Neil Humphreys: Van Gaal's tactics are getting United nowhere
WEST HAM 1
(Cheikhou Kouyate 49)
MAN UNITED 1
(Daley Blind 90+2)
Manchester United have been down this road before.
The Red Devils bow in deference to an all-knowing ruler. His resume is bullet-proof. His reputation makes him immune to criticism.
According to cliche, dictators get things done. They demand more of lesser men. They get the trains to run on time.
But what if the trains are on the wrong tracks to begin with? What happens if the autocrat's grand plan is flawed from the outset?
Then he's not nurturing able lieutenants. He's breeding lemmings, all blindly running for the nearest cliff.
At Upton Park yesterday morning (Singapore time), Man United almost fell off. In the final moments, they pulled back from the precipice. But Louis van Gaal had nothing to do with it. Only luck saved them.
When an absolute ruler rules absolutely, he is spared judgment.
As with Sir Alex Ferguson, United are perhaps paying the price once more for absentee owners with almost no football knowledge, bowing and scraping before one man's legacy.
No one challenged Ferguson then. No one questions van Gaal now.
In the global football community, he's a coaching egghead beyond compare. In a United boardroom filled with baseball fans, he's untouchable.
They are convinced van Gaal knows what he's doing because van Gaal tells them so.
Who are they to disagree with such a respected font of football wisdom?
But a Uefa Pro Licence isn't required to assess the side's schizophrenic composition. A replay of the dire 1-1 draw against West Ham would do the trick.
United are lost souls in search of an identity.
Unsure of their positions, their philosophy and even themselves, it's hard to recall a United side so devoid of faith in their own abilities.
They do their master's bidding. But they clearly don't believe in it.
The United faithful are not entirely convinced either. Had David Moyes been sat in the dugout at Upton Park, the merciless boos from the away end would've been relentless.
Yesterday morning, United's dull midfield diamond was outshone by West Ham's sparkly diamond, which captured the eye at only a fraction of the cost.
With each misuse of his youthful industry, Adnan Januzaj moves away from the "next Ryan Giggs" tag and staggers towards the rogues gallery of wasted talents that includes Luke Chadwick and Federico Macheda.
Upfront, Radamel Falcao again staked his claim for the "biggest disappointment of the season" title and Robin van Persie was a ghost, a shadow of the man who reigned under Ferguson and revelled in the early World Cup spotlight.
Angel di Maria went round in circles with all the finesse of a one-armed swimmer, presumable wondering why he was playing in the No. 10 role when the obvious candidate was drifting away on the touchline.
Without a doubt, the most dispiriting images were provided by the artist formerly known as a striker plodding along the right wing, displaying the grace of a bodybuilder ballet-dancing.
At times, Wayne Rooney found himself peering up at Antonio Valencia's jersey number, effectively in the right-back position.
Ferguson still insists he had his reasons for dropping Rooney. But van Gaal's reasons for throwing him out wide with the tumbleweed are murkier still.
The club's third-highest goal-scorer of all time spent much of his miserable evening marking Kevin Nolan.
Rooney earned £300,000 a week ($618,000) to shadow one of West Ham's second-stringers (and he didn't always succeed either).
England's captain and leading goal threat for Euro 2016 hasn't managed a single shot on target in 2015. He's wasting what's left of his career.
But van Gaal insists that progress is being made and his English players must adapt to his cerebral, continental approach.
His claims are patronising. Rooney isn't the tubby kid called up for the last 10 minutes of a kickabout at Farrer Park. He's played in three World Cups and won the Champions League with a multinational United side. He can adapt.
Van Gaal's upbeat assertions were just not an accurate reflection of the late escape at West Ham. Sam Allardyce's withering assessment had greater merit. He mockingly called United a "long-ball team".
Daley Blind's late equaliser was less total football, than it was total desperation, nothing more than a hopeful punt down field in the dying seconds.
By which stage, Rooney had been pushed forward to support Marouane Fellaini, of all people, as van Gaal tried and failed to impose his pacey template on a squad with no pace.
He demands multifunctional players, but it's the decision-making from the dugout that appears dysfunctional.
The United manager expects his team to stand up and be counted. The trouble is no one can stand up to van Gaal.
More control than creativity
PHOTO: ANDREW COULDRIDGE / ACTION IMAGES
Manchester United boss Louis van Gaal threatened to drop his creative aces for more physical players after having his long-ball tactics questioned by West Ham boss Sam Allardyce.
A superb goal from Cheikhou Kouyate, the midfielder deployed in defence due to the absences of Winston Reid and James Collins, had looked like giving West Ham a deserved first Premier League win over United in seven years and at the 13th attempt.
But Daley Blind scored in stoppage time to rescue a 1-1 draw yesterday morning (Singapore time) and a scarcely deserved point after a lacklustre performance from the visitors which was summed up by a second-half miss from Radamel Falcao.
United's equaliser came after Marouane Fellaini had been sent on to cause havoc, a "Plan B" after his side struggled to scrap for the ball, causing van Gaal to call for his creative personnel to play their own game and compete for loose balls, or risk losing their places.
The Dutchman (right) said: "We need the guts to play football along the floor. That we have done in the second half.
"With him (Fellaini), we have more power. With Adnan (Januzaj) and (Angel) di Maria, we have more creative players. The second ball you cannot always win with these players.
"But you have to win (the ball), otherwise I have to line up always (with) players like Fellaini."
Allardyce said on Sky Sports: "I suppose in the end we couldn't cope with long-ball United.
"It was just, 'thump it forward and see what they could get' and, in the end, it paid off for them."
He added in his post-match media conference: "You (the media) might just criticise Louis van Gaal for playing long balls as much as you've sometimes criticised me for being direct.
"(But) it's paid off for them, so you can't knock it in the end."
United finished the game with 10 men as Luke Shaw was sent off for two bookable offences.
Van Gaal insisted that the second yellow card, given by referee Mark Clattenburg in the final moments for a foul on Stewart Downing, should not have been given.
The Dutchman said: "It was in front of me. The player (Downing) was jumping, but I think it was tactically not so smart of Shaw."
Van Gaal also rued the opportunity to make up ground on Manchester City, who are five points better off in second place and drew in similarly last-minute fashion with Hull last Saturday.
"It is a missed chance," he said.
Allardyce lauded his injury-depleted side's display as "almost the perfect performance".
He added: "It's a fantastic performance. Not a result we deserved or wanted, but we're back to a level that we know we can play at."
Striker Andy Carroll could be back for West Ham's match at Southampton on Thursday morning after an ankle problem.
Collins and Reid are likely still out and Allardyce hopes to have avoided any further problems.
"We can't really take any more and keep up that level of performance," he said. - PA Sport.
United in talks with de Gea
Manchester United are holding talks over a new contract for goalkeeper David de Gea, according to his agent Jorge Mendes.
De Gea, 24, has been repeatedly linked with Real Madrid with a little over a year remaining on his existing deal, which was signed when he joined United from Atletico Madrid in an £18-million ($37m) deal in 2011.
Speculation over his future increased after United signed former Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdes on a free transfer, with manager Louis van Gaal saying he wants de Gea to stay but remaining non-committal over the progress of talks.
However, Mendes, appearing on Spanish radio station Cadena Ser on Sunday, said suggestions of a deal with Madrid are wrong and that talks had begun with United.
"It's not true that the deal is done," Mendes was quoted as saying by AS.
"We're holding talks and, at this moment, it seems he could continue with United but, as I say, we haven't signed anything yet." - PA Sport.