Boakye Frimpong K Appiah takes us through Manchester United’s strange season:
“The most important difference is that I’m training the players, not in the legs but in the brain, in brain power,” said Louis Van Gaal during Manchester United’s pre season. LVG made United fans get their hopes high up before the season even started. The expectations were high at Old Trafford especially when it was the Dutchman second season in charge. The signings were made early and were available during for preseason. With the exception of Anthony Martial who was a deadline day signing. The arrival of Bastian Schweinsteiger caused a stir among the United fans. Some of them thought Basti had played all his best for Bayern and he had nothing to offer for the club. It was a topsy-turvy season for United and some key notes were taken.
Four Major Points
1. Clean Sheets
Clean sheets win matches, ask Louis Van Gaal. Manchester United started the season well with three wins from the first three matches and kept clean sheets in all these matches. Louis Van Gaal is a preacher for the possession game. He uses keepball tactics as a primarily defensive tactics and is delighted when he restricts the opposition to one or two chances per game, because they have been starved of possession.
The pair of Daley Blind and Chris Smalling as we all know was criticised by the media and the fans. Consistent performance from these two centre backs made United’s backline solid and difficult to breakdown throughout the season. They understood each other, anticipated the ball and got themselves into the right position at the right time without getting their shorts dirty. Manchester United kept seventeen clean sheets throughout the premier league campaign and no team had more than that.
United’s backline was very impressive if you consider the amount of clean sheets they kept. But their attack was not something good to talk about. They kept a lot of possession but they could not turn their high portion of possession into goals. Creating chances and scoring goals had been a gordian knot for United. The manager’s repetitious tactics frustrated the fans always. During the second half of the match against West Bromwich Albion at Old Trafford, the fans yelled, “attack, attack, attack..This clearly showed the fans were not content with the type of football being played. After the match LVG said; “They want us to know we have to score. My mom knows that and my grandmother knows that. Goals are the most important things. ”
Manchester United’s goalscoring record is the worst it’s been in 25 years. The last time United’s goalscoring was that bad, the Premier League did not even exist. LVG always developed an ability to find an excuse for any complaint about his side. You soon realise it is difficult to argue with LVG. How can you argue with someone who’s never wrong in his life.
The fans booed, the players complained and the investors were not satisfied with LVG’s style. The Van Gaal way of playing football was not their natural way.
3. The Month of December
LVG reckoned 2015/2016 was a good year if you ignore their December debacle. United failed to win any of their games they played and lost three premier league games in a row during 18 disastrous days that left their title dream in tatters. They were also crushed out of the Uefa Champions League when they lost 3-2 to Wolfsburg at the VW Arena.
United’s start to the season was Implausible although they were getting good results in their first three months. It was a common knowledge for LVG to change his style but he always found a way to defend himself. Unfortunately he could not blind us with science for long. The month of December showed how bad United were and they needed massive improvement if they still hoped to win the league title. LVG’s side managed to score only two goals throughout the month. The Dutchman insisted that an injury crisis his squad suffered was to blame for the poor form in December. “I always talk about facts, not about hypothetical circumstance and activities. I can only say that in the end of November we had first position, after that we had a big decline, ” LVG said.
Although injuries were a major problem in December, the fans major concern wad the unsatisfactory football being played. They wanted to be entertained. Why should fans pay £50 a ticket to watch a team that pass the ball backwards and sideways and rarely pass the ball forward. It was thr worst December in the club’s 137-year history.
4. Introduction of the Academy Players
When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Louis Van Gaal decided not to improvise and play the available senior players out of position when United had a long injury list. He brought in youth players who had risen through the ranks at the club’s academy. Last season he gave debuts to seven academy players. Prominent among them were Jesse Lingard, Tyler Blackett, Andreas Pereira and Paddy McNair. He also gave debuts to another seven academy players in the just ended campaign. Six of these were in February. Donald Love, Marcus Rashford, Regan Poole, James Weir and Fosu-Mensah were the players who made their debut in February. Borthwick-Jackson also made his debut from bench after replacing Rojo in the 76th minute against WBA last hear. Ro Shun Williams also made his debut on the bemch.
Some of these players have never looked back and performed very well since making their debut. Rashford who was initially named on the bench was thrust into the team for the crucial tie after Martial suffered a hamstring injury in the warmup. He made an immediate impact by scoring twice in the 5-1 win to ensure progress to the last 16. Borthwick-Jackson and Fosu-Mensah have also been regular and impressive since making their debut. Unlike other coaches who would have forced the available senior pkayes as a makeshift and used them in an unfamiliar positions, LVG decided to put his faith in the youth during crucial moment and it paid off for him. He has a legacy of giving the youth chance. As Sir Matts Busby said, “If they’re good enough, they’re old enough. ”
For all his faults and there’s a bottomless list, LVG has always insisted on promoting youth. It had led to some awkward moments. For every Rashford and Lingard, there is a Blackett and McNair. You do not know until you trial them and he has kept part of United’s identity alive. The thing with LVG is that some players do not realise how good he is for them until he has gone. Age is not important it is quality. Louis Van Gaal wil be remembered for promoting the youth amd keeping part of the club’s identity.
Author: Boakye Frimpong K Appiah
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