Europa League looms large for Van Gaal’s toothless Red Devils
Lee Gormley | December 9, 2015
Man Utd suffer consequence of soft showings
Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United suffered a hapless exit from the Champions League at the hands of Bundesliga battlers Wolfsburg on a miserable away night in Germany, with the Europa League now looming large after such dismal European displays.
The Old Trafford faithful were jubilant, yet slightly underwhelmed, after Van Gaal’s maiden campaign in charge of their club, as he guided them to a fourth-place finish, which brought with it a promising return to Europe’s elite club competition.
Although, within months of securing a European spot once again and battling back through the play-offs, United proved that they simply weren’t ready for a Champions League comeback, haplessly bowing out in the group stage following another stale performance.
Upon drawing eventual Group B winners Wolfsburg, runners-up PSV Eindhoven and bottom side CSKA Moscow, hope was further instilled within the Red Devils camp, but the Van Gaal-orchestrated band failed to find any rhythm or hit any of the earlier touted high notes, leaving the Dutchman as 33/1 with Coral to be next Premier League boss dismissed.
Europa League struggles lie ahead
Even David Moyes, the former bewildering coach sacked before Van Gaal took charge, was able to lead United to top of Group A in the 2013/14 European campaign, eventually being dispatched by Bayern Munich in the quarter-finals.
What lies ahead for the faltering Red Devils now is the secondary European competition, seen by many clubs and managers, including Jose Mourinho recently, as more of a domestic distraction than another opportunity for silverware success. Of course, this is an arrogant view clearly not shared by back-to-back champions Sevilla.
Nevertheless, a Europa League triumph (11/1) would undoubtedly be welcomed with hesitantly open arms by United fans next year, with such a coup also guaranteeing safe passage back to the Champions League the subsequent season; a potentially vicious circle if form can’t be overturned.
However, with talented sides such as Napoli, Villarreal, Borussia Dortmund and bitter rivals Liverpool still competing in the competition, based on recent European exploits, the Red Devils could face further embarrassment by apparent lesser opposition.
No luck for Van Gaal
In a season which has seen Man Utd endure no less than six goalless stalemates throughout all competitions, following a summer transfer expenditure of around £200m, Van Gaal is still failing to deliver a steady revival, but claims his side have actually improved.
“When you see the facts – we went further in the Capital One Cup, qualified for the Champions League group, we have played all these matches and are still in a very good position in the league,” stated the Dutchman after losing to Wolfsburg.
“The facts say we are better than last year. I’m also disappointed that we are out of the Champions League.”
It could be argued that luck hasn’t been on the former Netherlands coaches’ side, with youngsters like Nick Powell, Guillermo Varela and Cameron Borthwick-Jackson being thrust into the Die Wolfe defeat due to an ever-growing list of injury absentees.
Skipper Wayne Rooney, Marcos Rojo, Morgan Schneiderlin, Luke Shaw, Phil Jones, Antonio Valencia, Ander Herrera and Matteo Darmian have all been sidelined of late, piling unwanted pressure on Van Gaal and possibly helping to derail his team’s European ventures.
In spite of this, players such as Chris Smalling, who have been hailed as stand-out performers this term, were fatally at fault against Wolfsburg, with the England international defender letting lacklustre Brazilian centre back Naldo bag a rare brace to end European hopes, proving a lack of luck wasn’t the only issue.
League position masking problems
Yes, United’s current domestic standing doesn’t suggest any immediate problems, as they sit in fourth position, level on points with title-favourites Manchester City and only three points adrift of surprise leaders Leicester City.
Though, in a division which sees Claudio Ranieri’s Foxes sit top of the table, reigning champions Chelsea lie dangerously close to relegation and no side able to string more than two successive wins together of late, their position isn’t that impressive, or encouraging.
Of course, Van Gaal has outlined on numerous occasions that he is preparing the squad for his eventual successor, which could potentially be present assistant Ryan Giggs or recently-appointed Valencia boss Gary Neville, and his continuing blooding of youth is one key applaudable factor during his indifferent reign that highlights this.
But, with the Dutchman having tasted misery on the European front and his side scrapping around the Premier League top four, his long-term outlook for benefiting future United managers is hindering that of the present set-up and is an approach which could ultimately see Van Gaal dauntingly witness his successor named sooner than expected.
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