There was a lovely symmetry about Louis van Gaal taking his Manchester United players to Goodison Park this weekend for a match against Everton. Almost a year to the day it was a defeat at the home of his former club which consigned poor David Moyes to the sack after just 34 league games in the Old Trafford hot seat. As Louis van Gaal returns from Merseyside with his tail between his legs, we’re going to do a wrap up of the differences between this season and last, and crunch the numbers to compare Moyes’ United team of 2013/14 and van Gaal’s 2014/15 vintage.
In terms of goals scored, the two teams are very similar. In 34 games, Moyes’ team scored 56 times, compared with 59 goals scored to date by van Gaal’s men. When Chris Smalling is pitching in with 4 goals you know that things are going your way, and despite Robin van Persie and the virtually anonymous Radamel Falcao’s inability to hit the back of the net, United have scored goals when it mattered most. In terms of goals conceded however, there is a noticeable difference. Moyes’ team conceded 40 goals – 1.18 per match, compared with van Gaal’s side only letting in a total of 34 – just one per game. That ability to nick games by the odd goal has been crucial, and last season Moyes’ was the victim of late winners at home to Everton and late equalizers at Cardiff and against Fulham at Old Trafford. Cutting out those strikes at the death has seen van Gaal pick up vital points at crucial times, and sadly for Moyes was one of the major contributing factors to his early demise.
In terms of a results head-to-head, van Gaal has won two more games at this stage, with a win percentage of 56% compared to Moyes’ 50%. Van Gaal has seen his side draw 8 games, compared to just 6 by Moyes, but in terms of losses, van Gaal’s side have been beaten 4 fewer times this time round compared to last. It is that number which we feel is the most important. Moyes’ team lost the air of invincibility that had been cultivated and nurtured by Ferguson. In comparison, after a shaky start van Gaal’s team have started to regain it once again, especially at Old Trafford where few teams will look forward to visiting next season.
If you can’t be good, be lucky
Midway through the season van Gaal’s side went through a sticky patch during which even the most myopic of United fan would agree they were often lucky to get through unscathed. Victories away to Southampton (where they were out-shot 15 to 3) and Arsenal (where in the 85th minute United had scored two goals despite only having had one shot on target in the entire match) bore the hallmarks of a stubborn and determined team. Throw into that mix a last minute howler from Tim Krul which gifted United 3 points at Newcastle, and you can see that van Gaal’s successful season hasn’t been entirely straightforward. Regardless, that ability to dig deep and grind out three points was a quality, which served Moyes and van Gaal’s predecessor Sir Alex Ferguson so well, so in that sense, van Gaal’s record must be respected. Obviously there have been blips later on in the season, but losses against Manchester City and away at Everton act as helpful reminders that van Gaal’s team are still very much a work-in-progress.
Against the top 6
One of the biggest turnarounds this season has been the results against the teams at the very top of the table. Last season, Moyes’ men failed to win all but one of the encounters against the league’s top 6 teams, ending his reign with a record of P12, W1, D3, L8. That feeling of “slipping behind” their rivals haunted United fans and thankfully for them, Louis van Gaal has addressed this. To date, van Gaal has seen his side beat Liverpool home and away, beat Arsenal away, beat Man City at home in the derby, take 4pts from Tottenham, and dig deep to take a point off champions elect Chelsea at Old Trafford. Essentially, none of the big sides have done the double over United, and they have been competitive in every single match against their traditional adversaries at the top of the table.
Turning shit into gold
At times under David Moyes, Marouane Fellaini drifted around the Theatre of Dreams like a misshapen ball of pubes, swept up from the plughole of the Old Trafford showers. Louis van Gaal has taken that bundle of pubes and trimmed them into something beautiful. These days, with his role on the pitch established, and his position in the squad no longer under question, the Belgian struts around with an air of strength and grace. Now occupying the pivotal position between midfield and attack, Fellaini has become a potent threat going forward but still remains a key contributor to the defence whenever United require a bit of bite and steel at the back. The resurgent Fellaini has become a symbol of a resurgent Manchester United, though as he showed against Everton at the weekend, he still has the ability to throw in the occasional inconsistent performance.
Stubbornness and remaining true to your beliefs
Back in January, with United stinking out Loftus Road following a dire first half display against QPR, sections of the travelling support turned on Louis van Gaal, imploring him to change formation. With chants of “4-4-2” ringing in his ears, the Dutchman did the one thing that has defined his entire career in football… Absolutely f**k all.
Van Gaal is a man who pays zero attention to the opinions and desires of other people. He pig-headedly pursues his own agenda and his own beliefs. He doesn’t care if big money signings like Falcao, Di Maria, Shaw or van Persie don’t fit his system, he drops them and by the same token that afternoon he ignored the shouts of 3,000 disgruntled supporters and stuck to his preferred 3-5-2 formation. At full time, United had won the game 2-0 and fans got an insight into the character and mentality of Louis van Gaal. For all his faults, United do at least have a leader at the helm once again.
In comparison last season, there were times when David Moyes appeared weak-willed and directionless, caught in the glare of the Old Trafford floodlights like a rabbit stunned by a fast-approaching juggernaut. Whatever you think of some of the tactics and performances from Manchester United this season, in Louis van Gaal the club have an extremely strong-willed manager and a definite plan in place. Under van Gaal, United are still a work in progress and whether or not the level of performances will start to rise to previous levels remains to be seen, but the signs are encouraging and there’s plenty for United fans to look forward to next season.
By the way, don’t worry about David Moyes. I hear that San Sebastián is grand this time of year…