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Have Manchester United Made Any Progress Under Louis van Gaal? Writers Have Their Say

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, there was no such thing as a crisis at Manchester United . Sure, there was the odd freak disturba...

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, there was no such thing as a crisis at Manchester United.

Sure, there was the odd freak disturbance in the force – a 6-3 defeat to Southampton days after a five-goal loss at Newcastle – but by and large life at Old Trafford was serene.
Golden years: United were a picture of stability under Fergie
Golden years: United were a picture of stability under Fergie
Much of that was down to Sir Alex Ferguson , of course. The Govan governor was all things to all men and women, ruling with an iron fist when required but also nurturing and protecting his charges.

When stars left, they were replaced. When injuries hit, squad members stepped up. When performances dipped, Fergie indulged in some media misdirection and things returned to normal.

Since the great man called it a day, things have been far more fraught.

First, there was the David Moyes Experience – a season that reminded fans just how fragile things can be at the top level of the game. United slumped to seventh. Alarm bells rang.

Louis van Gaal arrived and steadied the ship in his first season. The Red Devils were not sensational by any means but returned to the Champions League, guaranteeing that all-important continental paycheck. 
Feeling the heat: Van Gaal is under pressure after recent results
Feeling the heat: Van Gaal is under pressure after recent results
But it's fair to say the honeymoon period is now over for Van Gaal.

Whispers of discontent over United's style have turned into a roar. Former players are queuing up to declare their distaste for the careful passing football favoured by the Dutchman.

For a while, results offered their own justification. But the midweek European exit was a huge blow and Premier League performances either side – a dire 0-0 draw with West Ham and Saturday's loss to Bournemouth – mean mutiny is in the air.

As ever, there will be a knee-jerk reaction. The odds on him leaving are already tumbling.

But beneath the bluster, what should we make of the job done by Van Gaal at Old Trafford? Have United improved since his arrival?

Below, our writers have their say:

Man United – last five games
Goals scored
Goals conceded
John Cross

Of course they've made progress – I'm just not sure it's what most fans would describe as £280m worth of progress.

When Van Gaal took over, Manchester United were out of the top four, miles from being title challengers and looked to be in a right mess.

Now they are in the top four, got into the Champions League in LVG's first season and they're not a million miles from being title challengers.

It's just not what we expect from United. We expect flair as well as trophies and, ultimately, the dull and rather methodical style of play together with some bad buys will be the reasons why LVG could (and maybe should) be ousted next summer.

Underwhelming: United's form has fallen away in recent weeks
Underwhelming: United's form has fallen away in recent weeks

David McDonnell

There's no question United have improved under Louis van Gaal. But the big question is: have they improved enough under him, particularly after spending £280m on the squad over 18 months?

When Van Gaal took over, United were in crisis following the calamitous tenure of David Moyes, the Reds having gone from champions to seventh in their first season post-Sir Alex Ferguson.

Van Gaal fulfilled his remit of taking United back to the Champions League at the first attempt, but last week's exit from the competition, from one of the easiest groups, was a major setback for the Reds.

Defeat at Bournemouth compounded that failing, yet United still find themselves within touching distance in the title race, just four points behind leaders Arsenal approaching the halfway point of the season.
Having a stinker: Wayne Rooney is among the players struggling for form
Having a stinker: Wayne Rooney is among the players struggling for form
The problem for Van Gaal is that the style of football he has imposed on United, rigid, pragmatic and lacking flair, is at odds with the attacking traditions of the club and, when it doesn't yield results, the backlash from fans is fierce.

What hasn't helped Van Gaal is his desire to work with a smaller squad this season, despite the fact United have more games, given their involvement in Europe. That decision has backfired, with eight players currently injured.

He has jettisoned three strikers in Robin van Persie, Radamel Falcao and Javier Hernandez, as well as letting James Wilson go on loan, and brought in just Anthony Martial, whose goals have dried up after an explosive start.

Defensively, Van Gaal has improved United, but that has come at the expense of their attacking threat. United no longer attack at beakneck speed and have become predictable and prosaic in the way they are set up for games.

Drawing blanks: United's attack is not clicking
Drawing blanks: United's attack is not clicking
His judgment in the transfer market is questionable, too. Only Martial, signed for a vastly inflated price, has been a success, although his recent lean spell, coupled with Wayne Rooney's poor form, has left United lacking up front.

It's easy to see why Bayern Munich were happy to offload Bastian Schweinsteiger, Matteo Darmian has regressed after a positive start, while Morgan Schneiderlin blows hot and cold.

The Champions League exit has increased the pressure on Van Gaal to deliver the title this season. Despite assurances from United that he retains their full backing, the hierarchy are not oblivous to the current discontent among fans.

Players at Van Gaal's previous clubs have always been resistant to his methods at first but, once they see results improve, they are converted.

Mixed messages: There have been whispers of discontent at Van Gaal's training methods
Mixed messages: There have been whispers of discontent at Van Gaal's training methods
If United's results do not improve, Van Gaal is likely to face a full-on mutiny from players who, while paying lip service publicly to their boss, are known to have doubts over his approach.

If Van Gaal can win the title or, at the very least, maintain a sustained challenge, he is likely to see out the final year of his contract with United. If not, expect a change of manager in the summer.

James Nursey

I think United have made a little progress but not much - especially given the outlay on players.

The Premier League table suggests they are closer to winning it than they were under David Moyes. But on recent form another trophyless season looks likely with two doors shut already after exiting the League Cup and Champions League.

And I don't blame Moyes for looking enviously at United's expenditure and thinking he could have done a lot better with all that cash.
Thinking to do: How can Van Gaal get United playing again?
Thinking to do: How can Van Gaal get United playing again?
Amid all the millions they have splashed on costly new signings, I still can't believe LVG let Jonny Evans out of the door for £8million as he has been superb for West Brom.

Some of the decisions really don't add up and with LVG on record about leaving the club when his contract up I can see problems ahead.

At this rate it will be a surprise to me if the Dutchman gets to the end of his deal in 2017.

David Maddock

Yes, United have made progress. Last season, when he took over, they weren't even in Europe, never mind the Champions' League so top four was a tangible progression.

This season, they are title contenders, no question, and even the disasters of the last two weeks doesn't change that. So, yes, progress. Of sorts.

The big question is though, what sort of progress given a near £300m investment over that period? They don't have a recognised senior striker beyond Rooney, and even he is not quite an out and out striker any more. So to end up without a true, experienced centre forward is a shocking mistake, given the money spent, and that leaves questions open against the manager.

Neil McLeman

For me, it is not about the money spent or the failure to qualify for the Champions League knockout stage. It is about the greatest team in English football looking scared to play.

Even for the neutral, Manchester United represent the best of our football - attacking wing play, shots on goal, edge-of-the-seat entertainment.

Under Louis Van Gaal, I would rather watch the Villa.

Week to forget: Van Gaal can't watch as United lose to Wolfsburg
Week to forget: Van Gaal can't watch as United lose to Wolfsburg

Adrian Kajumba

They have made progress, but nowhere near enough for the money that has been spent.

Louis van Gaal deserves credit for getting Manchester United back into the Champions League after they were left languishing in seventh by David Moyes.

There have been a couple of positives player wise such as Chris Smalling's development and keeping hold of David de Gea, even if it was by sheer luck.

Other than that, though, you are struggling for positives from his reign. United are out this season's Champions League already and have made little impression in the cup competitions.

Their football certainly isn't any better. In fact it is worse.
Going backwards: United are lacking in confidence
Going backwards: United are lacking in confidence
Other than passing the ball for the sake of passing, it is difficult to know the end goal of Van Gaal's philosophy is, what the ideal performance from his team would look like or even whether what we have seen is it.

The squad is a bit of a mess too. To spend what he has spent since taking over but still not know what his best team is and have such an unbalanced and shallow squad reflects so badly on Van Gaal and his management.

Yes, he has recouped plenty of money but his shortsighted sales and failure to sufficiently reinforce his squad have left United desperately short of bodies and forced to ask too much, too soon of some of the club's youngsters.

Van Gaal has splashed out almost £300m in 18 months but you might not think that looking at his options or the way United play plus he'll need a lot more before it is a balanced one. That says it all.

David Anderson

I think Louis van Gaal has made progress during his 18-month reign since succeeding David Moyes.

He has led Manchester United back into the Champions League after their woeful campaign under Moyes in 2013-14.

But the big problem for United is that I don't think he can take them any further and they will not win the title under him.

Speaking to van Gaal as well, he seems to think his target each season is to qualify for the Champions League. Anything else is a bonus.

Compare that with Fergie and his goal every season was to win a trophy.

United have lowered their ambitions under van Gaal and in a season when the title race is wide open, they are not in a position to take advantage.

Van Gaal's reign at United reminds me of Graeme Souness at Liverpool. He knew the squad needed rebuilding, got rid of some players and brought in new ones, but he doesn't know how to put all the pieces together to make a good team.

He goes on about philosophy, yet no-one watching United has much of an idea of what vision he is trying to realise at Old Trafford.

The signings appear ad hoc and the sight of Marouane Fellaini being used as a battering ram up top jars with most, if not all, United fans.

United are awful to watch under van Gaal and his emphasis on possession means they are slow and plodding and easy to play against.

Unfortunately for United fans, I don't see things getting any better while he remains in charge.

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