In Depth

Man Utd revolt over Louis van Gaal's tactics

Criticism grows after manager's placing of players results in defeat to Tottenham Hotspur

Van Gaal: Giggs hailed as successor at Man Utd

25 January

The knives are well and truly out for Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal after another disastrous defeat - this time to Southampton - prompted outright rebellion in the Old Trafford stands.

It was Charlie Austin, making his Saints debut, who felled United and quite possibly Van Gaal. The former QPR striker, who arrived at Southampton for just £4m earlier this month, was inexplicably left unmarked in the box and headed past goalie David de Gea to earn his side a 1-0 win and plunge United into crisis.

The statistics being thrown around to damn Van Gaal include the fact that his team have not scored in the first half of a home game since September and are now three points worse off than under David Moyes at this stage of the season two years ago.

But the biggest problem is the club's style. "United are a baffling team to watch," says the Daily Telegraph, adding that "one moment" in the first half summed up the fans' frustrations – winger Jesse Lingard about to break after a Southampton corner but instead checking his run and passing backwards.

"Such risk-free football is anathema to an Old Trafford crowd brought up on the thrills of Best, Law and Charlton, of Giggs, Cantona and Kanchelskis, of Ronaldo and Rooney," says the newspaper.

United have no "sparkle" and no longer frighten their opponents, writes Telegraph columnist Harry Redknapp. "Nobody was really that surprised when Southampton went there and won, which tells you everything about the current United squad.

"They are top six material but that's about it. They've got nobody special, no exciting individuals and nobody that can change the game, like a Ryan Giggs, or control the game like Paul Scholes used to do every week."

After Saturday's match, Van Gaal delivered a message that "seemed close to a parting statement", reports The Times. He appeared to apologise for failing to meet the "great expectations" of the supporters and the paper believes Jose Mourinho is now primed to take over. Reports of a "love letter" to United over the weekend may have been exaggerated, but a deal is on the cards.

"United are understood to have held talks with Mourinho's camp about the former Chelsea manager replacing Van Gaal next summer, but the situation could be brought to a head sooner if results continue to deteriorate and the Dutchman is sacked or walks away."

Not everyone is convinced that would be a good move. The Portuguese was once seen as the "wrong sort" at Old Trafford, says Oliver Kay of the Times, and things have not changed that much.

"Can a club whose legend is built on youth and a cavalier spirit really afford to appoint a manager whose success story has been based around short-termism and functional football?" he asks. "United should aspire to something more enduring and more appealing than the short-term, pragmatic approach that Mourinho embodies."

Perhaps, suggests Kay, the answer lies closer to home.

"United have spent time wondering whether they have, in Ryan Giggs, their own [Pep] Guardiola – a home-grown club legend who, having won so much with them as a player, can do likewise as a manager. That has always felt like a nice theory, but the more you look at United under Van Gaal, the more it feels as if Giggs could not fail to engineer an uplift."

Manchester United: pressure grows on Louis van Gaal

14 January

Manchester United may have found their scoring boots this week but manager Louis van Gaal is still flirting with the sack and defeat against Liverpool at Anfield at the weekend could seal his fate.

United finally delivered the exciting football their fans have been calling for on Tuesday, when they drew 3-3 with Newcastle. But the Magpies' last-minute equaliser was a massive blow as United slipped to sixth in the league and are now in danger of being left behind in the race for Champions League qualification.

And the under-pressure manager did himself no favours when he insulted a journalist from The Sun in the post-match press conference.

This all means there is even more than usual riding on United's grudge match with their bitter rivals at the weekend.

"Defeat by Liverpool would present the gravest test yet of the faith in Van Gaal of Ed Woodward, the United executive vice-chairman, and the Glazer family, the club’s owners," says The Times.

So far, Van Gaal has retained the faith of the Old Trafford hierarchy, but "patience will erode if there is a serious threat over the coming weeks to the club's minimum target of a top-four finish," adds the newspaper.

"The Liverpool game is the first in a series of forbidding fixtures that will have far-reaching repercussions for Van Gaal's future and potentially United's prospects of finishing in the top four," it continues.

There is little doubt Van Gaal knows what is at stake - and there was more evidence that he is feeling the heat after the Newcastle game.

The Dutchman, who had rounded on the media before Christmas over speculation he could be replaced by Jose Mourinho, this time confronted journalists who had criticised Wayne Rooney prior to the match, in which he provided two goals and an assist.

As he walked out of the press conference, Van Gaal turned and pointed at one of the assembled reporters, calling him "fat man".

Footage of the incident has since emerged online, prompting the journalist - Neil Custis of The Sun - to pen a withering response.

A knee operation had stopped him running and going to the gym, he said, adding: "That has resulted in me putting on nearly two stone. But I am trying to get it all off by having a dry January and calm February and a personal trainer.

"At least I can hold my hand up to my own failings. Shame others can't."

Pochettino 'the one to rebuild Man United'

12 January

Manchester United travel to Newcastle this evening for a match that could determine the fate of manager Louis van Gaal.

The Dutchman's position at Old Trafford is under intense scrutiny despite - or maybe because of - victory over Sheffield United in the FA Cup at the weekend.

The match marked a nadir for the season, with United scraping past their League One opponents thanks to a 93rd-minute penalty.

It was a performance met with scorn from fans and unless Van Gaal can inspire his team to produce some exciting football at St James' Park, demands for his head could reach a crescendo.

The latest pundit to twist the knife is former United striker Michael Owen, who says the brand of football Van Gaal has peddled this season is alien to United's culture.

"Manchester United are a special team like Liverpool, Barcelona and Real Madrid. You can't just come in and play your way. You have to play the United way," he told the Daily Mail. "What we're watching at the moment is not Manchester United's DNA. We're watching something else. It's not the brand of Manchester United and all that it stands for."

Van Gaal admitted that he, like the fans and pundit Paul Scholes, had found himself "bored" by the team at times this season. It is an admission that would have been "inconceivable" when he was appointed 18 months ago, writes Daniel Taylor of The Guardian.

United have not scored a first-half goal at Old Trafford in ten games and the renowned Theatre of Dreams has seen a grand total of just 16 Premier League goals this season, making it the dullest in the top flight.

"At Europe’s other superpowers, Van Gaal would almost certainly have lost his job after what has been, for United, the worst run in a quarter of a century," says Taylor.

That may still happen, says James Ducker of The Times. "Defeat against Newcastle United at St James' Park tonight would serve only to deepen the uncertainty over his future," he says.

At his press conference yesterday, Van Gaal defied his critics and insisted his side was being undermined by the defensive tactics of their opponents. But it does not wash.

"Defiance can be a potent ally in the eye of a crisis, but there are times when bloody-mindedness can also stray into the realms of delusion," says Ducker. "Van Gaal has maintained repeatedly that he is open to change, to new ideas, to trying different things, but nothing ever seems to change."

His position is made weaker by the managerial merry-go-round, says the Daily Mail. Jose Mourinho is out of work, Pep Guardiola wants to work in England next season and Van Gaal's assistant Ryan Giggs could also take over.

However, the Daily Telegraph believes there is an even better candidate in the form of Tottenham Hotspurs manager Mauricio Pochettino.

Spurs are "a club and a team currently executing clear elements of the football philosophy for which Manchester United became famous", says Jeremy Wilson of the Telegraph. "It is hard to think of many better candidates for the United job if Guardiola really is out of contention.

"The pressing style of football that [Pochettino] introduced at Southampton and now Tottenham Hotspur comes with an intensity that bares legitimate comparison to Guardiola’s core principles at both Barcelona and Bayern Munich. Another Pochettino hallmark at both Southampton and Tottenham has been his bravery in backing young talent to thrive.

"The bottom line, though, is simply that Pochettino has now spent three years in English football and had two clubs punching above their financial weight. Van Gaal is in his second year at United and there is still no sign of his team delivering anything like value for the budget he has enjoyed."

Scorn for Man Utd boss Van Gaal – and spare a thought for Giggs

11 January

Manchester United limped into the fourth round of the FA Cup thanks to an injury time penalty against Sheffield United, but the scrappy manner of the victory only served to increase the pressure on manager Louis van Gaal.

In the absence of any meaningful action during the match, which finished 1-0 to the Premier League side, the focus after the game was on United's dire form and the future of their manager.

It was the tenth successive match at Old Trafford in which the team have failed to score in the first half and even the eventual victory failed to calm the anger of the fans. United did not have a shot until after the hour mark and it was not until even later that they managed one on target. The goal, when it came, was a 93rd minute penalty.

"If it is possible to experience embarrassment in victory, Saturday at Old Trafford was about the closest one can get," says James Ducker in The Times. "Wins can paper over cracks but this one failed to kid anybody."

The fans' reaction to the performance was "scornful and sarcastic", he says, and it is unclear how long the manager can continue.

"Ennui is indeed the prevailing emotion emanating from this United squad," says Jamie Jackson of The Guardian. "The Van Gaal factor becalms his players and the fans who pay a sizeable amount to watch them."

Former United star turned TV pundit Paul Scholes renewed his criticism of Van Gaal, claiming that even United's players looked "bored" during the game.

At least Scholes can console himself with the fact he is not responsible for the display. But spare a thought for his old friend and team-mate Ryan Giggs, says Ducker of the Times.

The dazzling winger, who once treated Old Trafford to some of the most thrilling football of the modern era, is now assistant manager at United. But he "wears a permanently pained, ashen expression" as he sits alongside Van Gaal in the dugout.

"The anaemic football Van Gaal is serving up goes against everything the Welshman stands for and if he is pleading for a more adventurous line-up, those calls are falling on deaf ears," adds Ducker.

But is the "vitriolic criticism" of United valid? Luke Edwards of the Daily Telegraph is not sure. "Regardless of the quality of the opposition, or how it was secured, Manchester United achieved what they set out to do in a competition that is renowned for depriving giants routine victories over weaker opposition," he notes.

United have been short of goals and have not played well, but Van Gaal is "fighting to save his job because former players and many supporters are bored of watching his team stick stubbornly to a patient, possession-based approach", argues Edwards.

"Manchester United are unbeaten in three games, by the way, and could win a major trophy in May," he adds.

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