Manchester United v Everton: Louis Van Gaal under the microscope as United seek much-needed victory

Experience is supposed to moderate the emotions. Those who have seen and done it all before should be likelier to treat triumph and disaster the same, rather than veering off towards either extreme.

Manchester United’s Manager Louis van Gaal reacts during the English Premier League soccer match between Manchester City and Manchester United in Manchester, Britain, 20 March 2016. Manchester United won 1-0. EPA/NIGEL RODDIS
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• Manchester United v Everton, Sunday April 3, 7pm

Experience is supposed to moderate the emotions. Those who have seen and done it all before should be likelier to treat triumph and disaster the same, rather than veering off towards either extreme. Louis van Gaal has a quarter of a century’s experience as a trainer-coach, to use his phrase, but has cut a despondent figure after defeats and a giddy, cocky one after wins this season.

The Manchester United manager treated his last match (a 1-0 win over Manchester City) as a do-or-die affair. Supporters often do when they are local derbies, but it was Manchester City's proximity in the table, rather than on the map, that concerned Van Gaal. A loss, he felt, would have made it impossible for his side to finish fourth. Even a draw, maintaining a four-point gap, would have rendered it "very difficult" for United to overtake City. Yet victory, sealed by Marcus Rashford's goal, had Van Gaal sounding buoyant.

“Now it is in our hands,” he declared. A reason for his confidence was one he kept repeating. “We have more home matches than away,” he said. So United do, with five on their own patch and only three on their travels. United’s destiny may be determined in their backyard, starting with Sunday’s visit of Everton.

As Van Gaal pointed out, United rarely lose at Old Trafford. They have the Premier League’s most frugal home defence. Yet they have been outscored at home by Newcastle. Being hard to beat is not enough, especially as Everton are draw specialists on the road. United require victories if Van Gaal is to be able to claim a traumatic season is even a qualified success.

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Banking on them is harder. A team whose displays can be dull have nevertheless been erratic. Everton brought the best out of them. United won 3-0 at Goodison Park in October when Van Gaal’s team selection and tactics proved perfect. That has been the case less frequently since then. Old Trafford savoured the mayhem of February’s Rashford-inspired 3-2 win over Arsenal but United have rarely played with the authority of top-four finishers on their own turf.

If Van Gaal’s players will be under the microscope at the weekend, not least the precocious Rashford, so will the manager himself. After months of missteps, did he stumble upon a winning formula at City? Well as Jesse Lingard did as a No. 10 at the Etihad Stadium, there is a case for recalling Ander Herrera, a scorer at Goodison Park, to see if he can reprise that role. Certainly Rashford’s prowess should enable Anthony Martial, who excelled on the left at both Everton and City, to remain a winger.

Yet United have rarely had consistency of thought or performance. Morgan Schneiderlin, who both scored at Everton and starred at City 12 days ago, has been parachuted in and removed from the team with seemingly little consideration to form. Marouane Fellaini, whose £27.5 million sale to United in 2013 helped finance the productive Romelu Lukaku’s arrival, could yet be preferred against his former club even though results suggest it should be a simple decision. United have only won 33 per cent of games Fellaini has started this season and 57 per cent Schneiderlin has begun.

But United linger in no-man’s land, making definitive judgments difficult. They could finish fourth, as they did 11 months ago, or seventh, as they did the previous year. That would suggest Van Gaal had taken United back to the depths David Moyes plummeted. In one respect, however, he has comprehensively outperformed his predecessor, whose reign was curtailed by defeat to Everton.

Moyes took no points from 18 against City, Liverpool and Everton. Van Gaal has 13 from 15 so far this season. If he makes it 16, expect the Dutchman to show the swagger of a man who thinks he is steering them back into the Champions League.

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