Louis van Gaal's latest claims seem bizarre given how poor Manchester United have been during his reign. When addressing the media after the Red Devils' capitulation at Anfield on Thursday, he said of his approach, per the Mirror:
I think it’s working because you have to see how it works, with circumstances it has to work. When you don’t have many players [because of injuries] and have to play in three competitions, it’s difficult to play.
But you are now very negative. So you think that when you see this game [the Liverpool defeat] that it is for all the season that we have played like that?
It’s not giving the best results, but I think it’s working—yes. The style is also working—yes.
It would be fascinating to know whether Van Gaal genuinely believes this or whether he is saying it as part of his oppositional relationship with the press corps covering United. If it is the latter, then it is deeply misguided given how much negative feeling it has caused toward him among United's fans.
If it is the former, then either his standards have dropped to hitherto unimaginable levels or he is seeing subtleties and nuances that are not clear to the wider public or those covering the game. It is not just the results that have been terrible, but it has also been the performances.
Oliver Kay @OliverKayTimes
A truly excruciating statistic about Van Gaal's #MUFC in @TimesSport today https://t.co/dwLuCnnCdr https://t.co/NuPWC4jlor3/12/2016, 8:38:56 AM
Oliver Kay of the Times pointed out "United have managed one or zero shots on target in no fewer than eight of their past 30” league games and “six of the past 21." For historical context, he added that in Sir Alex Ferguson's last 10 seasons in charge—380 league games—that happened just 15 times.
There have been the seven 0-0 draws this season. Only the most adamant Van Gaal enthusiast—or Van Gaal himself—would suggest United deserved better in many of those games.
His latest claim, that United are still "in three different competitions" and "still have the chance to win something," per the Guardian, is technically accurate. However, there has been nothing about Van Gaal's tenure at Old Trafford to suggest he has built a side that can succeed at the key moment.
It is also perhaps worth pointing out that one of the competitions he cited United are still in is the Premier League. In what sense the Red Devils are still "in" that particular competition is unclear.
The meek surrender to Liverpool at Anfield might not have represented every game under Van Gaal, but it has represented enough of them for his claim “the style is also working” to be absolutely infuriating.
Incidentally, one of his key themes has been to blame injury and the impact of his squad size on the team's form. He said, per the Guardian: "I have to always keep changing the team, I have been unable to play the same lineup in many matches because of injuries or tired players. When you are in three competitions and you don’t have too many players it is difficult."
A reasonable complaint, though it is because of the manager's own choice that the squad is so small. Indeed, he has been perfectly open about it.
In February, he said, per the Manchester Evening News: "I have a philosophy, for example, that I don't want a great or wide squads, because then you cannot give youngsters a chance and now you see a lot of youngsters who can show their quality and you can also win, but it's a big risk."
It is a big risk, which, like Van Gaal's approach, is not paying off.
United have been bad in the same way so often this season, dull, blunt and entirely devoid of joie de vivre. The results have been considerably below par, and the manner in which they have been achieved has been—for the most part—unimpressive.
United are 11th in the league for shots per game and 12th for shots on target, per WhoScored.com. They have scored the ninth-most goals in the division. It is not a series of freak results that have them sitting in sixth place. Rather, that is a pretty accurate representation of the effectiveness of their football across the season.
They may still be in two cup competitions—for now—but they are out of two others. Their UEFA Europa League place is only theirs thanks to their UEFA Champions League failure, and their League Cup run was ended by a Championship side, Middlesbrough.
His defence of his position is understandable, but it is way out of sync with the experience of those watching on from the stands. It makes him seem divorced from the reality of the football his side is serving up.
There has been the odd bright spot, but those have been the exception. The performance against Liverpool was much closer to the rule.
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