LONDON: Manchester United and Louis Van Gaal will find the first months of the season tougher than anyone expects despite the positive signs from their unbeaten, trophy-winning pre-season trip to the United States. Two senior managers have issued that warning and issued it publicly.
Not surprisingly, perhaps, one of those managers was Brendan Rodgers, managed of the revived Liverpool beaten by United in Monday’s final of the International Champions Cup in Miami. United defeated Liverpool 3:1 and returned home having conceded only four goals in five games against not only Liverpool and LA Galaxy but also Roma, Internazionale and Real Madrid.
But the other manager to issue such a warning was Van Gaal himself after his first unbeaten three weeks both ‘discovering’ his new players and educating them in the defensive ways of a 3-4-1-2 tatical system.
Rodgers considers that Van Gaal could struggle to adjust to the particular pressures of the Premier League for all the Dutchman’s experience with Ajax, Alkmaar, Barcelona and FC Bayern.
The Ulsterman said: “I think he’ll find the competition in this league different from any other in which he’s worked.
“In the other leagues there are one or two teams who are expected to win. But in the Premier League, when the top team play the bottom team, on any given day you can lose. You don’t get that a lot in the other leagues. I think the competition will probably take him by surprise — and that’s from foreign managers I have spoken to over the years.
“I’ve worked closely with foreign players who have come in and the physically competitive nature will be different from anywhere else he’s worked.”
Van Gaal agreed with Rodgers over adjustment time but his reasoning was different. For Van Gaal the challenge is all about his players learning his mental and tactical expectations.
As evidence Van Gaal pointed to his early days at FC Bayern who were seventh after his opening 13 matches in 2009-10 but went on to win the Bundesliga title and won only one of their first four Champions League group stage games before going on to reach the final.
Van Gaal has described the United squad he found as “broken” and “unbalanced” after their worst season for 23 years and in need of transformatory time.
He said: “At every club I have been, I have struggled for the first three months. After that, then the players know what I want: how I am as a human being and also as a manager because I am very direct.
“I say things as they are, so they have to adapt to that way of coaching. It’s not so easy, and also the way I train and coach is in the brains and not the legs. A lot of players play intuitively but I want them to think and know why they do something. That’s a difficult process at first.
“But after we have survived the first three months, then it will be the same as at Bayern.”
This may come as a disappointment for United fans who hope that painful memories of the David Moyes legacy can be wiped away as soon as possible.
Such expectations were fuelled by the fixtures schedule which offered United a comfortable start to the season. They do not face the distraction of European competition and, by the end of October, they will have played only once against a team in last season’s top four (Chelsea on October 26).
Van Gaal has been cautious about further transfer acquisitions – after teenage leftback Luke Shaw and Spanish midfielder Ander Herrera – but his squad looks dangerously thin in defence after the departures of Rio Ferdinand (to QPR), Nemanja Vidic (to Inter) and Patrice Evra (to Juventus).
In midfield Herrera was energetic while Duncan Fletcher was welcomed back after illness as a stabilising force, particularly with Michael Carrick sidelined for three months by injury. But uncertainty lingers over the Old Trafford future of Shinji Kagawa.
Further forward Wayne Rooney was outstanding on tour, to such an extent that he may earn the captain’s armband when Van Gaal eventually balances the England man’s physical resilience against Robin Van Persie’s fragile fitness.
At least Van Gaal’s United continue making money like no other club. Some 360,000 fans watched them in total on tour including a US football record of 109,000 against Madrid in Michigan. The tour earned United £8m plus a £750,000 prize for winning the ICC trophy.
The question is: Will there be a more meaningful trophy to raise next May?