herald

Monday 11 December 2017

Tinker man Louis van Gaal has stumbled onto the answer

Louis van Gaal
Louis van Gaal

AFTER many systems, much confusion and a serious amount of spoofing, Louis van Gaal has found a way for his team to play.

Surprise, surprise! By picking Michael Carrick, a midfielder, to play in midfield and a back four which was a back four and nothing else, van Gaal has stumbled on a formula which works.

When I say stumbled, I mean stumbled. I'm beginning to wonder whether van Gaal had any idea what he was doing up to now.

He was playing defenders in midfield, strikers in midfield, wingers in defence and I'm sure I've forgotten some of the other permutations.

How could Manchester United look coherent in any way when he was fiddling around so much?

In the end, it was nothing to do with tactical thinking which provided an answer. It was common sense.

The most important factor in Manchester United's mini-surge in the last few weeks is attitude. Against Liverpool at Anfield, they had it in spades.

From the first whistle, they set about Liverpool in a way which demanded a response. When it didn't come, Manchester United were able to dominate in a way which has eluded van Gaal all season.

I have no doubt in my mind that players who are playing in their best positions will approach a game in a more positive frame of mind and Carrick was the perfect example.

no great fan

By bringing him into midfield, van Gaal suddenly had a man on the pitch who knew the position instinctively.

I'm no great fan of Carrick but he was working in the environment which suits him and has suited Manchester United for many years.

What concerns me - and has done so for a few months now - is the fact that van Gaal had to try so many things before he hit upon this.

This is a man who wants us to believe he is the best in the world and behaves as if he is. For that reason he will be assessed on that basis.

This was not rocket science. The players now delivering for him were at Old Trafford when he arrived. He has fussed and fiddled for six months before reaching conclusions he should have reached shortly after he took the job.

It will be interesting to see how closely can Gaal sticks to the shape which helped him beat Liverpool and but some clear daylight between himself and Brendan Rodgers in the race for Champions League football.

It was a huge win and buys van Gaal enough credit with the Glazer family and Manchester United's fans to continue with his project and I have no doubt, spend a lot more money in the coming summer.

It was an equally big defeat for Rodgers and his team. Like van Gaal, he has been doing a lot of chopping and changing before hitting on a way to play without Luis Suarez.

But I would suggest that it was attitude again and not tactics which made all the difference.

too clever

On Sunday, Rodgers tried to be far too clever when he picked Raheem Sterling as a wing-back. Back in November, moving him to play as the main striker helped lift Liverpool out of a slump.

But it was the change in self-belief which Rodgers was able to generate which stopped the rot. His players were hollowed out by the loss of Suarez and Steven Gerrard's decline.

Having Mario Balotelli around the place didn't help either.

Rodgers is a relentless, glass half full man. Before this game, he was talking about not just finishing fourth and hitting his Champions League qualification target but finishing second.

What possible profit was there for Rodgers in shooting his mouth off like that? He looked like a fool before and he certainly looked like one after the fixture.

Rodgers deserves credit for man management and thinking his way out of the problem but he used his mind far too much to plan for this match. Gerrard should have started. He's still the best midfielder at Anfield and Sterling is not a wing-back.

Gerrard got sent off because he was frustrated to distraction by what he was watching on the pitch. Not very professional but entirely understandable.

If Gerrard had a dream season in mind to end his time at Anfield, he knew from about October that fate had ordained a different scenario for him.

I've said it before and I'm convinced it's true. He would run out of Anfield right now if you offered him a way.

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