Louis Van Gaal's Game Management Will Excite Manchester United Fans

Chris Winterburn@Chriswin4Featured ColumnistJune 19, 2014

Netherlands' Robin van Persie celebrates with Netherlands' head coach Louis van Gaal after scoring a goal during the group B World Cup soccer match between Spain and the Netherlands at the Arena Ponte Nova in Salvador, Brazil, Friday, June 13, 2014. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
Manu Fernandez/Associated Press

With Holland coach Louis van Gaal set to take over at Manchester United following the conclusion of the World Cup, there has been much discussion among supporters about Van Gaal's chances of succeeding at Old Trafford.

However, following Holland's successive victories to kick-start their World Cup campaign, it has become clear that the Dutchman's game management will certainly add a new dimension to United ahead of the 2014-15 season.

Van Gaal's ability to analyse just what is happening on the pitch in front of him is an impressive enough trait as it is; however, the former Ajax and Barcelona coach is not afraid to act in order to influence the outcome of a match. This proactive style of management is something that wasn't forthcoming in David Moyes' spell last term.

Due to the anterior cruciate ligament injury suffered by Kevin Strootman in March, Van Gaal was forced to introduce a totally different system to his team just before the World Cup.

The 5-3-2 system was selected as it provided significant cover in defence without losing a player from midfield. The real task was how Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie could manage playing as a front two.

The Dutch started with this system in their opening group match against Spain and immediately looked uncomfortable. After going a goal down it could have easily been two had Jasper Cillessen not produced a fantastic save from a chipped David Silva attempt.

Natacha Pisarenko/Associated Press

Van Gaal saw how his team in this instance hadn't adapted to the system, he also saw how Spain weren't as formidable as first thought. The famed off-the-ball pressing of the Spanish was not evident, and aside from the opening goal and Silva's miss there were very few occasions when the Spanish pushed beyond the Dutch midfield.

There was no need to have a deep five in defence. Van Gaal saw this and switched to a 3-5-2 system with respective full-backs Daley Blind and Daryl Janmaat now positioned further up in wide-midfield roles.

This switch allowed the Dutch to retain possession in the middle, as well as putting pressure on the nervous Spanish defence through the attacking presence of Blind and Janmaat. It is no coincidence that Blind's newfound midfield position gave him the opportunity to create Van Persie's stunning equaliser just before half-time.

Holland were then in control of the match, ball retention was easy and Spain simply couldn't cope with both the numbers and speed with which their opponents attacked. It is little surprise that the tactical influence of Van Gaal on the result wasn't missed by his captain, Van Persie, in an interview with the BBC,

This [result] is definitely down to him [Van Gaal].

If you see how he prepared us, and how he predicted the game would go, and you see how it went.


Then just five days later, the 62-year-old would again influence the outcome of a match, where Holland weren't in control, with further tactical tweaks.

Despite taking a one-goal lead against Australia, the Dutch were struggling and found themselves immediately pegged back by a Tim Cahill volley.

Again set up in the 5-3-2 formation, Holland lacked any control in midfield, with Wesley Sneijder and Nigel de Jong both borderline passengers in the opening half-hour.

Bruno Martins Indi's injury forced Van Gaal into a change, although it was not the straightforward defensive switch many expected.

Wong Maye-E/Associated Press

The Dutch coach introduced Memphis Depay, a winger by trade and switched to his preferred 4-3-3 system. Depay was positioned on the left wing while Robben switched to the right. Holland had more control in midfield as a result, now with two outlets to pass the ball to on either side.

Holland took control, despite a scare in the second half, with Depay scoring the winning goal following an incisive individual forward run.

As Bleacher Report's Elko Born suggests, Van Gaal does have his preferred system: the 4-3-3. "The Holland boss always employs the same system (an attacking 4-3-3 with clearly defined roles for each position) and that’s what his teams will play." However, this does not stop him continually looking for ways to tweak it for the better during a match should things not be going in his team's favour.

Van Gaal doesn't simply wait and hope things will happen, which is something perhaps the cautious approach of David Moyes could be accused of in the Scot's spell in charge at Old Trafford.

Much to Manchester United supporters' frustration, Moyes often refused to deviate from a system midway through a match, even if it plainly wasn't working, be that due to players struggling in unfavoured positions or opposing teams having found out a sure-fire method of defending against United's tactics.

The 2-2 draw with Rene Meulensteen's Fulham springs to mind, with Meulensteen labelling United's attacks "straightforward" in his post-match interview with the BBC.

The nous of knowing when a change is needed and the boldness to make the change are both traits that can decide the outcome of matches and perhaps separate the good coaches from the great.

Sir Alex Ferguson had these traits, and so does Van Gaal.

With Van Gaal having been away from club management since an ignominious exit from Bayern Munich in April 2011, there were question marks over his suitability to take the reins at Old Trafford.

Hhowever, his performance with the Netherlands thus far at this summer's World Cup has shown he still has the magic that made him one of the elite European coaches, leaving United supporters suitably excited at what is to come.


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