Louis van Gaal's Manchester United Reign Has Become Completely Untenable

Paul AnsorgeFeatured ColumnistFebruary 19, 2016

Louis van Gaal and his staff watch as United crumble in Denmark.
Louis van Gaal and his staff watch as United crumble in Denmark.Michael Regan/Getty Images

Manchester United's hardened travelling supporters made their feelings abundantly clear to Louis van Gaal and his players at the end of their 2-1 loss to FC Midtjylland on Thursday.

Using language that will not be repeated here for reasons that are fairly obvious given the nature of football chants, they bitterly criticised the team's performance—loud enough to be heard on the television broadcast .

That Van Gaal's reign has become untenable is pretty obvious. Back-to-back defeats against Sunderland and Midtjylland have come in the midst of an injury crisis, but nonetheless fans have every right to expect more than what is on offer.

The manager was adamant injuries had played a crucial part, citing "the Law of Murphy" and David De Gea's pre-match knock making him "the 14th [injured player]."

Of course, one of the reasons injuries have caused such ructions to United's fortunes this season is the small squad. On 18 December, 2015, he said, per Joe Mewis of the Mirror: "That’s also a strategy because you can also hold a big selection, but I think smaller selections are always better, because you can give chances to youth players. I have to say that, in my option, it’s the right way."

Of course, 14 injuries does speak to a level of misfortune—particularly the concentration of injuries in the full-back positions. However, Van Gaal's failure is on the verge of becoming complete.

And in truth, De Gea's absence was not particularly costly to United. Sergio Romero pulled off a couple of truly remarkable saves, without which the scoreline could have been even more embarrassing.

Romero in action.
Romero in action.Michael Regan/Getty Images

After the loss to Sunderland on Saturday, it was United's inconsistency that was once again in the spotlight. 

This time around, it was another of Van Gaal's failings that shone through: The dismal record away from home in Europe.

That record stands at played five, won one, drawn one and lost three. The only win was a Champions League playoff game against an average and injury-hit Club Brugge who went into the game with an aggregate deficit of 3-1.

And this game also drew further attention to Van Gaal's most obvious shortcoming as United manager: His inability to bring together a functional attack. Admittedly, this was a team without Wayne Rooney, but United's attack has been dismal often enough with Rooney in the side for it to be pretty obvious this was not the main problem.

United trudge off.
United trudge off.HENNING BAGGER/Getty Images

When Sheffield United of League One came to Old Trafford in the third round of the FA Cup in January, they came within a whisker of holding the Red Devils to a draw. And their performance in doing so was hardly one for the ages. They were reasonably well organised and compact in defence. That was all it took to nullify United.

Midtjylland's defence did not need to be anything like an impenetrable wall of resilience to stop Van Gaal's side's penetration in its tracks.

Juan Mata was ineffective at No. 10. Jesse Lingard missed a key chance from wide on the right. Anthony Martial was unable to twist and turn his way through the defence with enough end product. Memphis Depay scored—a rare ray of hope for both him and United—but all in all it was much ado about not much.

And as for the goals United conceded, from Michael Carrick's misplaced pass opening up the opportunity for the first to Juan Mata's dismal attempted challenge for the second, United's downfall was clearly of their own making.

It is hard to know where the side can go from here under Van Gaal. United's hierarchy have thus far remained steadfast in their refusal to act, but surely they cannot be relying on the footballing equivalent of a miracle recovery at this point. Perhaps the coming hours, days or weeks will bring about a significant change to the status quo.

Will a change come soon?
Will a change come soon?Jens Dresling/Associated Press

For now, though, United fans will seek refuge in the gallows humour and anger that was expressed from the terraces—or rather, the £71 seats—in Denmark. There is little else to salvage from what is becoming a truly dismal season.