Up until the last two months, Louis van Gaal was making good progress with Manchester United.
He was brought in to steady the club after a disastrous era under David Moyes and he did precisely that. We were hard to beat, a well organised unit and have been improving – until recently.
The last 11 games dating back to October have seen us win only three times, draw 0-0 on no less than five separate occasions and fans have understandably begun to get extremely frustrated at the dull, unimaginative football which we have had to become used to.
Yet, the 3-2 loss to Wolfsburg showed a different United. In the knock-out conditions, we attacked with impetus and vigour for 90 minutes. Yes, we lost, but I arguably had more fun watching United lose 3-2 than I had done in previous games where we’ve drawn 0-0. At least there was something to get me to the edge of my seat, instead of a long drawn out 90 minute affair with about as much excitement as a party with James Milner.
After seeing that sort of attacking impetus, fans won’t settle for it if we revert to character and go back to 0-0 draws. We’ve seen first hand that our players are more than capable of playing attacking football, so it would be infuriating if van Gaal simply tasked the team to grind out mundane draws again with uninspiring football.
With Chris Smalling, Matteo Darmian and Luke Shaw out, van Gaal has lost three of the four defenders who have all been crucial at points this season, Smalling more so than the others. In light of that, our defence will be makeshift and it would be a big risk to rely on them to shut out Bournemouth even if they are 17th in the league. Instead, we should focus on attacking, take the risk, be the aggressive team and play on the front foot for 90 minutes.
Yes we might concede but we sure as hell will offer more going forward and that’s ultimately a balance which van Gaal has failed to find.
The Wolfsburg game was van Gaal’s biggest test so far as United manager and he didn’t succeed. Now his greatest challenge is to bring all fans back on his side and the only way he’s going to do that is by winning, not by pulling teeth with goalless draws.
Will van Gaal change and adapt? That could well be the defining turn-point in terms of his tenure as United manager because if nothing changes and we draw lots more games in December, van Gaal might end up losing the fanbase. When that happens, the end is inevitable.