Van Gaal in denial
MANCHESTER — Garry Monk had his first drop of alcohol in almost a year on Saturday evening, yet it was possible to imagine Louis van Gaal reclining with the same smug sense of a job well done.
Such can be the occasional madness of old king Louis, the Manchester United manager who is either desperate to spare his team from public criticism or blind to their glaring shortcomings.
Given his success at the top level, it seems highly unlikely to be the latter, though if he cannot see what most others can then a drama really will become a crisis. His assessment after losing 2-1 to Swansea was that United had been the “dominant team”. He was “amazed” they had lost having created “so many chances”.
When the points were relayed to Monk, who has twice got the better of Van Gaal this season, the rookie manager smiled and raised an eyebrow.
The truth is, United did not deserve to win. A defeat might have been a touch harsh in light of possession of more than 60 percent, but it was not “dominance”, as Van Gaal put it. Not even close. It was error-strewn, mistakes in all areas.
With Robin van Persie, who left the stadium on crutches, it might prove to be a costly defeat in more ways than one.
But Van Gaal did not see it that way. In his leather document wallet, one can imagine all manner of flattering numbers. He had already decreed last week that United were the “best team in the league” on form. Coming into this one they had lost just once in 19 games in all competitions.
But those numbers also hide performances that have often been sub-standard and unimaginative. He didn’t like Sam Allardyce’s barbs about United being a long-ball team, but when United were 2-1 down and desperate at Swansea, their play reverted largely to high balls to Marouane Fellaini. It did not work.
Another statistic — goals conceded — will show the 26 shipped by United amounts to the fourth-best defence in the Premier League. But again, it conceals the details of a backline requiring major investment.
Inside the first minute, Marcos Rojo gave the ball away and conceded a corner. Phil Jones then failed to mark effectively at the set-piece, allowing Bafetimbi Gomis a header that had to be cleared off the line. When Ki Sung-yueng levelled after Ander Herrera’s opener, it was because Luke Shaw was too slow responding to his run. Those are not the actions of a functioning defence.
And the rest? Van Gaal said United “created a chance every two minutes” in the second half. The truth is they had three shots on goal in the match and Swansea had six, including Gomis’s winner. Wayne Rooney was given his first league game in attack since December and offered little beyond enthusiasm.
Van Gaal still seems unsure of his best combinations, although the side has developed since opening the season with a 2-1 home defeat against the same side. United failed to build on superior possession that day, as well.
Monk enjoyed it, saying: “I probably haven’t had a drink in eight or nine months, so I will have a glass of red tonight.”
He has targeted a club record of more than 47 points. “We want to make a bit of history,” he said. For United, the only progress under Van Gaal has been a return to grinding out wins from mediocre performances. Will that be enough in remaining games against Tottenham, Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal?
You would assume they need to find an extra level if they are to finish fourth — the only number that truly matters to Van Gaal. Upcoming fixtures Feb 28: West Ham v Crystal Palace, Stoke v Hull, Manchester United v Sunderland, Newcastle United v Aston Villa, West Brom v Southampton, Burnley v Swansea.
March 1: Liverpool v Manchester City, Arsenal v Everton.
— Daily Mail
Swansea striker Bafetimbi Gomis shields the ball away from Manchester United defender Phil Jones on Saturday.