t spineless enough simply to sack their manager and give up on their long-term project just because the media think he should or just because some fans are unhappy. The likelihood is that if the board was considering a change in manager is was on the back of the Champions League defeat, rather than league position or even the style of play. It must be said that United have been drab for a while now.
The problem for the fans is that United seem to have lost their identity in playing as they do under Van Gaal. The type of goals scored by Rooney and Martial in their win over Swansea were the sorts of goals we’ve seen scored by United for years. Coming from wing play and crosses as well as movement and clinical finishing.
That’s the exciting attacking football that United fans demand from their team, but that’s also the kind of risk-taking play that the very conservative Van Gaal doesn’t seem to like.
In fact, he feels uncomfortable playing that way. It’s almost like he’s been bitten once too many times. He feels that playing that risky pass will lead to an interception and a certain counter attack. And when you look at Manchester United’s defence from the start of last season, it’s not hard to see why he’d think that.
Perhaps this all comes from a lack of trust in his defenders. After all, on paper at least, Van Gaal’s United are one of the best defences in the league, whereas last season they looked very shaky, especially at the start of the season.
And it was on the counter attack where they were most vulnerable. So perhaps this season, rather than actually shore up the defence, Untied have simply been so conservative that their defence hasn’t had to come under any pressure.
If every player sticks to his position, then he’s always in place to stop the counter attack. But if every player sticks to his position, then he’s very easy to mark.
To give up on Van Gaal and take Mourinho, though, wouldn’t necessarily bring a change to that. Mourinho would bring success, but he would also bring discord and possibly a defensive pragmatism that could annoy United fans just as much as Van Gaal’s conservatism does.
To boot, Mourinho wouldn’t be giving the chance to the likes of Jesse Lingard and Cameron Borthwick-Jackson.
It seems that United are stuck between a rock and hard place. Unable to sack Van Gaal, but unable to guarantee that he’s the man to bring the fans the sort of football they desire, and unable to guarantee a Champions League place for next season just at the moment.
Louis van Gaal has bought himself some time, but even the silent fans who want to give him more time could start to run out of patience soon. But the problem is, if they do want to get rid of Van Gaal, is there a ‘United’ manager available to replace him?