As the second international break of the 2014/2015 season allows Louis Van Gaal’s stars to travel across the world to represent their country in friendlies and Euro 2016 qualifiers, it provides the best opportunity for everyone to analyse how Manchester United have performed so far. Van Gaal arrived at Old Trafford in the knowledge that he faced one of the biggest challenges in his illustrious 23-year managerial career, with his World Cup heroics with Holland counting for little if he was unable to inject fresh confidence and life into a squad which does not appear as formidable as it has done in the past.
Being in charge of such an illustrious club also comes with the pressure of producing instant results on the pitch, and while there appears to be signs of gradual improvement performance-wise, Van Gaal has yet to produce the real impact many fans were hoping for. Manchester United are not the type of club to sack managers at the drop of the hat, and even the legendary figure of Sir Alex Ferguson was given time to turn the club’s fortunes around following a difficult spell, but pressure is gradually building on the Dutchman’s shoulders to deliver the goods. Although United were backed to win the Manchester derby, the 1-0 defeat illustrated that Van Gaal is faring no better than David Moyes who made a better start to life in the hotseat.
Where Moyes comes out on top
Many fingers were pointed in Moyes’ direction following his inability to put his ideas across to the players in a job that some argued was too big for him, but he may be justified in feeling let down by his players who performed well below their high standards throughout the forgettable 2013/2014 campaign. His disappointing spell at Manchester United does not make Moyes a bad manager overnight, and his return to football management with La Liga side Real Sociedad could be the best move to reignite his promising managerial career.
One achievement that Moyes can attest to is that he enjoyed a better start to the season than Van Gaal has, with recent statistics proving that the Scot comes out in top in almost every department. Prior to Manchester United’s fixture against Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium, Moyes had recorded 17 points at the same point of the season after 10 games – 4 more than Van Gaal has managed. The current manager has only enjoyed 3 Premier League victories compared to Moyes’ 5, and seen his team score one fewer with 16 despite spending almost £150 million during this summer’s transfer window. Moyes also comes out on top in terms of shots on target (48.15% to 43.93% under Van Gaal) and tackles won (84.43% to 73.26%), with one fewer goal conceded (13) and no red cards, indicating that Manchester United were more disciplined and better in defence. The only statistic which Van Gaal comes out on top in is pass completion rate with 85.83% slightly ahead of Moyes’ 84.43%; for the considerable outlay Manchester United made during the summer compared to the £27.5 million spent by Moyes on Marouane Fellaini, many would have expected United to fare much better in all departments.
Why Van Gaal is not in the firing line
Rafael Benitez once famously said that “you can prove anything with facts,” and this may be the only saving grace that prevents Van Gaal from coming under fire in the media and from Manchester United fans. The Opta statistics may indicate that Manchester United performed better under Moyes, but there are numerous mitigating factors which hide behind the reasons why Van Gaal has not enjoyed the same success.
It could be argued that Moyes had a much stronger squad to work with, while Van Gaal joined during a summer when Manchester United had lost their entire defensive core. The loss of Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra not only depleted the squad of defensive options, but also removed considerable experience and quality that Moyes was able to utilise during his first 10 games in charge. Moyes also inherited a squad that had just won the Premier League for the 20th time in their history, whereas Van Gaal had to pick up the pieces of a team low in confidence and form. The former Holland manager had no option but to spend a considerable amount of money in an effort to inject fresh quality throughout the team and make them formidable once again, although the only sticking point with the £149 million spent is why Van Gaal did not sign at least one commanding centre-back to eradicate Manchester United’s soft centre which continues to be exposed by every team they face.
There is no doubt that Van Gaal deserves time to implement his own tactics and stamp his own authority on the team to prove that statistic can often be misleading, but results have to improve – and quickly – before pressure begins to build.