Cleat Geeks

Crystal Palace 0 Manchester United 0 : “The Main Factor Is We Don’t Keep The Ball” Louis Van Gaal

Louis_van_Gaal_2911698bIt was strange that Louis Van Gaal explained in an aftermatch interview with the BBC that the reason for Manchester United’s underwhelming 0-0 draw away at Crystal Palace on Saturday 31st October was “we don’t keep the ball” Why, you might wonder, was Van Gaal’s assessment of the match so strange?

It is simply because Van Gaal’s philosophy is all about possession, about retaining the ball and making short safe passes to fellow teammates. This style of play has become very evident in his second season in charge of Manchester United. Perhaps had United not been plagued with so many injuries last season it would have become more evident sooner.

However expressing “the main factor is we don’t keep the ball” was a tacit admission that on this day his philosophy did not work. To be fair, in the context of the match, it was not the only issue which did not please the Manchester United manager. Although Van Gaal still gives 100% support to Wayne Rooney this was another day when his leader and captain was, in a word, woeful.

Manchester United's Wayne Rooney celebrates after scoring a goal during the first leg of their Champions League quarter final soccer match against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in LondonThere is now a growing body of evidence that Rooney is in more of a slump than the Wall Street Crash of 1929. Taking Rooney out of the firing line for a match or two or three might serve United and Rooney well but there is little sign that Van Gaal is ready to displace his leader.

It would be wrong to put all the blame for this performance on the shoulders of Rooney. Too many of United’s other stars are not playing to their maximum potential at the moment. It can be argued that this match was typical of United’s season so far, in that there was little to get excited about and little that will live long in the memory. It was Palace who carved out most of the chances and Palace who could have won it at the end.

The United highlights were few and far between, a superb through ball from Martial put Rooney clear but the forwards lack of pace meant the Palace goalkeeper cleared the ball. Another Martial cross from the left wing saw Ander Herrera stretching and placing the ball wide of the right goal post. Interestingly Van Gaal made a point of mentioning the missed chance later on as if giving Herrera a warning that he must do better.

DavidGalluofMNot all is doom and gloom for Van Gaal at the moment as it appears he still has the backing of influential members of the United hierarchy past and present. David Gill formerly the chief executive of Manchester United was quoted as saying “Manchester United is clearly a club in transition I’m sure Louis Van Gaal is moving in the right direction.” Sir Alex Fergusson and Bobby Charlton also remain staunch advocates of Van Gaal, at least for the present.

As Van Gaal enters the second half of his three year contract he will know that those supporting voices will diminish should he not achieve one of the prizes at the end of the season. The FA Cup might realistically be the one Van Gaal is most likely to win, the premiership title and the Champions League are now outsiders in the three horse race.

It perhaps will be more of a concern to Van Gaal that the away supporters increasingly have been more vocal regarding the way they want to see United play. At Palace the chant of ‘attack, attack, attack’ rang round the ground as a counterpoint to the possession football that was on offer. There is no doubt that this proclamation will get stronger and more vigorous the longer match facts such as 80% possession but 0 goals remain the games final statistics.

As the next match of the Champions League play off games against CSKA Moscow comes steadily into view, Van Gaal and his Manchester United team need to find a way to turn possession into matches they end up winning. The Palace match was their third 0-0 draw in a row, something that has not happened for the Old Trafford unit in many years.

Whether there will be a change of personal ‘up front’ for a match United have to win to retain their chances of going through to the next group phase of the Champions League remains to be seen.

Old Trafford under the lights on European nights still has a magic all of its own but, as the late Walt Disney once remarked “the magic only happens because you believe”. Manchester United supporters will be hoping that under Van Gaal the magic can still happen and they will hope it will be evident on Tuesday night. That Van Gaal’s post match interview will be more about United’s attacking play and the quality of goals rather than “The Main Factor Is We Don’t Keep The Ball.”

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