Football 3 years ago

Van Gaal's United masterstroke

  • Van Gaal's United masterstroke

Well who'd have thought it? Seven weeks in and it's Manchester United, not City, who lead the pack. After a draw with Newcastle United followed by a loss to Swansea City, it didn't take long for disgruntled fans to start fidgeting anxiously as the transfer deadline day loomed.

Chastised so viciously for his philosophy, personality and overall performance, Louis Van Gaal's masterstroke was one that few saw coming.

A measly £36 million was thrown to the wind on deadline day, much like the caution of Executive Vice-Chairman Ed Woodward, who has spent £250 million in just two seasons. So what does £36 million get you? An unproven teenager from France whose price tag and insurmountable expectations could easily just become the next Alex Pato?

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Apparently not, it buys you a lifeline. For Van Gaal, a man who prides himself on discipline and structure, it was a chance taken on a whim (and the scouting reports of several big name clubs) that has placed United above the rest on the league table. Ryan Giggs was taken aback by the teenager's ability to adapt to the premier league, while pundit Gary Neville recently gave a glowing review of the way the Frenchman is transforming United's gameplay.

In the first three weeks he couldn't have made any greater impact upon me in terms of how he's settled in, the goals he's scored, the threat he's provided, the transformation of the team, but also the fact that he can physically handle himself, push big men out of the way, hold the ball and turn in one movement.

Anthony Martial isn't just important because of his goals though, even if they have decided games. For a start, he ran a decoy for Van Gaal and Woodward as the De Gea situation simmered to boiling point, and the media happily took the bait leaving the Spanish goalkeeper to slip quietly back into the first XI and the hearts of fans.

Martial's emergence as a 'Thierry Henry' figure also provides Van Gaal the chance to regain the trust of the United faithful and recreate some of the excitement he faced when he first joined the club. Some unfortunate and admittedly unforeseeable transfer tragedies from Angel Di Maria to Radamel Falcao left a sour taste in the fans' mouth and question marks about how far the club had progressed since poor old David Moyes. Van Gaal has a lot to thank that French teenager for as far as crisis aversion goes.

As the season progresses, we are likely to see the best prodigy winger Memphis Depay has to offer, following glimpses of what he is worth. The squad's cohesion is also improving with Bastian Schweinsteiger beginning to control the midfield with the same authority as he had in Germany, while Juan Mata continues to play like he has a point to prove.

Can United stay top though?

We are only seven weeks in and there's plenty more challenges on the way (including Arsenal next week). United aren't out of the woods as far as transfers go either. With Rooney horribly out of form (seldom a couple penalties for England) and the rest of the front line shipped off to the Bundesliga, stocks are short in the front third. Meanwhile at the back, Luke Shaw's devastating injury applies real pressure to Marcus Rojo and Antonio Valencia, neither of whom look totally comfortable as fullback. Things could certainly look worse for the league leaders, but Van Gaal will still be praying for an injury-free run to January at least.

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