Boring Van Gaal is sucking the life out of Man United

After crashing out of the Champions League the finger of blame is largely being pointed at the Dutchman who is steadfastly refusing to accept criticism of his playing style

Boring Van Gaal is sucking the life out of Man United

If you find it a surprise that Manchester United have been knocked out of the Champions League, you clearly haven’t been watching their games this season.

Having spent a gargantuan £283 million in the transfer market, Louis van Gaal succeeded only in turning United into one of the dullest, rigid, lifeless teams in the competition. By the time they arrived in Wolfsburg needing a victory to be sure of progression, it was clear they were swimming against the tide.

Somehow, Van Gaal has sucked the life out of one of the world’s greatest clubs. Fans no longer look forward to arriving at Old Trafford in the same way they used to.

Players don’t seem to have the same appetite and belief as their predecessors. And when visiting teams begin to batten down the hatches with 20 minutes to go they do so safe in the knowledge that the worst is over. Fergie time and the avalanche of late, crucial goals is now just a distant memory.

After a September during which the Red Devils scored 15 goals in six games, the humiliating 3-0 defeat to Arsenal was a real watershed moment for United. From there Van Gaal looked to tighten up first and worry about attacking later. Rather than accept that selecting two immobile thirty-somethings in Michael Carrick and Bastian Schweinsteiger in midfield was a grave error, he decided that his side needed to become tougher to break down at the expense of greater expression in the final third.

There is a monotony to United which reflects Van Gaal’s approach. The only thing that changes in training is the time. When they arrive at Carrington morning, noon or night, the players are put through exactly the same exercises week after week. After going through their warm-ups on a match day it is the same training drills which are performed by the starting XI whether the opposition is Cambridge or CSKA Moscow.

There has been many an occasion when Van Gaal has waxed lyrical about the wonderful football displayed by his Ajax sides of the mid-1990s, but lately he has turned to more recent examples of his work when suggesting that Man Utd fans should fans should have known what they were getting when he was appointed,

“When they don’t like the style of play for Manchester United, everybody knows in advance that all the teams of LVG plays like that. In Barcelona, or Bayern Munich or AZ we have played like that,” said Van Gaal in defence of his tactics after the 0-0 draw with West Ham at Old Trafford on Saturday.

But while he believes that United fans should have foreseen the current situation, the same charge can be levelled at the 64-year-old. This is a club which has been built on playing football the right way. Even in the days in between Sir Matt Busby and Sir Alex Ferguson, the likes of Tommy Docherty and Ron Atkinson had United playing an attractive brand of football, while Dave Sexton – the manager who bridged the gap between the reigns of the two – was criticised for a more functional, conservative approach.

Van Gaal didn’t walk into this job with his eyes closed. He knew the demands associated with Manchester United. He had seen what happened to David Moyes, yet even in the Scot’s short spell in charge there was a more willing approach to attacking than Van Gaal has employed.

What’s more, Van Gaal cannot claim that he has not been given the tools with which to build a fast-flowing, attractive lineup. A British record fee of £59.7m was splashed out on Angel di Maria, and while he had not been the manager’s choice, he was the kind of player most bosses would love to work with. The Dutchman was forever switching Di Maria around and eventually helped to make the Argentine attacker’s position in the squad untenable.

Yet even since he has been given carte blanche in the market he has been unable to get the best out of explosive talents. Memphis Depay was his marquee signing last summer for a fee potentially rising to £31m, yet the Netherlands World Cup star has so far failed to show anything like his best. Anthony Martial, meanwhile, has been pushed from pillar to post since his deadline-day transfer, and the lack of appropriate service has seen him struggle to find the net.

Similarly, Ander Herrera has cut a frustrated figure as a result of his lack of playing time while Juan Mata has looked a shadow of himself when shoved out to the right wing for game after game. It was no coincidence that Martial’s best opening in weeks came on Tuesday in Wolfsburg from a killer ball by Mata, playing in the No.10 spot vacated by the injured Wayne Rooney. If Van Gaal had had a fully-fit squad available to him, there is little doubt Mata would have been used as a right winger, if at all.

And that brings us to another point. United’s lack of strength in depth left them incredibly exposed as they kicked off against Wolfsburg, and two further injuries only made matters worse as the match went on.

Van Gaal insisted earlier this season that he was able to pack off a number of former first-team squad members in the summer because of the versatility of a string of current players. Yet such a viewpoint is always dangerous since it only takes a few absences to leave the squad looking stretched.

The likes of Guillermo Varela, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, Axel Tuanzebe and Marcus Rashford may well become excellent senior players in time, but the truth is that right now they are getting a look-in with the first team more out of necessity than out of choice. If United had even half the depth of cover of previous seasons to call upon then such youngsters would be getting an outing when the time was right, not when the situation demanded it.

Louis van Gaal is not the only man to blame for United’s current malaise, and indeed he has steered his side into a comfortable top-four position from which they are well placed to challenge for the Premier League title this season.

However, the Champions League failure is a huge step backwards for the club, and the Dutchman has to take a large share of the responsibility. Having a belief and sticking to it can be a very positive quality, but the belligerence and stubbornness with which Van Gaal stands by his failing ‘philosophy’ is threatening to undermine his attempts to make a success of his Manchester United reign.

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Barca showing there really IS life after Messi

Luis Enrique may be missing his main man, but since the Argentine has been out the Catalan club’s other two South American forwards have flown the flag in La Liga and Europe

Barca showing there really IS life after Messi

Panic struck for Barcelona when Lionel Messi was struck down through injury in the Liga clash at home to Las Palmas on September 26, but time and again since then Neymar and Luis Suarez have shown that the Blaugrana have plenty to cheer for even without their Argentine attacker.

Messi managed only nine minutes before limping off at Camp Nou and travelling to hospital for tests that later confirmed he would miss somehwere in the region of two months, placing his fitness in doubt for the Clasico clash at Real Madrid on November 21.

And with the trip to the Santiago Bernabeu now just around the corner after the forthcoming international break, it looks like Messi may not be back in time. Recent performances from his two team-mates, however, mean that may be less of a drama than it had first seemed.

Suarez stepped up immediately. The Uruguayan striker scored both goals in the 2-1 win over Las Palmas to get Barca through what was potentially a difficult afternoon, with the image of their finest footballer hurt and injured clearly in the minds of the players in an unpopular early kick-off at Camp Nou.

Since then, Suarez has scored in wins against Bayer Leverkusen, Rayo Vallecano, Getafe and BATE Borisov, as well as netting all three in the 3-1 victory at home to Eibar late last month. Nine goals in eight appearances and he has provided a couple of assists in that time, too. Messi, no doubt, will be pleased.

But Neymar has done even better. The Brazilian forward took time to find his best form after Messi’s injury, perhaps affected by the case accusing him of alleged tax fraud in his move from Santos in 2013. But he has hit eight goals in the Argentine’s absence: his side’s sole strike in the 2-1 loss at Sevilla (Barca’s only defeat in that time), four in the 5-2 win over Rayo, one in the 2-0 success at Getafe and two more in the 3-0 victory at home to BATE last week.

That’s one fewer than Suarez, but it is his overall contribution that is even more impressive. Since Messi’s injury, Neymar has racked up six assists in eight appearances, creating 36 chances for his team-mates and completing 46 dribbles to the Uruguayan’s 12.

“We miss Messi because he is the best,” Neymar said after his double on Wednesday night. “But I’m in a great moment and I’m confident I’ll continue like this.”

Since Messi’s injury, Barca have scored 13 times in La Liga and between them, Neymar and Suarez have been responsible for netting all of those.

In the Champions League, meanwhile, Ivan Rakitic hit a vital double to give the Catalans a hard-fought 2-0 win away to BATE and Sergi Roberto was on hand to net the leveller as Luis Enrique’s side made a late comeback to beat Bayer Leverkusen at Camp Nou. It was Suarez, though, who popped up with the winner in that one.

In total, Neymar and Suarez have contributed 17 out of 20 goals for Barca since the Argentine hurt his knee.

“We will always miss Messi,” Luis Enrique said recently. “But Neymar and Suarez have shown that we also have other options.”

After his side beat BATE on Wednesday with the two South Americans again taking the lead, the Asturian coach added: “We obviously miss Messi a great deal – but I’ve always said the team had resources.

“There is no mention of ‘Messi-dependence’ because the team is winning and playing well.”

And with the Clasico now just two weeks away, that’s the best news of all for fans of the Catalan club.

Messi should win Ballon d’Or – Bartomeu

The Barcelona president says that the Argentina international deserves to reclaim the award from Cristiano Ronaldo

Messi should win Ballon d'Or - Bartomeu

Lionel Messi is the world’s best player and deserves to win this year’s Ballon d’Or, according to Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu.

Messi was named Uefa Player of the Year for the second time following a final vote during the Champions League draw in Monaco on Thursday.

The 28-year-old broke Telmo Zarra’s record for La Liga goals scored in the 2014-15 campaign and went on to find the back of the net 58 times in all competitions.

Bartomeu backed the Argentina captain to add a prestigious fourth Ballon d’Or to his collection of honours, having been beaten to the award by Cristiano Ronaldo in the past two years.

“Lionel Messi is the best player in the world and we know that he desires, he works, he makes a lot of effort in all the matches and his confidence is incredible,” Bartomeu said.

“That’s why they give him a trophy like the best player of Europe. As for the Ballon d’Or, well, Leo Messi is the best player in the world so it’s normal that he wins everything.”

Bartomeu lauded Messi for his role in Barca’s successful 2014-15 campaign, which included 43 league goals, 10 in the Champions League and five in the Copa del Rey.

The Blaugrana supremo now hopes that the European champions can add the Club World Cup to their trophy cabinet in December.

“The important thing is the feature of Leo Messi. He’s doing this year an incredible season,” Bartomeu said.

“We won of course the Copa del Rey, Liga, the Champions League and the European Super Cup. And now we have the Club World Cup and I hope we can win this and have five titles this year.”

Memphis lights up Old Trafford when Man Utd & Van Gaal need him most

The Dutchman evoked memories of Wayne Rooney’s Champions League debut with a stunning double against Club Brugge on a night when the hosts were forced to come from behind

Memphis lights up Old Trafford when Man Utd & Van Gaal need him most

Manchester United were not expecting to have to come from behind in the first leg of their Champions League qualifying play-off against Club Brugge but that is the position in which they found themselves with barely eight minutes on the clock.

Michael Carrick’s inadvertent boot past Sergio Romero stunned Old Trafford, with memories of ordinary performances here under David Moyes and last season under Louis van Gaal flashing before the eyes of the stunned United fans in attendance.

The goal, which came courtesy of a Victor Vazquez free-kick further emboldened the Belgian club’s set of loyal supporters, who were comfortably outsinging their English counterparts before most of the home contingent had even taken their seats.

“Who the f*** are Man United?” they sang in word-perfect, if salty, English and it was going to take something rather special to subdue them. “Where the f*** are Man United?”, the home fans might have wondered at that point.

Step forward Memphis Depay; made, on this evidence, to supply both goals and electricity for Manchester United for many years to come.

Club Brugge were daring to dream of something more than the hiding they expected their side to take beforehand, but then Memphis demonstrated just why Van Gaal was willing to shell out some £25 million for his signature. He had scored goals for fun the Eredivisie for champions PSV Eindhoven last season, and doing it for one of the world’s biggest clubs came perfectly naturally to him on a night they needed someone to take command.

First, a close touch took him past the attention of a Brugge defender, before a calm side-step gave him all the space he needed to slot home past Sebastian Bruzzese for his first official United goal.

Memphis took flak for his inability to find the net against Aston Villa on Friday night from a relatively straightforward opportunity but dispelled any lingering doubts that Ed Woodward had been sold a pup not long after.

PSV fans might be well used to the sight of Memphis picking the ball up on the left side of the attack and finding the opposite corner with a shot. How sweet for United fans, though, that they were treated to one of his trademark breathtaking strikes so soon into his United career.

They had not seen a Champions League debut as good around these parts since Wayne Rooney hit a hat-trick against Fenerbahce in 2004. Now Memphis is the man leading his captain by example. Still, Rooney cannot get into the flow of games this season.

There was one moment in the second half when it all came together for the England man. His expert touch-off into the path of Depay deserved the finishing touch. As it was, the Netherlands international snatched at it and missed the chance to emulate Rooney with a debut hat-trick in this competition. No matter, there will be plenty of those in the red shirt.

There were a few hairy moments for United to endure, not least when a foul was called on Romero with the goal at the mercy of Obbi Oulare in the second half, but Memphis’s cross, nodded in by Marouane Fellaini deep into injury time, might now have sunk Club’s rebellion for good.

Let’s call this a coming out party for Memphis. Van Gaal cleared the striking decks at Old Trafford this summer with the forcible removals of Robin van Persie and Radamel Falcao. A lot will depend on those broad shoulders of Memphis should Rooney’s toils continue.

He did all which was asked of him and more in his first big test. Here is a self-confident, self-confessed “dream chaser” who thinks it an inevitability that he has ended up at a club as important as this one. For a club seeking rediscover their place at the top of the natural order, such swagger is certainly welcome.

BREAKING NEWS: Messi, Ronaldo and Suarez up for Best Player in Europe Prize

Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Luiz Suarez have been announced as the final three candidates for the 2014-15 Uefa Best Player in Europe award.

BREAKING NEWS: Messi, Ronaldo and Suarez up for Best Player in Europe Prize

Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Luiz Suarez have been announced as the final three candidates for the 2014-15 Uefa Best Player in Europe award.

Ronaldo, who picked up the trophy last year, earns another nomination after a season in which he scored 61 goals in 54 appearances and claimed the Uefa Super Cup and Club World Cup.

Messi and Suarez, meanwhile, formed a fearsome attacking partnership with Neymar that helped inspire Barcelona to the treble in Luis Enrique’s first season in charge.

The winner will be announced at the Champions League group-stage draw on August 27.

Messi is the best player of all time – Guardiola

The former Barcelona boss insists the Argentine is the greatest player the sport has ever seen after he helped to eliminate Bayern Munich from the Champions League

Messi is the best player of all time - Guardiola

Pep Guardiola says Lionel Messi is the “best player of all time” and wants Barcelona to win the Champions League after they knocked his Bayern Munich side out of the Champions League on Tuesday.

The former Barca boss watched his side beat his old club 3-2 at the Allianz Arena in the semi-final second leg, but they were unable to overturn the 3-0 deficit from the first leg.

And Messi, who scored the first two goals at Camp Nou in the opening clash, was given a sparkling review by his former coach when Guardiola spoke to the media following Bayern’s elimination.

“I am happy that Messi is back here again. He is incredible, he is back to his best as he was when I used to train him,” Guardiola told a press conference.

“We’re lucky to live in his age as he is the best player of all time. I can compare him to Pele, and I am very proud of the years I spent with him.”

Guardiola’s side gained a face-saving victory in Munich thanks to an early goal by Medhi Benatia and second-half strikes from Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Muller, but the coach admitted the tie was lost in Catalunya and wished his former charges well in June’s final.

“I am satisfied with the performance of my team. We needed this balance in the Camp Nou but didn’t have it.

“I would like to have played better and have all my best players available to me for my project. I want to congratulate my players. Congrats to Barca also, I hope they win their fifth Champions League final in Berlin.”

Bayern were again missing key first-team players Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben and David Alaba at the Allianz Arena. And Guardiola pointed to the absences as one of the reasons for his side’s exit, while also defending his decision to take the game to Barcelona.

“We couldn’t hurt Barca at the Camp Nou, because we don’t have wingers,” he added.

“I’ve always thought, now that I’ve been knocked out of the Champions League, the only way you can stop players like that is to make them defend. But Barcelona’s third goal last week killed us.”

Barcelona are one step from winning everything – Iniesta

The Spain midfielder helped the Blaugrana into another final but knows his side now face a testing few weeks as they look to claim the treble

Barcelona are one step from winning everything - Iniesta

Andres Iniesta says Barcelona are “one step” away from winning everything as they close in on a domestic and continental treble.

Barca eased into the Champions Leage final on Tuesday despite a 3-2 defeat at Bayern Munich, beating Pep Guardiola’s men 5-3 on aggregate, and will meet the winner of the second semi-final between Real Madrid and Juventus in Berlin on June 6.

Luis Enrique’s men will be crowned La Liga champions on if they win their next game against Atletico Madrid, although a possible strike threatens to delay their confirmation, while they will also contest the final of the Copa del Rey against Athletic Bilbao at Camp Nou on May 30.

With his team so close to such remarkable success, Iniesta is gearing up for a vital few weeks.

He told TV3: “We are where we want to be every year, we are one step from everything and we’ll try to take that step forward.

“We are not content, though, the titles would be incredible for everyone. Every year is different, this year is good in every sense. We have overcome some very important rivals and we are going to give everything.”

Mehdi Benatia’s early header gave Bayern hope of overcoming a 3-0 first-leg deficit, but two Neymar goals before half-time settled Barca nerves.

Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Muller gave Pep Guardiola a win on the night against his former club but Barca were comfortable winners in the end.

Iniesta added: “We knew they were going to push from the start but the two goals in the first half gave us peace. We are in another final and we must celebrate it.”