Half a season in, Manchester United are well on their way back under Louis van Gaal
London // Hotels in the English capital are packed with tourists over the festive period, though few would have served pasta at breakfast as ordered by Manchester United’s players before their game at Tottenham.
A midday kick-off, the earliest of the season, meant a carbohydrate-packed start to the day for the players and a match that began 20 minutes before the first train arrived in London from Manchester – not that travel considerations for visiting fans hold sufficient sway.
Louis van Gaal’s words do, though.
He remains annoyed that the game kicked off 43 hours after United’s previous encounter finished, yet he kept the same 11 for the first time in 85 United matches.
“It’s unbelievable,” Van Gaal said pre-match. “I hope it’s enough time to recover. I have players on the bench who miss match rhythm, so we cannot change.”
England’s festive fixtures and the high attendances they attract are cherished, but it is a double shock to Van Gaal.
He is new to a country where a festive log jam of fixtures are the norm, while a lack of cup matches mean United have only played 20 games this season against 30 for Spurs.
Van Gaal’s players did not do the usual 11 versus 11 training session between matches and focused instead on video analysis, but they began brightly at a stadium where they had been undefeated in 13 previous visits.
The visitors also enjoyed more possession in the first half with four efforts on goal to Tottenham’s one.
With three defenders and the focus on his attackers, Juan Mata probed with his passes and Wayne Rooney looked a danger, though Robin van Persie and Radamel Falcao in front lacked sharpness.
Van Gaal thought it was his side’s best first half performance but sighed as he said: “When you create six to eight open chances, you have to finish [them].”
Fortunes switched in the second half, with United managing a solitary effort as the sun rose above the stands and home supporters at the Paxton End shielded their eyes, making it harder to see Tottenham’s improvement.
The United fans opposite were typically vocal, but their team had gone flat and no amount of intervention, whether from introducing three new defenders to Van Gaal’s shiny patent shoes crossing his technical area onto the grass so he could voice some encouragement, worked to revive his players.
“It was not football in the second period, it was a struggle for life,” he said.
“Tottenham won the second balls and that’s why they were more dominating than Manchester.”
The Dutchman did not vary from his theme, shifting focus away from his side’s deficiencies and poor refereeing.
“It is scientifically proven that the body cannot recover within 48 hours,” he said.
“When the FA allow to play matches you see what it’s like. The second half was very different to the first. Tottenham and United could have played better.”
With two more points dropped, Van Gaal thinks it will be “very difficult” for his side to be champions when they fail to win games where he feels they have been superior, as at Aston Villa and Spurs.
He also said he believes we will see a true Van Gaal side next season, but improvements have been tangible.
United started 2014 in seventh and finish it third and in a Uefa Champions League position.
They are also unbeaten in nine games, four of them on the road, ahead of two more away trips at Stoke and Yeovil in the next seven days. They had better pack more pasta.
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Published: December 29, 2014 04:00 AM