Tuesday 16 January 2018

John Giles: This is worst United team in memory

Van Gaal's philosophy a mystery after 16 months but Klopp knows what he wants

Manchester United’s manager Louis van Gaal (r) with his assistant Ryan Giggs after the Champions League match aginst PSV Eindhoven
Manchester United’s manager Louis van Gaal (r) with his assistant Ryan Giggs after the Champions League match aginst PSV Eindhoven
Manchester United’s Jesse Lingard wrestles with PSV’s Santiago Arias

This is a big thing to say but it's the truth. In all my time watching Manchester United in the modern era, I have never seen a performance as bad as the one they gave against PSV in the Champions League in midweek.

Never before have I seen so many at Old Trafford vote with their feet and leave early during a crunch Champions League fixture with their team drawing and a big prize still to claim if they could find a goal.

For the last 16 months, I've heard a great deal from Louis van Gaal about his football philosophy but I can put my hand on my heart and say without hesitation that I have no idea what it is.

I have no clue about the work he has been doing with his players over that time or what he is asking of them. By now, I should at least have an idea about where he wants to take the club but I do not.

I've heard plenty from van Gaal about how hard it is to "work with the brain", as if being a coach at a football club is like lecturing at a university when it is nothing of the sort.

He has created an image of a super-smart teacher, trying to implant ideas in the minds of unruly students and begged for time to do this great work because it's not easy.

Well, he has had time now and a lot of money.

We've had enough time to see how he wants his team to play and it's not looking good.


He has spent enough to be able to make a judgement on his ability to source and sign the right men and he's not smelling of roses on that front either.

So what is Van Gaal's philosophy? I honestly don't know but what I saw in what was, in my opinion, a complete collapse by his team against PSV, was the absence of basic and immutable principles of the game.

There are two linked principles which sum up the game I know and love and everyone has heard me underline them time and time again. I always go back to them. Where else would I go?

When you don't have the ball, make the best effort you can to get it back and when you have it, have the courage to play the right way no matter how loud the voices in your head are telling you to panic and hump it long.

In fact, three other familiar words will do if you're looking for the right way to describe the basics - honesty of effort.

The evidence of the manager's work is always visible on the pitch and over time a pattern will emerge.

It's not about tactics or about style. It's about attitude. The team will carry the stamp of the man whose job it is to put players on the pitch with a firm idea about how they will go about the task of winning football matches

By that measure, Van Gaal is a confused man who is failing to impart even the simplest principles to his players. If his message hasn't been absorbed by a group of professionals in 16 months, then there is something wrong with the message.

I'm still confused about this Dutchman although I have to admit, less and less as the weeks and months go by and that's not a good thing.

I'm sure there many Manchester United fans reading this who would point out the fact that their team can go top of the Premier League if they beat Leicester City and that even in Alex Ferguson's best days, there were times when they had to get a big result on the road in Europe.

The simple fact that Manchester United are chasing down Leicester is all you need to know about the standard in the Premier League this season and back in the day, Ferguson was usually able to use the last one or two Champions League group phase games as an arena for young lads to get their first taste of the biggest club competition in the world.

It is worth making a quick comparison with Jürgen Klopp here. I have no idea whether he will make a success of Liverpool but I do know that he has started the right way.

I can say without hesitation that his players are playing for him and that they are giving him the honesty of effort which he is looking for.

This is visible on the pitch. You can see the way Liverpool players start football matches. They are on the front foot and that comes from the boss.

It doesn't take brains to understand the dynamic at work at Anfield at the moment. People who watch the game every week recognise the rhythms of a team working well immediately.

They also know when it's not working and whatever van Gaal is doing on the training ground every day at Carrington is not working. It's as simple as that.

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