Man United: Now We'll See Extent Of 'Crisis'

David Moyes failed the test so completely that it's impossible to know what are between deep-seated faults at United. Now we get to see a proper boss take over...

Last Updated: 12/08/14 at 14:46 Post Comment

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Manager Louis van Gaal of Manchester Uni

Manager Louis van Gaal of Manchester Uni

LAST SEASON
Premier League
7th, 64pts, +21 GD Champions League Quarter-finalists FA Cup Third round League Cup Semi-finals Community Shield Winners Top league scorer Wayne Rooney 17 Bookings 72 (fourth) with three red cards

Manager Louis van Gaal (since June 2014; age 63) Odds on being first out of his job 33-1 (15th=)

Players in Luke Shaw (Southampton, £30m+), Ander Herrera (Athletic Bilbao, £28.8m), Vanja Milinkovic (FK Vojvodina, undisc, loaned back)

Players out Alexander Buttner (Dynamo Moscow, £4.4m+), Patrice Evra (Juventus, £1.2m+), Bebe (Benfica, £2.25m), Jack Barmby (Leicester, free), Federico Macheda (Cardiff, free), Nemanja Vidic (Inter, free), Louis Rowley (Leicester, free), Rio Ferdinand (QPR, free), Ryan Giggs (retired; to coaching role)

Club turnover in 2012-13 £363m, 1st

Wage bill in 2012-13 £181m, 2nd

With Sir Alex Ferguson around, it was never really the neighbours who were noisy. After a season in which David Moyes grew ever more mute, whatever happens with Louis van Gaal, Old Trafford is not going to be a quiet place.

We cannot tell how the succession to Ferguson would have preceded had the Scot chosen a heavyweight rather than a middleweight with a glass jaw last year, but we should receive some straighter answers this season as to the strength of his legacy. Moyes failed the test so completely that it can be difficult to distinguish between deep-seated faults and those that would be manageable in more capable hands.

Whatever the pain and embarrassment of a lost season, Van Gaal arrives far stronger than he would have done a year ago. Now he is seen as the potential answer to the problems of a squad who have just finished seventh rather than the regrettable consequence of the march of time, taking over a team of champions. This gives him the freedom to weed out weak links rather than having all his decisions on players seen as questioning Ferguson's judgment. Naming Ryan Giggs as his assistant adds to his legitimacy, not that the abrasive Dutchman cares too much. He is here to do a job and he will do it how he wants until told he is not welcome anymore, but quiescence elsewhere - fans, dressing room, media - buys him time.

The transfer window, despite the arrival of Luke Shaw and Moyes target Ander Herrera, has been mostly about departures; one wonders what Van Gaal thinks of Ed Woodward. Those leaving include Fergie legends, such as Giggs and Rio Ferdinand; his successes, such as Patrice Evra and Nemanja Vidic; and his failures, such as Bebe and Alexander Buttner. And then there is a player who has been part of the Fergie fable, turns 23 later this month, and is consigned to history, in Federico Macheda.

Part of Fergie's genius was to prise the best from players, even for a moment or three, even if he could not find a way for them to sustain their form, even if they were stars starting to creak. Look at Javier Hernandez, at risk of cut-price sale four seasons after he scored 20 goals in his maiden United campaign. Or consider Giggs, from whom he coaxed fine performances right up to the end. Everyone played better, individually and collectively, under Ferguson.

Moyes lacked this alchemic ability, among others. Van Gaal is certainly capable of inspiring performances, though his career includes signal failures such as not reaching the 2002 World Cup with Holland. Still, the Dutchman should outperform that particular Scot.

The season after Fergie was always going to be a watershed for Manchester United but few imagined how far they would fall. After winning 4-1 at Swansea in their opening game, United picked up three points only once in their next five games and, despite a couple of winning runs, they never really recovered or found the kind of groove for which they were so long renowned. Going out of both domestic cups at Old Trafford to struggling opponents in January made matters worse, and though they recovered to reach the quarter-finals, the defeat at Olympiakos in the first leg of the Champions League last 16 was atrocious. The pathetic home defeats to Liverpool and Manchester City in March were unlike anything Old Trafford had seen in decades. It is worth the rehearsal of these events just to spell out how easily Van Gaal can improve on Moyes's record.

There were also 15 more bookings and two more red cards than in 2012-13. Was it a question of United simply becoming dirtier, or of officials losing their fear of a rebuke from one of the game's great tempers? Probably it was neither, but rather a combination; Van Gaal cannot hold officials in the same thrall as his predecessor-but-one, though no doubt he will be forthcoming in his views.

Pre-season has been bright, with a victorious US tour including the Soccerball final against Liverpool. As we turn to the real action, United kick off the entire season on Saturday lunchtime, with Swansea the visitors to Old Trafford, before trips to Sunderland on the second Sunday and promoted Burnley at lunchtime on August's final Saturday. Harry Redknapp brings his play-off winners to Old Trafford on the Sunday after the international week and seven days later United fans can listen to chants of "we are the champions" as they visit Leicester. September concludes with a 3pm Saturday game against West Ham.

It is as easy a programme for Van Gaal to kick off with as he could imagine - arguably too easy, in fact, with Everton, Chelsea, Man City and Arsenal among the following six opponents. A year ago Moyes sounded one of his many bum notes by suggesting his trickier start was because of some sort of bias, rather than just luck. And Van Gaal may well have preferred at least one more significant test of his players before the transfer window closes.

The defence has lost Evra, Vidic and what was left of Ferdinand, experience that cannot be bought. Wayne Rooney remains consistent in his inconsistency, despite the astronomical and lengthy contract he signed last season. Robin van Persie is showing strains. Giggs can only impart advice. There is still much deadwood for Edward Woodward (sorry...) to tackle. And do not forget the strength of the opposition: all last season's top four will believe they have enhanced their squads, and have grounds for that belief if Liverpool are able to ride out the loss of Luis Suarez with improvements elsewhere.

With such an easy start, United should be up among the leading group or atop it in early October. But only late autumn and winter will tell us whether the new manager can pull off a quick fix or if a longer Van haul is required.

Philip Cornwall

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Readers' Comments

S

terling needs to be told though that upon entering the Arsenal squad he will re-enact the final scene from Highlander where he will be thrown around a warehouse by cartoon dragons and then be a mere mortal that will only ever spend three to four weeks a season playing football and the rest on the physio's bed. There can be only one.....player available at The Emirates.

rodger's gusset
Arsenal interest in Sterling

T

he game changed in our favour when Carrick came on. We were able to play further up the pitch due to having a player who can give and go with the ball and keep possession. Yet barkley made some runs and Townsend scored a good goal but carrick's inclusion and chiellini's withdrawal made the biggest difference to the flow of the game

ricky villa
Hodgson: Barkley was brilliant

N

o, you've not silenced anyone Andros, i'm afraid. We know you can score a great goal, and it's really handy to have your direct running and willingness to shoot on the bench. But until you can do the other things expected of a winger (beat the man, put a decent cross in, stay wide etc) then you can't expect more than a regular cameo. Wonderful goal though, what a hit! No wonder Buffon wanted the shirt.

badwolf
Townsend: I've silenced critics

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