There are a few lessons Louis Van Gaal can, and should, learn from Manchester United’s loss to Wolfsburg.
Let’s start with his comments to the media after the match.
“I think it is a crazy game. We scored the goals; then they are cancelling [out our] goals. Still we had chances, but they also have chances,” Van Gaal said. “When we scored, they scored after two minutes again. Also, the winning goal was two minutes after we had equalised, so we had the chance to win I think. We fought for the win, but with ten men at the end [after injuries] we couldn’t do more than what we have done.”
Now several key factors had a direct impact in how the game played out, but Juan Mata’s substitution was a fatal one. Mata started out the game well and was rewarded with the assist on Anthony Martial’s opening goal.
The Spanish playmaker did make a mistake when Jesse Lingard’s goal was ruled out because of his interference. Van Gaal talked to the media about their disallowed goal.
“When you see that as a linesman then you are very good. When you firstly give the goal and then when a few players come and say to you, you change your mind, it is strange in my opinion,” the manager said. “I don’t think that the goalkeeper was interfered by Mata because the ball is turning into the goal. So I don’t think he can reach that ball. Of course, he [the goalkeeper] sees Mata in an offside position, and he takes the benefit of that, criticizing the referee.”
Nevertheless, Van Gaal’s decision to substitute his side’s main playmaker for putting in Nick Powell was nothing short of disastrous.
Powell is a good future prospect for the Red Devils, but to sub him into arguably their most important match of the season ahead of the experienced Ashley Young was a bold move by Van Gaal.
Also, as a reminder, the last time Powell featured in United’s first team lineup was last August, when they got picked apart by MK Dons 4-0 in the league cup.
The most troubling fact though is that even after spending £250m on transfers during the Van Gaal era, the Red Devils were outplayed by Wolfsburg. They didn’t lose that match just because they played badly; Wolfsburg was a more direct and efficient team with the ball.
Naldo dominated the air on both sides of the field while Julian Draxler just dazzled United’s defense every time he got a hold of the ball. Wolfsburg is a good team.
Despite all of that, United did have the pieces necessary to win, not only this match but also to be on top of the Premier League standings. And the one who sent those pieces packing was none other than Van Gaal.
The story of the year in the Bundesliga is the rebirth of Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, one of the players Van Gaal sent away.
Ligue One assist leader Angel Di Maria, also on Van Gaal’s reject list.
In the Bundesliga top assists list is another Van Gaal reject, Shinji Kagawa.
Interestingly enough, two out of those three players would’ve been able to substitute Mata against Wolfsburg and delivered a performance that would win United the match.
Perhaps what Van Gaal needs to do is to stop unloading players and work with the talent he has at hand, instead of splashing millions of pounds in the transfer market every window.