There’s an eery silence lingering around the world of football punditry as the faces of Louis Van Gaal‘s critics turn an apt shade of red. And, as loud as the atmosphere was at Old Trafford on Sunday, the sound of a penny dropping echoed around The Theatre of Dreams. It’s very easy to get carried away in football, be that critically or complimentary, but there’s no doubt that the Dutchman is flying and United fans are enjoying the ride.
A thrilling Manchester Derby highlighted the obvious shift in direction from both sides as United plough on, full steam ahead, through a tough run of fixtures. All the while, Manchester City seemed to have derailed, desperately in need of an MOT.
United fans will argue that Liverpool is the biggest fixture in their footballing calendar and, whilst that may be true, the side that have posed the biggest threat to United in the past few years were utterly dismantled at the weekend, as an audible sigh of relief rippled through the Stretford End.
It’s common knowledge that Van Gaal is a tactician, a philosopher, an academic of the game. Each and every one of his players are vessels for his grand plan, drilled in the nuances of his philosophy.
Choice can be utterly debilitating and ‘freedom’, often seen as luxury, can become an unwanted hindrance. In being very explicit, Van Gaal has turned an open question into a multiple choice, and given every one his players the chance to show their ability without debilitating them with the burden of improvisation, of initiative, of just merely going out and playing football.
There was the feeling that every single one of the United players on the pitch at the weekend were van Gaal’s marionettes, following and executing his philosophy to create some wonderful football. A stark contrast from the disarray of last season, a season reliant on individuals, but a season ultimately hindered by a lack of coherency and cohesion.
Now, this Man United side aren’t reliant on the performance of one individual, but the holistic and organised approach of all 11.
The resurgence of Ashley Young, Marouane Fellaini, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones are indicative of that holistic team ethic that has been instilled. Rather than being isolated, expected to be all things to all men, they have specific roles. And, rather than second-guessing their colleagues, the base philosophy of Van Gaal gives a constant for which to fall back on, a base for which to re-find rhythm and regroup.
It’s often hard to entertain the notion that a bad situation was, quite possibly, the least worst. The cries of “if only” and “what if” are expected when you have a season as uncharacteristic as United had under David Moyes, but a sense of perspective has to be observed.
Rather than Van Gaal having to put lipstick on a pig, he’s managed to genetically modify it. The hunger and desire that has become apparent in response to such a poor offering has given him a springboard.
United going into the game against Chelsea on Saturday with a tailwind, brimming with confidence and completely assured of themselves. However, it may be time for Louis to look at making a change or two.
They made be in rude health, building up a head of steam and rolling along nicely, but if you leave oiling the machine until seizes up, you risk untold damage. United need to make sure that they keep opponents on their toes and Van Gaal needs to make sure that his players don’t get too comfortable. They may be winning as a unit but allowing those players to believe that they are completely indispensable would be a contradiction of his philosophy.
That said, United are more than capable of getting a result at Stamford Bridge. Van Gaal versus Mourinho. Master versus apprentice. There’ll be fireworks.