Van Gaal must work his magic

Van Gaal must work his magic

The time for talking is over. Louis van Gaal has told us what a good manager he is, how experienced he is and how much as he has won at so many clubs.

Now the talking must stop and the work must begin.

For all the optimism and goodwill, Manchester United are in a dangerous position, outside of the Champions League places and facing a real fight to get back in.

To win that battle, they will have to finish ahead of Manchester City and Chelsea, two well-financed, settled and experienced squads with little in the way of obvious vulnerabilities.

They will have to finish above Liverpool and Arsenal, two exciting, confident sides with beloved managers and the potential to match anyone.

They may even have to scrap it out with Tottenham and Everton, two more modestly funded outfits that nonetheless finished above them last season. This will not be easy.

Frankly, the squad are not good enough and van Gaal knows it.

If he wants to play with three at the back, he'll need more than Chris Smalling, Jonny Evans and Phil Jones.

The encouraging performances of Tyler Blackett in pre-season are some consolation for a severely understaffed department. Even if they do bring in reinforcements, it will take time to settle into the new shape.

There is nothing inherently wrong with a back three, indeed it's one of the most popular shapes in Serie A, but such dramatic shifts in tactics rarely come without teething problems.

In midfield, the addition of Ander Herrera is a huge step forward for the club. The lack of a dynamic central force has cost United dearly over the past five years, particularly in Europe.

ASTONISHING

It remains an astonishing state of affairs that one of the biggest clubs in the world were still relying on Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes deep into their thirties, and slightly beyond in Giggs' case.

It is no less surprising that the wretched Anderson was given so many chances to fail to live up to his potential.

Darren Fletcher has been one of the stars of pre-season and even rival supporters wouldn't begrudge him a full recovery from his health problems, but more reinforcements may be required.

United are strongest in the final third where Juan Mata, Shinji Kagawa and perhaps Adnan Januzaj can all play in the No. 10 role, while Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck and Wilfried Zaha look set to play up front.

It is the role of Rooney that is most intriguing. Though there were fears that Rooney would be isolated or overlooked by van Gaal, the Dutchman appears to have gone in the opposite direction, playing with two up front and speaking warmly about his talents.

Rooney relishes a challenge and will be keen to impress. If all goes well, this could be the encouragement he needs to once again find his best form.

Van Gaal himself has warned that it will take his team three months to settle under his leadership, but much will depend on results during those first three months.

A slow start will intensify the pressure on the new management team, even more so given van Gaal's confidence and the speed with which he makes enemies in the press.

Last season, 79 points were required for fourth place, a total that is often enough to win the title itself. With the quality at the top of the division so high, there won't be much margin for error.

Van Gaal was quite obviously the best choice for United.

He, unlike his predecessor David Moyes, has the ego and the personality for the role. He is an excellent manager, but this is not an excellent squad.

This is a massive salvage operation and, given the huge disadvantages for teams outside of the Champions League, the pressure could not be any higher.

United messed up the succession of Sir Alex Ferguson. They cannot afford to mess up again.


This article was first published on August 14, 2014.
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