Upset Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal waved pages of statistics at reporters yesterday to disprove suggestions that his tactics were turning the team into “long-ball United”.
West Ham United manager Sam Allardyce had spoken out about United’s “thump it forward and see what happens” approach in grabbing a stoppage-time equaliser in a 1-1 draw at Upton Park on Sunday.
Although no stranger to the route-one approach, Allardyce hit a nerve and stung the volatile Van Gaal into a spirited response ahead of tonight’s home Premier League match against Burnley at Old Trafford.
Producing four pages of evidence, he questioned the reasoning and suggested reporters copy the sheets and “then maybe you can go to Big Sam and he will get a good interpretation”.
“We are playing ball possession play and after 70 minutes when we don’t succeed in spite of many chances in the second half, then I changed my playing style,” the Dutchman said, “and then, of course, with the quality of [Marouane] Fellaini, we played more forward balls. We scored, so I think it was a very good decision.
“But, when you see overall the long balls, and what is the percentage of that, then West Ham United have played 71 per cent of the long balls to the forwards and we 49 [per cent].”
The tall midfielder Fellaini came on as a substitute against West Ham, with the Belgian winning the aerial battles and disrupting the defence.
Van Gaal had conceded that the introduction of Fellaini had changed the team’s style of play but said it was warranted in the circumstances.
“You have to see the data and you have to put the data in the right context,” he said yesterday.
“When you have 60 per cent ball possession, do you think that you can do that with long balls? Yes, long balls, in the width, to switch the play. You have to look at the data and then you will see we did play long balls, but long balls wide, rather than to the striker.
“A ball to the forward striker is mainly called long-ball play. Because I expected this question, I have made an interpretation of the data for this game and then I have to say that it is not a good interpretation from Big Sam.”
United will be without left-back Luke Shaw tonight, who is suspended after being sent off for a second bookable offence during Sunday’s game.
Fellow defender Paddy McNair, meanwhile, has signed a new contract tying him to Old Trafford until June 2017, it was revealed yesterday.
The 19-year-old Northern Irishman has made 12 appearances this season.
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