Louis van Gaal’s excuses wear thin

You can fool some of the people all of the time is the time-honoured premise on which managers trot out comments in the knowledge that some will report their words unchallenged.

So it was at Swansea on Saturday, when Louis Van Gaal sought to put a positive spin on what was only Manchester United’s second defeat in their past 20 matches. The Swans, who beat United 2-1 at Old Trafford on the season’s opening day, getting the Dutchman’s tenure off to a stalled start, repeated the result to complete a home and away double over their celebrated opponents for the first time.

The Welsh team and their admirable young manager, Garry Monk, deserved full credit for a deserved victory but got none from Van Gaal, who is among those ready to describe black as white when it suits, knowing some reporters will be happy just to recite his quotes. A renowned member of football’s intelligentsia, Van Gaal is too smart to believe his claim that United played well, should have won and that the outcome was “amazing”.

The reality was that Swansea had five attempts on target to their opponents’ three and that Lukasz Fabianski was required to make only one save worthy of the name. It is true that United had the lion’s share of possession, but they accomplished precious little with it.

Among Van Gaal’s canards was the following: “It is always frustrating to lose when you have been the dominating team, and our disappointment is much bigger because of that. In the first half it was an equal game. In the second half there was a big difference. Swansea had a chance in the first minute and after that we dominated the game.

“Then one counter, a shot deviated, [Bafétimbi] Gomis may have been offside [he was not] and they got a goal. We created a chance every two minutes, even with 10 men when Robin van Persie was injured and could not run any more. So we are not happy and we are not lucky.”
When his stricken striker limped off United had already used their three substitutes and Van Persie did leave the ground on crutches, but United’s third substitution was not made until the 80th minute so they did not play with a “passenger” for long.

The manager’s excuses were as lame as his leading scorer. Swansea were more assertive and cohesive from the outset, exposing the United defence’s vulnerability at set pieces twice in the first 10 minutes, when corners saw Gomis allowed two unchallenged headers, one of which was cleared off the line by Ander Herrera.

United were second best, especially in midfield, where Jack Cork and Jonjo Shelvey outshone Marouane Fellaini and Ángel Di María, so it was against the run of play when Herrera opened the scoring with a shot that defeated Ashley Williams’ last-ditch intervention.

It was much less of a surprise when the Swans equalised two minutes later, Shelvey’s inviting cross from the left being turned in at the far post by Ki Sung-yueng, who also scored at Old Trafford. In the second half Van Gaal swapped his full-backs for wingers who rained in crosses, to no avail, and after 73 minutes Swansea countered with the decisive goal.

Shelvey deserved the credit but his fulminating strike from 25 yards was diverted by the head of Gomis, who was trying to get out of the way, and the goal was given to the Frenchman, who gratefully accepted the gift. With just two in 22 Premier League appearances, Wilfried Bony’s replacement needs all the help he can get.

Monk, with an elated smile, said: “I told the players beforehand: “You want to be remembered for something, to create history. When you get that chance, it’s worth fighting for. They responded to the challenge. They were really focussed and they delivered. They all scrapped and fought and played the right way – our way – when they could. You could see in their eyes how much they wanted it. To a man they were very good.

“To get six points from Manchester United on merit – they weren’t lucky wins – is great history for this club, something very special.” Informed of Van Gaal’s curmudgeonly attitude, the Swansea manager added: “And I thought he shook my hand at the end. Perhaps it was a lookalike.”
Credit: Joe Lovejoy/Guardian Sport