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Darren Lewis: Why Louis van Dull may yet have the last laugh

18 Feb | BY Betway | MIN READ TIME |
Darren Lewis: Why Louis van Dull may yet have the last laugh

It hasn't been pretty but the Dutchman will have done his job if he gets unbalanced United back into the Champions League.

IT IS WHEN the Premier League start dishing out points for artistic impression that Louis van Gaal will start to worry.

Until then, the Manchester United manager will not care a lick about the criticism he is receiving for the Reds’ lack of fluency.

Yes, the former champions spent over £150million last summer as part of their re-design.

Yes, United fans and devotees should be getting more bang for their buck in keeping with the kind of cavalier football with which we have been spoiled with over the past two and a half decades under Sir Alex Ferguson.

Nobody can deny that the Reds have been disjointed, disappointing and at times downright ugly to watch this season.

But the brutal truth is, Van Gaal is getting the job done.  While clubs were queuing up to play (and embarrass) United under David Moyes, Van Gaal has made a fragile, unbalanced team difficult to beat again.

United’s executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward and the club’s board set Van Gaal the challenge of restoring Champions League football to Old Trafford after Moyes’ nightmare campaign. As things stand, the Dutchman is on course to oblige.

You can moan all you want about it not being pretty. You can criticise all you want about it not being easy on the eye.

But without the two commanding centre-halves they have been crying out for following the departures of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand, United have been effective and are in the top four.

Going into Saturday’s game at Swansea, Van Gaal’s team have the third-best defence in the Premier League and have been defeated just once in their last 19 games in all competitions.

European football’s top club competition is back within range again. And at the end of the season that will be all that the money men, the people who deal in cold, hard numbers and cash, care about. 

Who knows, if he can get past Arsenal at home, Van Gaal could even stick an FA Cup in the trophy cabinet as the cherry on the cake.

Commercially, though, the Champions League – and the revenue that comes with it – that is all important. It is where the best players want to play.

If United don’t make it back into the top four they will have to keep throwing silly money at players – like the vast sums they are paying the likes of Falcao –  to come to Old Trafford.

It is claimed that many are finding it hard to see a philosophy in the way that Van Gaal’s United are playing right now. He will have little defence against that argument.

But while his attack is mouthwatering on paper, he still does not have the commanding central midfielder in the mould of Chelsea’s Nemanja Matic.

He still does not have that authority at the back in central defence. The players that he (and the club) wants will not be available until the summer.

Which is why so many of the people criticising him (even though they won’t admit it) were not convinced that United had the rearguard to get into the top four this season.

The minor places are clearly not where United should be given their expenditure and the stellar names they have in attack. But football isn’t played on paper – and United have still only lost just four times in the League this season.

Laud the likes of Burnley for the way that they attacked United last week all you want. Which team waltzed off with the three points and which team is second-bottom of the Premier League?

Sam Allardyce may have christened Van Gaal’s team ‘Long-ball United’, but it is Van Gaal who currently sits in the top four, where the east Londoners openly declared they wanted to be at the start of the season.

Yet when the Dutchman goes in search of the star names to complete the rebuilding process this summer, the answer is likely to follow a recurring theme:

Want PSG centre-back Marquinhos? Get Champions League football.

Want Borussia Dortmund’s Mats Hummels? Get Champions League football.

Want Paul Pogba from Juventus? Get Champions League football.

Want to lure Gareth Bale back to English football from Real Madrid where the fans appear to have turned on him? Get Champions League football.

Either that or make sure you’ve got even more money to pay his wages every week than Walter and Skyler White kept in that lockup in Breaking Bad.

Even then, why would the finest talent in European football want to schlep around in the second-tier competition when they can get themselves comfy at the top table at any other club?

Yes, the likes of James Wilson, Tyler Blackett and Paddy McNair will come on a bundle for this season. But it may well be once we see the big defensive players that Van Gaal really wants that the Reds start to express themselves in the way that we have become accustomed.

That said, the pulse of the mentality left behind by Sir Alex is still beating faintly. Daley Blind’s equalising goal at West Ham came in the shadow of Fergie Time. 

Once Ashley Young replaced Falcao at Preston and United changed shape they soon equalised against Simon Grayson’s side who found themselves unable to cope.

It is still there. But Van Gaal – whose record speaks for itself – is having to restore confidence and everyone is having to put in a shift. 

He clearly didn’t help himself when he bit on the jibe from Big Sam last week but his outstanding record of titles in four countries (and the Champions League at Ajax) speaks for itself and buys him time.

Defender Jonny Evans summed it up well this week when he said: “‘I think we are seeing progress.

‘You can see that with the performances. At the start of season we were not playing well and we were not getting results but the manager has got us organised and everyone knows their jobs.

“I think once we get that cemented then we can go and start entertaining again. Once we get the ball down show our composure I think the football will be attractive.”

It is may be proving a long time for the fans, neutrals and pundits to have to wait. But the money men at Old Trafford have got the champagne on ice. 

4/9Manchester United to finish in the Top 4

5/4Manchester United to win the Premier League w/o Chelsea & Man City