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Tuesday 12 December 2017

John Giles: Why Mourinho has a lesson for Louis

Louis van Gaal, manager of Manchester United
Louis van Gaal, manager of Manchester United

LOUIS van Gaal would not take kindly to the suggestion that he can find a way out of his current dilemma by copying Jose Mourinho.

Two egos of that size can barely fit in the same room but there was a time when Mourinho learned at Van Gaal's feet and he has often been described as the Dutchman's pupil.

I would reckon that Van Gaal has always taken the view that anything worth saying is more likely to come from his own mouth than another and that he is the best judge of how a football team should play.

That's a strength if he's right about his vision and will never be anything less but if he's wrong, it becomes an obstacle to progress.

The reason I am suggesting that Van Gaal should study Mourinho is wrapped up nicely in the midweek game at Stamford Bridge, an absolutely crunch fixture for Chelsea in a big week for the Premier League.

EXCELLENT

Liverpool set the tone with an excellent win over Spurs which shook up the battle for third and fourth and if Everton could carve out a result against Chelsea, Manchester City's chase would become much easier.

So there was a lot at stake and even more when Everton managed to dig in and hold the game scoreless right up the dying moments. Mourinho desperately needed a goal but his response to that imperative was so much different to anything we have seen from Van Gaal since the season began and it would be profitable for the Dutchman to sit down and analyse the final 15 minutes of that game for some tips on how to proceed. I'm not sure Van Gaal has the humility to take instruction but he would learn something from Mourinho's approach. What he would see is a football team playing football.

He would see a group of players given self-belief and encouragement to do the right things by the manager and to keep doing the right things even when the pressure cranks up - in fact, particularly when the pressure boils over.

Gareth Barry blew a great position for Roberto Martinez with a typically lazy foul which earned him a second yellow card.

There was a lot of pushing, shoving and in Branislav Ivanovic's case, a head-lunge and in that kind of situation, instinct often leads you into rash acts and a loss of concentration.

Mourinho's response to a situation in which many would panic was reflected in the way his players kept playing, kept looking for the goal that would keep them secure at the top of the table. At no point did Chelsea lump the ball long. At no stage did Mourinho consider throwing big men into the Everton penalty area and humping the ball into them looking for a lucky break or a friendly head.

The manager gives that to a team and really good ones embed their own absolute conviction that they should win every game in the players they work with. It becomes the team habit and it worked for Chelsea against Everton.

Van Gaal's instinct to play the ball long looks a lot like panic but I can't say with any certainty that his "process" is fully embedded and working properly at Old Trafford. As I said earlier this week, the signs are not good.

I was amazed when he gave a dissertation on the long ball which he backed up with statistics to counter Sam Allardyce's claims. Paul Scholes summed it up well when he labelled the move as "bizarre".

PRESSURE

Van Gaal seems very sensitive at the moment and that can only be because he is feeling pressure of some kind. He looked baffled by the boos which he heard after beating Burnley in midweek but he shouldn't be.

Most of the people watching have very recent memories of a master at work and expect a certain standard. Even Van Gaal cannot argue that his team is playing with any real fluency and sometimes, results are not enough.

He is a pragmatic man and to some degree, I am not surprised by the fact that he would be puzzled by dissent from Manchester United fans. After all, he is well-placed to deliver Champions League football in a season which was always going to be a transitional experience for players, manager and the club.

As he would see it, he inherited a squad which was riddled with injuries and battered by a steep fall from grace and is engaged in the work of rebuilding.

But his squad is hardly so lacking in talent that he is forced to follow Giovanni Trapattoni's blueprint for success with Ireland which allowed no room for imagination, relied heavily on the long ball and in his mind, made things simple for players who couldn't be trusted with independent thought.

Ultimately, that's what the long ball is all about. It is the manager's lack of trust in himself and his players made visible - even if it is a temporary means to an end.

What concerned me most of all about his midweek statistical exploration of the long ball was his assertion that he had proved that Manchester United did not engage in anything so crude.

If something quacks, it's most likely a duck and I think any fair-minded football supporter looking at Manchester United since the season started would reach the conclusion that the team Van Gaal puts out on the pitch has used the long ball as a crutch.

The fact that he claims that his team is without sin, when it is so patently obvious that he is talking rubbish, no matter how many statistics he produces, would be a cause for alarm if I owned a season ticket for Old Trafford.

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