About Me

Football purist, realist and general sports fanatic. Interested in all aspects of the game, from all corners of the earth.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Old Trafford one Giant Advert

Louis Van Gaal’s press conferences over the course of his career have consisted mainly of him discussing his famous ‘philosophy’. During his second spell in charge of the Netherland’s national team he mentioned how “names matter to the media but not to me”. Van Gaal, in his words, “continually plays players who best fit the team; never those who are just big names”.

When the Dutchman sat down to be interviewed for the first time as Manchester United manager during the club’s pre-season tour to the United States, he summed up his philosophy in one straightforward sentence.

The often eccentric former Ajax boss declared “I’m not a coach who thinks short-term, I am a coach who thinks always in the long-term”.

The strike partnership between Robin van Persie and Radomel Falcao in United’s forward-line this season certainly is not the future; it’s not even the present.

United’s attacking play this season has resembled a figure having been struck by lightning as opposed to the electrifying force of the blinding bolt itself. Both players were once renowned for the way they played the game in their head, albeit in slightly different ways.

Van Persie always harbored the creative streak one would expect a son of two artists to possess; as well as angling in beautiful finishes he was capable of dropping deep and assisting his inferior teammates (he assisted the most goals in the 2008/9 Premier League season).

Falcao on the other hand crept around the opponent’s final third waiting for the ideal opportunity to pounce on the space they vacated.

When the Colombian speaks about his slithery movement he refers to it as ‘strategic’. “It is part of the efficiency of a striker, to be able to position yourself, be able to intuit what the move is going to be, and be able to lose your defenders”.

Physically however, both look short of the high level expected of strikers at Old Trafford. Both men have been slain by injuries for periods in the past. Falcao’s acceleration in particular has diminished. While he once flashed beyond the Barcelona defence and delicately lay Victor Valdes down as you would a sleeping baby, he is restricted to the penalty box nowadays; a place where he admittedly did most of his damage but a limiting reference that slights just how formidable he was.

This shortage of speed shrinks the effect of United’s sole world class performer, Angel Di Maria. The Argentine, while sometimes wasteful in possession, thrives with space to gallop into. A darting forward driving behind centre backs and into the channels would force opposition defences backwards and allow Di Maria to advance menacingly (and ominously) toward the box with venom.

Unsurprisingly, The Red’s attacking difficulties are visible when assessing the season’s statistics.

United sit 10th in shots per game with 12.6, which is behind every other team in the top half of the table with the exception of Swansea. While they improve when adjusting the metrics to shots in the penalty area (6.5 per game) and shots in open play (9.3), the gain is marginal; Van Gaal’s men lie 8th in the league under both criteria (strangely behind Queens Park Rangers, although QPR are the outlier here, not United).

Individually, Robin van Persie sits just outside the top 20 players in the league who have played at least 1000 minutes in shots per game in 21st (tied with Saido Berahino, Conor Wickham and Abel Hernandez on 2.5), with his Colombian partner further down in 39th (1.9). For the sake of balance, measuring their shots per ninety minutes as opposed to per game moves Falcao up to 24th (2.9 per 90), while the Dutchman slips to 26th (2.7 per 90).

One positive piece of data for United’s frontline is van Persie’s 2.2 shots per 90 minutes inside the opponent’s penalty area, which puts him 8th in the Premier League (excluding Frank Lampard due to a lack of minutes). Frankly however there is an element of clutching at straws here; van Persie’s contribution this season pales in comparison with him at his optimal level and Sergio Aguero (4.3 per 90) gets just under twice as many efforts from the box as the former Arsenal hitman (in between the two sit Wilfried Bony, Diego Costa and Danny Welbeck from the top sides).

Against Burnley on Wednesday night the pair’s only shot was van Persie’s successful penalty, while the fact this was the club’s first penalty of the season is a consequence of a lack of touches in the box.

As touched upon by Robbie Dunne yesterday, the elephant in the room here is Jorge Mendes. Since Ed Woodward replaced David Gill as the club’s chief executive, his relationship with the Portuguese superagent has blossomed. The two send family photos to each other, while Mendes’ daughter reportedly attended Old Trafford last season for a period of work experience.

A previous version of Louis van Gaal would have ignored any involvement from any member of the club’s hierarchy.

A previous version of Louis van Gaal however wouldn’t have fielded a reactive Dutch side at the World Cup, he wouldn’t have bowed to pragmatism and utilised Marouane Fellaini’s aerial ability.

A previous version of Louis van Gaal would’ve waged war against the club last summer.

When Van Gaal was unveiled as United manager at a press conference post-World Cup he revealed how he came to realize how big a club he had joined.

“Within two days I know already how important Manchester United is, but (also) how important the sponsors are”.

Jorge Mendes doesn’t have any advertising hoardings on display around Old Trafford. The signs of his influence at Manchester United are on the pitch.

*All statistics are from www.whoscored.com/

No comments:

Post a Comment