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past the three-month stag

    • 495 posts
    February 5, 2018 2:29 AM CST

    Three months. In July, newly minted Manchester United manager Louis Van Gaal announced it would take three months for his team to show true progress through his approach. Although were past the three-month stage, it seems more appropriate to have that conversation now that were three months into Premier League play. Its performance in actual competitive matches and subsequent results that are most indicative of progress. Yet, sitting here in November, 11 games into the Premier League season, we still have no idea what Manchester United is or what they can be. 16 points from 11 games and sitting seventh place after a £149 million summer spend has many eyes rolling. The cheap shot David Moyes could have done that commentary is tiresome. Moyes taking the job at Real Sociedad will grab the attention of many in the Northwest of England, who will unquestionably be casting judgment about what kind of job the former boss does in San Sebastian. The comparisons that will follow between Moyes and Van Gaal will be irrelevant and frankly a bore. Different men, a different approach with very different looking teams. So we move forward. Extenuating and trying circumstances have greatly hampered Van Gaal and his introduction to the Premier League. Injury isnt an excuse until it actually is a reason. Injury and suspension have made it impossible to gauge whether the foundation Van Gaal has put down is good enough. Through it all, United are only two points back of fourth place West Ham with Champions League football next season remaining a reasonable objective in a league full of flawed teams. It was another slow and sluggish performance in a makeshift 1-0 home victory over Crystal Palace Saturday. No cutting edge. Too slow. No cohesion. It was the kind of performance from a team thats a work in progress. Good players unsure of themselves and their positioning. The standard is so high at United that its a strange sight to see a team struggling as such with so many high-priced players. This is a time Van Gaals idea of progress will come through cultivating the minds and approach of his players. Success for the rest of us will come through results and quality of winning performance. But with this team, at this time, there is no accurate barometer. It is too early to tell if success is on the horizon. The fundamental difficulty in judging United is the players themselves. 31 players have played in 11 league games with 36 different players listed on the team sheet. The turnover has been astonishing. Goalkeeper David De Gea is the only player to play every match, and only he and Wayne started both the opening game of the season and Saturday against Crystal Palace. Nine players were out injured and one suspended on the weekend - a recurring issue with the team. Centre-back has been symbolic of change in system and personnel. With Paddy McNair and Daley Blind starting at the position Saturday, and the match ending with what looked like Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher as centre-halves, United have now used 12 different central defensive combinations. Thats 12 in 11 games. This is no longer a place where centre-back stability was a given, with the likes of Bruce-Pallister or Ferdinand-Vidic deputizing and being integral to team success. These are extraordinary measures for any manager to deal with, let alone a new one coming off a late arrival after World Cup duty and an inconvenient, yet necessary pre-season tour. Its also extremely difficult for players to find consistency with great change around them. Six key players brought to the team in the summer require time to gel, as do a number of call-ups from within the United ranks. Great change in personnel is one thing; change in system is another. Van Gaal freely admits the change in tactical approach is less than ideal. The pragmatic nature of his week-to-week team selection and formation is done out of necessity rather than training pitch design. United have played a 3-5-2, 4-4-2, 4-5-1 which has more or less dissolved into a 4-1-4-1. And the formations continually change within matches through adjustments by the manager or the players showing a lack of discipline in said position. The win against Palace exposed all of what has plagued Van Gaals set-up: players out of position, unbalanced in formation and lacking cohesion. The back four continues to take the brunt of criticism (inexperience and a revolving door of players will do that). The root of the teams problems lay in midfield. Im assuming Ander Herrera has only been on the team-sheet for the last three matches to fill a spot: emergency situations only. The Spaniard came back far too soon from a fractured rib and struggled wearing a corset against West Brom three weeks ago. He only lasted 45 minutes. The midfield without Herrera is quite frankly a mess. Even with Herrera, it can be argued there is a complete imbalance in personnel. Blind and Carrick are comfortable on the ball but far better operating from deeper positions. With this the case, it seems Van Gaal may resort to a double pivot once his back line returns to health (which is no given). From there, more issues arise. Angel Di Maria is a no-brainer down the left. The Argentine has struggled recently as the formation has changed, looking unsure of his role and even mores of his teammates. United still have too many number 10s - Rooney, Juan Mata, and to a lesser extent Marouane Fellaini. Fellainis positional sense is a mess, and cannot be trusted in a more defensive role. That leaves the right side, where Adnan Januzaj has taken up the position. The 19-year-old has experienced a hesitant start, failing to beat players on the dribble and looking awkward on the right flank. At this point it seems reasonable for Januzaj to be no more than a reserve on the left. The right side of the field has no proper fit unless a fit Ashley Young can find any kind of form or Antonio Valencia develop some real attacking prowess. Bottomline, the right side has a gaping hole. Van Gaal must decide what formation he wants to play and bring in requisite bodies to execute. Or else this patchwork midfield group will continue on with all their visible imperfections. Which brings us up front. A lack of team speed is an issue. Robin Van Persie is a technically sound player who lacks pace to break down the opposition at this stage of his career. A healthy Radamel Falcao would be ideal, but there is no guarantee when or if he will be back to his old tricks. James Wilson looks lively, but lacks the polish to be the lone target-man. The issue of team speed starts in the midfield, with no player other than Di Maria able to play the game with true pace. Luke Shaw is the one source of speed out of the back, but is not on the same page as Di Maria. So the current set-up is less than ideal and too predictable. The end result is a team with top players, not fast enough, healthy enough, or cohesive enough to break down opponents, particularly inferior ones intent on putting 11 behind the ball. This is not to say this group does not have the ability to get to that level. But right now, everything remains too direct, lacking creativity. Rooney as a centre-midfielder is by default. Januzaj on the right is desperation. As are midfield players playing in the back. Manchester United is like a house with a bunch of nice furniture with none of it going together. Everything seems out of place. A house without a solid foundation will crumble, no matter the bells and whistles. United have many impressive pieces. We are no nearer to finding whether they are a match. Thats Van Gaals challenge right now: do enough to pick up results while meticulously perfecting his design. When he says it will take three-years to achieve the results desired, its an honest assessment of the team he has and where it needs to go. Just because you spend a lot of money doesnt guarantee results. If it were only that simplistic. Top players only take you so far. After 11 games in a mediocre Premier League, makeshift may just be enough for this work-in-progress Manchester United team to achieve top-four. And even if they do, we still may need more time for a complete assessment of the new Manchester United. Gareth Wheeler @WheelerTSN gareth.wheeler@bellmedia.ca Reggie Jackson Jersey. Coach Jorge Sampaoli resisted naming any major surprises in the list published Tuesday at the site of Chiles football association. Chile is pinning its hopes on the recovery of Vidal. Grant Long Jersey. 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