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What Next for Louis Van Gaal?

Louis Van Gaal has so far had a relatively bitter-sweet spell as manager of Manchester United. Looking at the 1-0 defeat to Southampton in last weekend’s lunchtime kickoff, his team seems to have hit new low ebb, albeit at a time when they seem to be turning a corner. What should Louis Van Gaal do next to reposition United for a title fight, or save his season at least?

There are three points in which Manchester United are evidently lacking in; tactical stability, motivation and defence. This season, we’ve seen a series of formations being employed by Louis Van Gaal but the one that has raised more eye brows is the 3-5-2. Though frequently employed in the Serie A and other European leagues, it is of popular belief that a three-man backline cannot succeed in the English game due to the space left in-behind the wing backs being exploited by pacy wingers. It also lacks the required fluidity to deal with the high tempo and dynamism of most Premier League teams. However, the Dutch tactician has used this setup to varying levels of success this season. Most notable is the stark contrast between an impressive 2-1 win against Arsenal earlier in the season and a woeful 1-0 loss last weekend against Southampton, both of which were played at Old Trafford. Surely, if United are to make progress this season, Van Gaal needs to revert to a traditional four-man back line which appears to be more comfortable to his current crop of defenders.

Motivation had been another key issue for the team. Apart from the unbeaten spell of December, the team sometimes look bereft of ideas. Against Southampton, it was quite appalling. Not having a single shot on target in an entire game is simply not good enough irrespective of the fact that they were playing against the league’s best defence. Seeing Di Maria being taken off for Fellaini did not help either as it gave more belief to the visitors. Falcao could have made a bigger impact of rousing spirits and changing the game but was left out of the match day squad entirely, though that is an issue for another day. The Red Devils need to pick themselves up quickly and Van Gaal will need to find new ways of doing so or risk being left behind by rivals.

The defence is not as assured as it used to be in yesteryears, and the likes of Chris Smalling and Johnny Evans had failed to live up to the expectations placed upon them by predecessors. The number of injuries that United have suffered this season has not helped either, especially to the back line. Van Gaal still needs one more defensive signing in January to help his cause. It’s quite nice to see youngsters like Paddy McNair and Tyler Blackett getting first team chances, but can they deliver in the big and crucial games, against forwards like Aguero, Costa and Sanchez? It’s an emphatic no. Some of the kids can be shipped off on loan to make space for a new signing. United need one more defender, a vocal leader on the pitch to guide the younger ones. Mats Hummels looks good for that profile.

With comparison with previous manager David Moyes showing that United haven’t really improved by leaps and bounds, its high time Van Gaal does the simple things in the simple way. His massive ego and desire to display his tactical nous is not helping either. Simply playing his best players in their most comfortable positions and motivating instead of placing pressure on his team can be all that is needed to bell the proverbial cat.

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