Is Louis Van Gaal ripping the heart from Manchester United?

With Manchester United manager Louis Van Gaal being rumoured to be selling long-serving midfielder Darren Fletcher this month, is the Dutch boss ripping the heart and soul from Manchester United?

“It could be that Darren Fletcher might have played his last game for the first team of Manchester United. I’m led to believe that he wants to play first team football. That’s why he wants to leave Manchester United and he wants to carry on playing at the highest level in the Premier League,” said close source James Cooper.

Should Fletcher leave, the Scotland international will end a 20-year association with the club that has seen him win every major trophy under former manager Sir Alex Ferguson, while making more than 340 appearances. Such long-serving departures have been commonplace with Van Gaal’s reign at United, however.

Danny Welbeck was surprisingly sold to Arsenal, Patrice Evra joined Juventus, Tom Cleverley was loaned out to Aston Villa, and Rio Ferdinand was released to Queens Park Rangers. Players that have been part of great success in the club, but now disbanded.

Van Gaal has struggled upon his arrival at Old Trafford, with Manchester United having only amassed the same amount of points as they did under predecessor David Moyes last season, and the club’s missing identity has been a particular critique from football pundits.

Under former manager Sir Alex Ferguson, the squad would always be full of academy talent, and long-serving individuals engrained in his attacking philosophy, but Van Gaal has replaced a lot of players with foreign additions that has seen the side inconsistent in the league so far.

Manchester United do look on course for a top-four finish, but purely down to the failings of sides around them. After 22 games last season, the top-four were all pulling away on tallies of 43 points and above from fourth upwards.

Losing Darren Fletcher will be a big blow, as many feel his career would have ended with the Red Devils under a different manager, with how keen Ferguson and Moyes were to keep the more experienced players in and around the squad during their respective spells in charge.

This summer, Van Gaal brought in six new players, that also saw 10 first-team players exit the club. Such a massive overhaul can have an adverse effect on the players still getting to grips with the change in style, culture, and football. Experienced stars are useful for bedding stars into the club, but such identity is being lost with United following Van Gaal’s movements in the market.

The Lancashire club would prove themselves on their youth policy, and creating a family in the squad, but is the 63-year-old ripping out the heart and soul of Manchester United?

Fourth place flatters Man Utd

Manchester United supporters are confident of their side finishing back in a Champions League place come May, with new manager Louis Van Gaal having currently led the Red Devils to 4th after 21 games.

The style of play has been a complete contrast to 2013/14, but results have largely evened themselves out despite the managerial shake-up, let alone the large outlay in the summer to sign Luke Shaw, Marcos Rojo, Daley Blind, Angel Di Maria, Ander Herrera and Radamel Falcao.

United’s points tally this season is identical to predecessor David Moyes’ first 21 league games in the last campaign, so is it underwhelming competition that has seen the Red Devils in a higher position?

This time last season, Manchester United had 37 points from 21 league games – like this campaign – but were sitting in 7th place, and five points adrift of a Champions League place. This season, they are one point ahead of 5th.

In 2013/14, the likes of Arsenal, Liverpool and Everton were all in the top-six of the Premier League. This campaign, the aforementioned trio are 5th and below in the table. The entire top-five had more than 40 points at this stage in the previous season, compared to the two sides now.

So United are certainly fortunate that their direct competition for a top-four place have been inconsistent because they have won less than half of their league games so far. Perception couldn’t be more different from the Van Gaal era than the Moyes reign. This season, injuries and transition are the argument for United’s inconsistent showings, but Moyes was the figurehead of criticism in the last campaign.

Manchester United have showcased much more of an attacking flair under the Dutch boss, keeping more possession and allowing the forward players freedom of movement and expression going forward. But they still are dropping point s too readily, and are currently enduring a three game winless run. The difference has been United wining the big games – Arsenal, Everton, Liverpool, Southampton, as the Red Devils previously struggled against elite opposition.

Again, it can be argued that Van Gaal isn’t facing the same strength of sides Moyes came up against last season – bar Southampton from the list – which has also played a factor. Arsenal and Everton have lost 14 games between them this season, compared to the 5 this time round.

So is it a low calibre of competition that has been the reason for Manchester United’s top-four place in the Premier League?

Are Man Utd back?

Being third in the table, coming off the back of five consecutive Premier League victories, winning games despite performing poorly over the 90 minutes, and scoring late winning goals certainly gives reason to believe the old Manchester United are back this season.

The Red Devils won 2-1 away to Southampton on Monday night, but were heavily criticised for a woeful showing at St Mary’s. Saints were by far the more dominant side over the course of the game, creating far more chances and enjoying far more of the ball in the attacking third than that of their opponents, but they left without a point to show for their troubles.

Such a game was synonymous of United down the years, and something that continues to happen in recent weeks. Against Arsenal, the Red Devils rode their luck after enduring a first-half battering, but managed to win 2-1 at the Emirates last month to the fury and disbelief of Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger.

While Manchester United boss Louis Van Gaal was happy with the result on Monday night, he admitted how fortunate his players were to have come away with a victory, saying: “It is fantastic, but I had hoped we would have done that with a better performance. We were the lucky team. Tonight there were too many of our players who were not good.”

One thing Van Gaal can’t be disappointed with is United’s knack for scoring important late goals. Against Chelsea back in October, it was Robin Van Persie who struck in the last minute of injury time to earn United a point, and in the win against Arsenal, Wayne Rooney sealed victory with just minutes of normal time remaining in the second-half.

Such determination, resilience, and belief is what has been at the heart of Manchester United’s bright start to the campaign. Top-four was the aim, and they are currently delivering. Performances are being heavily scrutinised against, but they are picking up consecutive wins. The United boss can point to the growing injury list as a reason for the lack of consistency in performances, but he’s cobbling together a side each game week to get a result, and it’s working against all odds.

In Manchester United’s title-winning campaign of 2012/13, the Red Devils were frequently criticised for poor showings, but they still managed to earn all three points from the majority of games that led them to win the league at a canter. There are certainly some similarities to Van Gaal’s debut season so far, with United only boasting a small selection of dominating and deserved league victories, while the rest have been gritty, unattractive, and at times inferior.

Such a tactic of winning certainly worked well for them in the past. Are Manchester United back to their old self this season?

Fellaini flourishing under Louis Van Gaal

Manchester United midfielder Marouane Fellaini recently got on the scoresheet to help seal a 2-1 win against Stoke City at Old Trafford on Tuesday night, and his goal has capped what a fantastic two months it has been for the former Red Devils flop.

Signed from Everton by ex-manager David Moyes for an eye watering £28M in 2013, big things were expected of the Belgian. He failed to deliver in his debut campaign, overwhelmed by the pressure to perform on such a large scale, and many thought he would be sold for a cut price as a result.

But new manager Louis Van Gaal surprisingly kept faith in the 27-year-old the following campaign, and he’s now been vindicated in his decision to stick with Fellaini, who has featured more than the likes of Darren Fletcher, Ander Herrera and Michael Carrick in the midfield to highlight his importance while the aforementioned were out of action.

Against Stoke City, he enjoyed another standout performance in the middle of the park, commanding in stature and very industrious. No United player made more tackles than the Belgian (5), who also made the second-most passes in the midfield. But it wasn’t just defensively where he shone. Fellaini also had three shots, two on target, one goal.

His confidence is sky high after being afforded a run of games in a style that allows him to play to his strengths for the entire 90 minutes. Only Chris Smalling made more touches (102) against the Potters than Fellaini (96), which is a stark contrast to how he performed in his debut campaign.

The 27-year-old was reticent receiving the ball in dangerous areas, but now he’s believing in his own ability and is starting to show why Moyes was so keen to pay nearly £30M for his services.

This season for United, Fellaini has made a total of nine Premier League appearances, scoring two goals, making 25 tackles, winning 36 aerial duels, while boasting an 88.1% pass completion. He’s realising his potential which is coinciding with an upturn in form for the Lancashire clubs too.

David Moyes didn’t appear to know where best to play Fellaini in his debut season, despite him coming off the back of an incredible scoring campaign as an attacking-midfielder who netted 11 goals, made 5 assists, and created 40 chances in 2012/13. Manchester United are now finally seeing his true quality, and against all odds, Fellaini is fast becoming a key component to the midfield.

Is Louis Van Gaal to blame for Man Utd injury crisis?

While there’s uncertainty surrounding the extent of Manchester United midfielder Daley Blind’s recent knee injury, the Red Devils now have 12 first-team players currently out of action, but is manager Louis Van Gaal to blame?

Highly-experienced fitness coach Raymond Verheijen, who has previously worked for the Netherlands‘, South Korean and Russian national teams, La Liga giants Barcelona, Russian league leaders Zenit Petersburg, Premier League leaders Chelsea and defending champions Manchester City, was critical of the new United boss back in August, suggesting his methods would cause injuries to arise at the club.

“What LVG proves is that top coaches are not perfect. Even the world’s best have deficiencies. Planning & periodisation is not his strongest point: double sessions & muscle injuries,” he said via his Twitter account.

Raymond Verheijen blamed the successful coach for the injuries in the Netherlands national team during this summer’s World Cup, adding that Van Gaal has continued to make the same mistakes.

“During the World Cup preparation the Dutch players had to do frequent double sessions, so not surprisingly the muscle injuries accumulated. At Man United, in the first few weeks, LVG has applied the same approach and, as expected, with the same result.”

Manchester United’s recent injury list

David De Gea (finger), Luke Shaw (hamstring), Jonny Evans (ankle/foot), Phil Jones (calf/shin), Marcos Rojo (shoulder), Rafael da Silva (groin/pelvis), Daley Blind (knee), Michael Carrick (groin/pelvis), Ashley Young (groin/pelvis), Angel Di Maria (foot/ankle), Radamel Falcao (calf/shin).

With Verheijen pre-empting muscle injuries occurring for Manchester United through the course of this season from a manager he deemed as notoriously inept at fitness training, does Van Gaal need coaching in the field of player conditioning? The sole objective for the Red Devils this season was to get back into the top-four of the Premier League, but the high amount of injuries have led to United to struggle for consistency. In their last league game against Crystal Palace – of which they won 1-0 – midfield Daley Blind, young little-known defender Paddy McNair, and winger Antonio Valencia made up three places in the backline.

The majority of layouts are expected to return to training before the New Year, but there are a host of important clashes coming thick and fast that will certainly take their toll on any players not 100% fit. United have eight games in five-and-a-half weeks to come before New Year creeps in.

Where does the blame lie for Manchester United injury troubles? Is it just down to bad luck? Or are Louis Van Gaal’s methods to blame?