United’s opening day defeat a reminder changing manager is no quick fix

The hype machine has been in overdrive this summer about the tactical brilliance of Louis van Gaal, and the transformative impact the new manager was likely to have at Old Trafford. So it will have come as a big shock to most to see his United side suffer a home defeat to Garry Monk’s unfancied Swansea side this afternoon – their first ever league win at Old Trafford.

After all, the narrative had already been set: Previous boss David Moyes was a nice guy but way out of his depth at Old Trafford. Appointing him had been a bit like asking an inexperienced driver to drive a Ferrari F1 car at Monte Carlo – it was bound to end in an accident. Bring in van Gaal, a manager with real pedigree, and he would be able to pilot United back to the Premier League podium – the glory days would return to United and the Moyes mistake would be soon forgotten.

Except life in the top flight of English football is rarely simple. The manager of a football club is undeniably an extremely important appointment, but he does not have a magic wand. Games of football are won and lost on the pitch. The same challenges that faced David Moyes now face Louis van Gaal – only perhaps, worse, having lost a number of United stalwarts in Vidic, Ferdinand and Evra, for example, with little to show in the way of top class replacements.

And there remains a sense that too many of this crop of United players are underperforming. Ashley Young, Nani and Hernandez all featured for van Gaal today, but all could be living on borrowed time if they are not capable of raising their game to the standard expected of the most successful team of the modern era.

Embed from Getty Images

Where the manager clearly does have a decisive influence is on the training ground, and in his tactics and substitutions on match days. Van Gaal went with his much vaunted 3-5-2 formation at the beginning of the game against Swansea, before switching to 4-2-3-1 in the second half – a change which did yield an improved performance, if not decisively so. Wayne Rooney was found in more dangerous spaces in the second half, and but for the width of a post may have put United in the lead at 1-1.

But transforming a playing style of a team takes time. The ultimate criticism of David Moyes was that any evidence of progress in such a change had all but disappeared by the time of his sacking. Van Gaal at least gives the impression of knowing what he wants, although his switching of tactics so readily in the game today shows he is far from sure how exactly to get it.

These are very early days for the manager, but he, the owners and the fans will have expected to pick up three points today. After all, rewind 12 months to the opening round of fixtures last season, and you will note that Moyes’ Manchester traveled to South Wales and came home with a 4-1 win. Yet in football, there are rarely any quick fixes.

For more analysis on the role and impact of football managers, why not read:

What difference does a top manager make?

Does changing your manager work?

How well is your club really doing?

Man Utd in 2014/15 Season Preview

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: