The Big Match

Onus on Van Gaal to remain adventurous

United must not only beat Swansea but do so in style if manager is to remain in the job

Louis van Gaal's time at Manchester United could come full circle. His reign began with a 1-2 loss to Swansea. Should there be the same scoreline today, it may end the same way. He has demonstrated an ability to lose 1-2 to Swansea in good times and bad alike, but they have rarely been this grim.

After eight games without a win and four defeats in five, the Dutchman requires the validation that victory would offer.

After just 10 goals in 14 games, he would benefit from it being emphatic. He bought himself a stay of execution in Monday's stalemate with Chelsea, partly because United were unusually adventurous, but the banners at Old Trafford then should serve as a warning that the atmosphere could turn toxic.

So United must deploy the same attacking approach that brought comparisons with their free-scoring predecessors, but ensure there is a different outcome.

The Red Devils have drawn 0-0 six times at Old Trafford already this season and two of Swansea's last three games have finished goalless - the outcome could be predictable.

It is also extraordinary that van Gaal's team have not scored a first-half goal at home since September. Their relegation-threatened visitors, on the other hand, have concentrated on solidity under caretaker boss Alan Curtis. If United return to their policy of passing sideways and another slow start, it will play into Swansea's hands.

Make a breakthrough and, for once, this might not be a fraught afternoon. Much rests on how quickly, and how often, United can get the ball to Anthony Martial, who showcased speed and skill as a raiding left winger against Chelsea.

Dropped at Stoke last week, Wayne Rooney was brighter on his recall but a return of two league goals this season is dismal. Captain, like manager, has to prove to a growing band of doubters that he deserves a long-term future at Old Trafford.

Van Gaal ought to bring back Michael Carrick for Bastian Schweinsteiger, who struggled against Chelsea. His vice-captain is capable of the sort of penetrative forward passing that United need.

The manager's concern, after a previous frugal defence sieved nine goals in five games, is that if United are too open, they could be caught on the counter-attack. That, aided by the pace of Bafetimbi Gomis and Andre Ayew, was how Swansea beat them in Wales in August.

Curtis has been inventive in his attempts to revive Swansea, using a false nine and a diamond midfield at times.

Van Gaal has been too inflexible. Yet with the suspicion the crowd will call upon his side to attack, he does not just have to claim the three points that he rather optimistically believes are required to maintain their title hopes.

He has to abandon his philosophy that has put his job in danger.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 02, 2016, with the headline 'Onus on Van Gaal to remain adventurous'. Print Edition | Subscribe