Five of the strangest tactical decisions LVG has made at United

Date published: Tuesday 12th April 2016 11:44

Louis van Gaal: Shown the door by Manchester United

Louis van Gaal: Shown the door by Manchester United

Following the use of Ashley Young as a centre-forward, TEAMtalk recalls five other baffling tactical decisions from Louis van Gaal this season.

The Manchester United manager has often befuddled us with some of his decision-making here at TEAMtalk and his explanation of why he chose to play winger Young as a lone striker against Spurs on Sunday also left us scratching our heads.

Here, we recall five other unusual team calls made by Van Gaal during a season of struggle at Old Trafford.

Replacing Mata with Powell at Wolfsburg

<> on December 8, 2015 in Wolfsburg, Germany.

With United losing when they needed a win to secure qualification from what appeared to be a relatively simple Champions League group, Van Gaal opted for a double change. Michael Carrick replaced Bastian Schweinsteiger, with the German struggling alongside Marouane Fellaini at the base of the midfield, while Juan Mata was hooked in favour of Nick Powell.

You could forgive United fans for not recognising Powell since his most recent appearance prior to appearing in Germany had come at MK Dons 16 months previously, when United were sunk 4-0 by the League One outfit in the Capital One Cup.

According to The Times, Powell’s team-mates were equally as ‘bemused’ by his emergence from nowhere at such a crucial time, especially when Andreas Pereira, who had impressed in glimpses around the first-team, remained inactive on the bench.

Unsurprisingly, Powell failed to inspire United, who went down 3-2 – a defeat that condemned the Red Devils to the Europa League. Powell also came off the bench at Bournemouth the following weekend, when they also lost. The then-21-year-old wasn’t seen again near Van Gaal’s first team before joining Hull on loan.


Rashford at right-back at Liverpool

Daniel Sturridge Liverpool v Manchester United

After four wins in four against Liverpool, Van Gaal’s flawless record against the Merseysiders was frittered away when United were beaten 2-0 in the first leg of their Europa League last-16 clash.

Marcus Rashford had enjoyed a stunning start to life in the United first-team, with the teenager having scored four goals in his first four games prior to the trip to Anfield. Van Gaal, though, opted to play Rashford as a right winger. The academy graduate actually spent most of his evening as an auxiliary right-back, with Guillermo Varela instructed to stay tight to the roaming Philippe Coutinho.

Rashford, unsurprisingly, was given the run-around before being hooked at the break. Carrick replaced the youngster, but Van Gaal opted to use the classy midfielder as a centre-back in a three-man defence. Unsurprisingly, United continued to be outclassed and were sent back to Old Trafford with a 2-0 defeat.


Lingard at No.10 v Liverpool

<> on March 17, 2016 in Manchester, United Kingdom.

Rashford was restored to the centre-forward role in the second leg a week later but Van Gaal had another surprise in store.

Right-winger Jesse Lingard, who had contributed one single assist this season, started the evening in the attacking central midfield position – the creative No.10 – while left-footed central attacking midfielder Juan Mata was shunted out to the right.

What made the move all the more baffling is that United’s right winger was up in direct opposition to James Milner – possibly the only player on the pitch as slow as Mata. Rather than test Milner with Lingard’s pace, Van Gaal stuck to the plan as United failed to overturn their first-leg deficit.


Schweinsteiger told to chase Cazorla

Bastian Schweinsteiger Manchester United

United went to the Emirates in good spirits as they occupied second place, with Arsenal sixth. Van Gaal’s side had won five of their last six, scoring 15 goals in the process. All that positivity was blown away by the Gunners, who raced into a 3-0 lead inside 20 minutes.

Van Gaal admitted his side lacked “aggression” during a first-half in which they were blitzed by their opponents. The Dutchman opted to press Arsenal with a pace-less holding midfield pair of Schweinsteiger and Carrick, while Morgan Schneiderlin watched on from the bench. Ashley Young was selected at left-back and was given a torrid time by Mesut Ozil, with Memphis Depay nowhere to be seen in support.

Schweinsteiger had apparently been instructed to get close to Santi Cazorla, but Gary Neville likened the German veteran to a dog:

“It was like a man with a ball saying to a dog “come to get it off me, come to get it off me”, and as soon as he gets near him, he throws it off to Mertesacker.

“It’s like ‘Come on, Come on Doggie’ He’s toying with him, Cazorla.”

With United having been 3-0 down a long time before half-time, Van Gaal used the break to make the most typical double substitution: he swapped a full-back and threw on Fellaini.


Fellaini as a holding midfielder at Stoke

Ibrahim Afellay Stoke v Manchester United

With United having lost three consecutive games to Wolfsburg, Bournemouth and Norwich in the run up to Christmas, United went to Stoke on Boxing Day with Van Gaal under serious pressure, especially given Jose Mourinho’s sudden availability.

On a windy day even by the Britannia’s blowy standards, Van Gaal’s headline team selection centrered around the omission of Wayne Rooney. You could make a very good case for the dropping the captain; he’d been awful in previous weeks. Rather harder to justify was the decision to use Fellaini as a holding midfielder against the pace and trickery of Ibrahim Afellay, Xheridan Shaqiri and Marco Arnautovic.

Fellaini and Carrick were again given a chasing while Ander Herrera was left redundant in the number 10 role. Inexplicably, Schneiderlin again watched on from the bench.

United were 2-0 down by 26 minutes and never appeared likely to make a dent in the scoreline as they went down to their fourth successive defeat.

The result has not deterred Van Gaal from using Fellaini as a holding midfielder since, despite the burly Belgian lacking the mobility and eye for a pass that the role requires.


Ian Watson

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Home Forums Five of the strangest tactical decisions Van Gaal has made at Man United

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    Ian Watson

    Following the use of Ashley Young as a centre-forward, TEAMtalk recalls five other baffling tactical decisions from Louis van Gaal.

    [See the full post at: Five of the strangest tactical decisions Van Gaal has made at Man United]


    Those decisions are nothing short of astounding – in the negative sense. You’d expect better decisions from a Sunday League coach and yet here is a man leading one of the biggest clubs in football history. The lack of realization from the board and the lack of power us fans have on how to save our club makes it all the worse.

    “We suck and we know it but we’re making money so you fans just sit there and take it all in – nothing’s gonna change.”



    must have been hard to choose only 5 🙂



    must have been hard to choose only 5 🙂



    He probably thinks after the Krul substitution at the World Cup he is a tactical genius.



    I don’t want to defend LvG here, because he’s a loony, but a couple of these aren’t really that strange. Lingard has played centrally for us in a lot of games, and has done okay. He’s a very limited player, but he’s clearly playing through the middle to press high and stop centre backs from being comfortable in possession. Mata won’t do that, which is why he gets shifted out wide. Mata played on the right for nearly the whole of last season and the majority of this season.

    It’s a myth that Rashford played as a right back. It’s just not true. It’s just that Liverpool suffocated us with their high press and possession high up the pitch, we couldn’t get out of our own third. Rashford on the right and Martial were both pegged back. Rashford had to track the run of the full back, so he was constantly defending. He’d have been criticised if he just let Varela be doubled up on. He had to track back, and as a result, he was constantly pegged back.

    Schweinsteiger sticking to Cazorla, is that the first time that has ever been done? Ji Sung Park did it to Pirlo against Milan, and Fergie was hailed for it. Phil Jones did it to Ronaldo at the Bernabeu, and he shut him down for the most part. It’s not really that strange to see it happen. It’s very common. Just because it didn’t work on this occasion doesn’t make it strange.

    Fellaini being on the pitch at all is the poor decision. He is such a nothing player, but again, he has played as the deepest midfielder plenty for both us, Everton and Belgium. When asked what his favourite position is, that is the position he prefers to play in.

    There’s plenty of sticks to beat LvG with, but most of these aren’t it.



    Well said evratime, just desperate stuff to beat him with. There are plenty of things to beat him with without resorting to lies and desperate measures!


    I don’t care if these are all true or not. All I want is the pressure to increase and for van Gaal to be removed.

    He has failed to get the team playing proper football after doing a satisfactory job of shipping out players and buying young, talented players.

    A better manger would get better football out of that squad.


    @evratime – fair assessments mate but would just like to make two points:

    On the Schweinsteiger / Cazorla vs Park / Pirlo – you just have to look at the players assigned to know why this was brought up. Park was excellent at man-marking, quite possibly the fittest player at United and was always up for a big game. On the other end of the spectrum, Schweinsteiger isn’t currently made for that role; his legs are gone and anyone and their dog could’ve told you that he wouldn’t be able to keep up with Cazorla and Arsenal’s midfield that day.

    On Lingard through the middle – he may be able to press more in the middle, but that doesn’t change the fact that Mata is utterly useless out on the wing. Why not play Herrera in the centre (whose great at pressing) and leave Lingard on the wing? Why not drop Mata for another right winger?

    Whilst both these points can be seen as ‘solutions’, they weren’t the best solutions by any stretch of the imagination. It’s like LVG having all the products in the world available to him to put two pieces of wood together – instead of using screws or even glue, he used chewing gum – it’s a solution but my God, can’t he have done better?


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