Louis van Gaal has warned Manchester United fans progress will be slow across his opening three months in charge.
The experienced Dutchman, whose influence has already dramatically altered the Red Devils' formation and approach to training, believes the squad will take time to adjust once competitive matches begin.
Van Gaal spoke prior to United's penalty shootout win over Inter Milan (see highlights below), their third straight victory of the summer after beating the LA Galaxy and Roma. David McDonnell of the Daily Mirror details the 62-year-old's comments:
Every club where I have been, I’ve struggled for the first three months. After that, they [the players] know what I want—how I am as a human being and also a manager, because I am very direct. I say things as they are, so you have to adapt to that way of coaching. It’s not so easy.
The new boss also noted he led Bayern Munich to "sixth or seventh" and third place in their Champions League group during his first three months in Bavaria, but a victory over Juventus turned things around. He pinpoints the need for "a way of playing that isn’t the same as before," something he describes as "difficult."
Van Gaal's honesty is refreshing and will certainly provide a jolt of realism to supporters who are expecting miracles right away. He isn't providing false pretenses after last season's seventh-place finish and makes it known that his way of doing things will take time to positively impact results on the pitch.
United remain unbeaten in Van Gaal's 3-5-2 formation, a lineup which best utilises the squad's talent. Jonny Evans, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling have worked well together so far, while United's attack is naturally on the front foot with two wing-backs energetically battling across the flanks.
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Playing two strikers also allows Wayne Rooney to take up his preferred position and brings Juan Mata into the team without sacrificing a duo of central midfielders. It's a demanding system, particularly for those working in wide areas, but it has provided United with an attacking edge during pre-season, something David Moyes' tactics totally ripped from the club during his reign.
Luke Shaw was recently ordered to train by himself after Van Gaal assessed he was in poor shape. The newly signed youngster, who is set to play left wing-back in the aforementioned system, suggests the manager's concerns are correct:
"It's something I totally agree with," said Shaw, per Sky Sports. "Playing in this formation you really have to be fit. I am fit but not at his high demands. I know I have got to get fitter to get up and down."
Van Gaal will be encouraged to see the 19-year-old respond positively to public criticism. It's this extra work and striving to be fitter that could make a difference to United's play throughout the season. Certain standards of sharpness and intensity must be met for the team to compete with England's best. Van Gaal's early work with the squad suggests no player can take anything for granted.
Shaw came on to put in an impressive shift against Inter, despite his extra workload, per McDonnell:
Van Gaal revealed Shaw wanted to play, despite having done a heavy training session prior to Man Utd's game #MUFC— David McDonnell (@DiscoMirror) July 30, 2014
An injury to Reece James allowed Shaw to play, and van Gaal said: "He is working very hard." #MUFC— David McDonnell (@DiscoMirror) July 30, 2014
United begin their quest to redemption with Premier League matches against Swansea, Sunderland, Burnley, Queens Park Rangers and Leicester, a run the club will want to negotiate without suffering defeat. Van Gaal's team head into the new campaign knowing they must restore Old Trafford's fear factor and show United's revered attacking style once more.
Many are expecting instant success, but Van Gaal knows as much as anyone this kind of fairytale isn't likely to materialize. Both he and his players have a challenging season ahead—a campaign in which improvement is more important than silverware—so his honesty will surely be appreciated.