Van Gaal’s big buys underwhelm, leaving Manchester United vulnerable


Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United tenure appears to be getting rockier by the day. In hindsight, Monday’s 2-1 loss at Old Trafford to Arsenal in the FA Cup Sixth Round seems predictable given the recent performances of the Red Devils. Still, losing to one of the club’s great rivals and thus being denied any chance at silverware for the second consecutive year has set off alarm bells.

The Dutch manager was given the type of budget to spend that was not afforded to David Moyes the previous season or even to Sir Alex Ferguson in his last few years at Old Trafford. Yet, the two highest profile signings United made, Angel DiMaria and Radamel Falcao (on an expensive loan from Monaco with the option to buy the player outright), have become lightning rods of controversy due to the player’s underperforming at the top level.

DiMaria’s season was typified in a nutshell on Monday night. Slack defending by the Argentina international led to the first Arsenal goal, while the former Real Madrid man’s exquisite passing and creativity led directly to the Red Devils lone goal of the contest. But in the second half, the frustration the player had boiled over into consecutive cards and a sending off after DiMaria aggressively grabbed referee Michael Oliver’s shirt.

Following Monday’s defeat, van Gaal stormed out of his press conference because of questions about Falcao’s contributions to this United team. The Colombian striker has four Premier League goals this season to go along with a handful of assists, but has struggled for consistency. At this point, it is difficult to justify the enormous loan fee and player’s wages paid to secure Falcao’s services for a single season while the player dumped by van Gaal, Danny Welbeck has made a more impactful contribution to his new club – Arsenal.

It was no small irony that Welbeck scored the game winner at Old Trafford. A Mancunian who had been with the club since his childhood, Welbeck represents the type of player that in a forgone era would have been a Red Devil lifer. Instead, in the new post-Sir Alex Ferguson era of Manchester United, players like Welbeck, Darren Fletcher and Tom Cleverley were deemed surplus to requirements while high-priced foreign replacements were brought in, sometimes apparently on a whim.

The purchase of DiMaria made sense, but coming so soon after Juan Mata left Stamford Bridge for Old Trafford, it seemed yet another panic buy. However, the Falcao loan move seems to have been a vanity purchase – a simple statement that United could muscle their way into any deal and claim a player. Signing Falcao meant Welbeck was not only offloaded but ended up at a perennial rival.

SEE ALSO5 reasons why selling Danny Welbeck made zero sense for Man United

Arsene Wenger’s spendthrift ways were criticized by Gunners fans immediately after the Welbeck buy – after all he was not the type of striker Arsenal supporters wanted who could consistently lead the line. But Welbeck gives the Gunners a different look, the ability to press high up the pitch and an incredible defensive work rate from an attacking player.

Right now, Falcao and DiMaria do not give van Gaal the type of intangibles that Welbeck gives Arsenal. Van Gaal can complain all he wants about the media’s developing narrative around Manchester United’s collapsing season, but facing a real battle for fourth and being bounced out of the FA Cup at home versus Arsenal were not in the plans when the transfer window shut in early September. In fact, despite a sluggish start by mid-November, it was assumed the Red Devils would safely glide to third especially given Arsenal had suffered their worst Premier League start in Arsene Wenger’s long tenure. As we hit the middle of March, Wenger still has a trophy to play for thanks to a player United rejected, and sits ahead of van Gaal in the Premier League table.

If Manchester United does not finish in a UEFA Champions League spot, the season would have been a disaster by any reasonable metric. Van Gaal likely faces a crisis at Old Trafford if he does not secure positive results in the next two fixtures — home to Spurs and away to Liverpool.


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