Van Gaal alone can’t mend Manchester United

Footballers should love and fear their manager in equal measure.

If that same boss is also able to earn respect with firm but fair discipline, as well as wowing his players with a dose of tactical genius, the team is usually onto a winner.

Ticking all of those boxes with a gold, bold and permanent marker, there is precious little the ‘Iron Tulip’ doesn’t know about extracting the very best from a group of top class footballers. On paper, the Dutchman appears to be the ideal guy to lead this season’s much-needed Old Trafford revolution.

The task in hand is troublesome, though.

He may be in charge of one of the world’s biggest clubs, but the uncompromising 62-year-old also inherits a team that lost the same number of home matches as relegated Norwich City last term (7), shipping three more goals than the Canaries in the process.

As reigning champions, their awkward slide down to seventh place, ending up 22 points behind raucous neighbours, City, was an abject humiliation. One heck of a repair job is required.

So, what’s it going to take to turn a shambles into a stellar cast of title contenders?

First, Van Gaal must solve the needlessly puzzling Van Persie/Rooney/Mata conundrum. Unless they’re injured or woefully out of form, it’s criminal not to play all three in the positions they revel in most. This means tweaking the system to suit his superstars. Manchester United, famed for their flying wingers and 4-4-2 under Sir Alex Ferguson, must try something new.

Playing Rooney or Mata out wide isn’t just a waste of their talent; it makes the team a defensive liability on the flanks too.

Whether the forever-tweaking ex-Holland coach opts for a 4-3-1-2 or a more radical 3-4-2-1 remains to be seen (he’ll likely try both), but if all three are picked, they should play in the positions they’re most effective in.

If the Iron Tulip doesn’t shape his side so that they can all flower, I’ll be astonished. You didn’t need to be an expert to note they were porous down their spine last season. Opponents exposed United’s soft centre over and over again, and the Dutch master won’t tolerate a repeat.

While the acquisition of talented playmaker Ander Herrera is a promising start, the Red Devils still desperately need a strong box-to-box midfield man (Arturo Vidal?) plus a physical enforcer to firm up the engine room. Behind them, with Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand now gone, two quality new centre-backs (one with bags of leadership skills) are also a must.

They can’t rely on what they have.

Failure to beef up these crucial central areas with the class of player that fans have come to expect, will dramatically restrict their new managers’ ability to make an impact.

With no Champions League football on offer, enticing the very best won’t be as easy as they imagine. There will be knockbacks. For this reason, the board has little option but to offer mindboggling sums by way of compensation. Providing they live up to their promise of supporting their boss with financial muscle, United will no doubt attract takers.

In Louis van Gaal, Manchester United has certainly employed a man that will supply his players with the right mental fortitude, tactical nous, and burning desire to bring back the good old days.

He’s excellent. They’ll be much, much better in 2014/15.

Good enough to win the Barclays Premier League? That, I wouldn’t put any football bets on. The gap they need to close is possibly too big.

Mind you, should the new gaffer get his ‘Fab Three’ firing, as well as significantly reinforcing his central midfield and defence, Manchester United will be extremely hard to keep out of the top four. And that, given last season’s horror show, should be seen as a significant and successful work in progress.









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