Scholes Versus Van Gaal, Round One

Posted: October 30, 2015 in Football, Manchester United, Opinion
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,


Paul Scholes wants the best for Manchester United, the fans, himself and probably even Louis van Gaal.

He virtually said as much when praising the quality of coaching which has enabled United to have one of the best defences in the Premier League, without necessarily having many of the best defenders in the Premier League.

What he also said was that he wouldn’t like to play in this particular formation, which is fair comment. Whilst it is set up to retain possession, it often does nothing with it so that at some time, inevitably, the ball either goes back to the opposition or out of play.

Scholes played in United teams that were all about going forward at every available opportunity. He himself was renowned for arriving late into the penalty area to score some crucial goals over the years. That was the football loved by the United fans. It was what won them all the titles, some FA Cups and a couple of Champions League titles.

The writing was on the wall however, when losing to Barcelona in the Champions League final of 2009. United were outclassed. They were outplayed, they were out-possessed, they were overrun. The fact that they only lost 2-0 was more down to Barcelona than United. After this game, Alex Ferguson decided that he needed quicker players. He decided that the Barcelona way of keeping the ball and playing it quickly was the way forward.

Fast forward to the Champions League final of 2011. Same two teams, same pattern of play, same result. United lost 3-1. So in the intervening two years United actually hadn’t progressed to being the type of team Ferguson wanted. The problem was that Barcelona was his yardstick and he only got to play them twice. Both times in the Champions League final, both times with the same outcome. Ferguson had made United the best team in England but couldn’t quite get them up another rung to be the best team in Europe.

One of the main points here is that I doubt very much that Paul Scholes actually enjoyed those two meetings with Barcelona. He was up against Iniesta, Xavi and Busquets and literally just didn’t see enough of the ball. So there were certainly times under Ferguson when Scholes didn’t enjoy particular games.

I do agree that he would be very much out of place in this current team. He would be looking for incisive passes through the middle or long balls out to the flanks and there would be nobody on the other end. His game is not short little passes for the sake of keeping possession, he would rather set up an attack even at the risk of losing the ball.

Louis van Gaal, on the other hand, has a three year contract. Logically, he also has a three year plan which, if he and the team get it right, includes winning the Premier League and maybe the Champions League.

At present it is difficult to argue with the results, although some may say, given the amount of money spent, he should be targeting big trophies and where United is now should be expected rather than a pleasant surprise.

What some of the fans, myself and Paul Scholes dislike about the current team is the type of “they can’t score if we’ve got the ball”, mentality. It may be true, but WE don’t appear to be able to score many when we’ve got the ball either, that’s the problem. Also the amount of times it appears an attack is about to begin then the ball will be passed backwards is frustrating to say the least.

Paul Scholes does not need to speak to Ryan Giggs, Ed Woodward or Louis van Gaal before he airs his views, even if van Gaal thinks he should. As one of many ex United players pressed for their opinions, he is entitled to have one and to give it to whoever he chooses. He merely said that he would not enjoy playing in this set-up. He praised everything else, the defending, the position in the table etc.

Van Gaal should have concentrated on the next game and ignored the inevitable questions about what had been said. Especially when he wasn’t prepared as he obviously didn’t have the full Scholes quote.

No doubt there will be more to come on this subject over the coming months as LVG is stubborn and Scholesy is bored, so it could be quite interesting.

  1. FrankDLaw says:

    It never ceases to amaze me how, with so much interest in football, that the tactical analysis of it can be so mediocre compared to American sports media.

    There is a reason why most ex-stars such as Paul Scholes, et al, with some notable exceptions, make such terrible football managers! Paul Parker is certainly no exception.

    Many ex-stars had also criticized LVG’s foundational changes at Barcelona but they were ultimately proven wrong when it finally clicked & Barcelona went on to become one of the best sides to have ever existed!

    What these MU moaners fail to understand is that SAF had worked out how to dominate the league, but that LVG is preparing MU for the next level.

    In a nutshell, the sum total of Ferguson’s tactics was basically crossing, by fullbacks or wingers, at the near post. Strikers aimed to beat center backs with quick and instinctive near-post runs. That worked well & United picked up valuable points galore against the minnows, oftentimes enough points in the bank to win the league. But every time they came up against the more tactically disciplined teams like Mourinho’s or Guardiola’s, they came unstuck! It’s no coincidence, who Mourinho & Guardiola learnt their trade from…Ferguson also operated at a time when United had the financial muscle to buy the best players… Now with oil clubs & TV money, the gulf in standards (pun intended) have narrowed significantly!

    Someone should remind Scholes that he played in the 2011 Champions League Final in Wembley, when the entire team including Scholes, were given a footballing lesson by Barcelona! It was even worse then watching the team, including Scholes (albeit coming on as a substitute) huffing & puffing & looking bemused all game, chasing shadows!

    Ferguson’s United played quite a few many dreary European nights…nights that bored me to tears too!

    Now let’s examine LVG’s tactics. Tactically, to solve United’s defensive woes, LVG introduced the double pivot, i.e. using 2 holding midfielders in front of the back 4, to break up play, distribute the ball & generally control the tempo of the game.

    This makes the defense solid & allows United to dominate possession, but it also slows down play as the build up happens too slowly – holding midfielders always need that extra touch, always need to have a look when they have the ball. That gives the opponent time to position themselves to stop the killer pass and mark the forwards. Plus, this tactic means there is one less creative playmaker.

    Rooney’s plunge in form has scuttled the tactic for it can work well as the team’s No 10 can play as an extra attacker, knowing that he’s covered by the double pivot! The solution is obvious…

    So IMO, when LVG finally replaces Rooney or persuades Rooney as a No. 10, to play as an extra attacker…& recruit a midfielder in the mould of Sami Khadeira to knit things together in a box to box role, with Sweinsteiger dictating from deep, the team will continue to attract criticism for its slow possession based football…

    An analogy is due here. Look at master chefs & their incredible knife skills. Those skills were not acquired overnight. The master chefs were, I’m sure, initially labored & slow in their knife techniques & it was through years of constant repetition of the basics that it became almost reflexive. Their hands move in a blur without their having to think of it.

    I have a friend who spends her life playing classical violin concertos as a soloist with the world’s leading orchestras. People have no idea of the constant discipline involved, the tens of thousands of hours intense practice she has done in her life and the continued quantity and intensity of hours practice which she still has to put in day in/day out to maintain and improve her level.

    What LVG is aiming for…for the players moves to be so quick without them having to think too much about it, almost a kind of “highly disciplined reflexive-football”, is something that’d take years to groove in!

    So the next step in the evolution of United’s play is to adopt one touch football whilst playing the same system.

    In fact, all Rijkaard did after taking over at Barcelona was to adopt the same system that LVG laid down but tweaking it slightly by playing one-touch football.

    This was taken to the extreme by Guardiola who maintained the same system but cranked up the speed of the one-touch football another notch, which made Barcelona’s football untouchable & awe inspiring! It’s actually an evolution.

    Barcelona’s recent treble success backs the remarkable work Luis Enrique has done in evolving Barcelona’s play in finding the right blend between direct and possession football. They were aided in this score by having probably the worlds best attacking trio!

    Suarez had struggled playing wide pre-2015; Luis Enrique swapped positions between Messi & Suarez in a decision which transformed Barca’s attack. Suarez is arguably the best No. 9 in the world right now, Messi is the best footballer in the world and Neymar could potentially be the best player in the world.

    So what happens when you find a coherent system to bring the best out of them collectively? The most goals ever by an attacking trio! Even Guardiola, currently with Bayern Munich, acknowledges that Barcelona is now the best counter attacking team in the world!

    LVG just didn’t have the time to complete the transformation at Barcelona & Bayern. United should give him the time.

    In any event, even if it doesn’t come to fruition during LVG’s tenure, I’m pretty sanguine about it, as I know that it’d get there under a new manager, provided the system is evolved & perhaps, even slightly tweaked from time to time, but not changed in its entirety!

    The upshot is, most managers would be jostling for LVG’s job as it would be the easiest job in the world, knowing that LVG has done all the foundational work! It would be no surprise if Pep Guardiola picks United as his next assignment. Would Ryan Giggs be the next Luis Enrique? That’s something for the CEO or the Board to decide…


    • Great reply Frank, and thanks for taking the time to explain the different philosophies, even if they did all come from one or two original blueprints, they still had to evolve to suit the different managers using them. I agree with everything you have said.


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