Van Gaal in de­nial

Lesotho Times - - Sport -

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.

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