The day's tastiest story doubtless comes courtesy of the Times' man in the north James Ducker, who described Manchester United's players as "dismayed" by the tactics employed by Louis van Gaal for the side's 3-0 thrashing away at Arsenal on the weekend. According to Ducker's report, which is mostly hidden behind Rupert Murdoch's pesky paywall:
"Van Gaal had been encouraged in the build-up to the game to play a system that would involve sitting deeper and hitting on the break but the United manager rebuffed that request in favour of playing a pressing game that failed miserably en route to a dismal 3-0 defeat."
It didn't take long for everyone to realise van Gaal's strategy was going to backfire quite miserably: Bastian Schweinsteiger lacked the legs to press Arsenal's deepest midfielders, while Michael Carrick had neither the positional nous nor sufficient strength in the tackle to halt the Gunners' lethal counter-attacks. It was clear that playing Morgan Schneiderlin would've improved things enormously, yet van Gaal inexplicably opted to bring Marouane Fellaini into a midfield role instead. It was a confusing day all round.
We've written before about the potential for United to benefit from a more reactive approach, not just against the big teams but the smaller one too. Here's something from last month:
[A]t present, [Van Gaal is] neither part of the Pep School or the José School; he's an ugly and inefficient blend of both -- he's got Pep's possession and pressing fetish without his creative ingenuity, and José's love for discipline without his brutally efficacious counters. For a man that claims to put entertainment before results, it's a baffling situation.
The good news is that the way out is fairly simple. Van Gaal is stubborn enough that he'll never let his players have the creative freedom of Guardiola, meaning playing more cynically is the only way for United to be more effective at creating space for their attackers. That may mean sitting a little deeper and letting their opponents have more of the ball, and it certainly means taking greater risks when they win it back. As it is, United look frightened to play the ball in behind opposition defences.
In some ways, it's reassuring that United's players seem to give a toss about tactics. It's clear they're aware when they're being misused, and they themselves recognise that they've not been sufficiently successful in dominating possession to acquire van Gaal's unshakable belief that it's the right way forward. However, whether van Gaal's willing to come to some sort of compromise remains to be seen: he's been utterly inflexible in his year-and-a-bit at Old Trafford, and he may well be starting to rub key players up the wrong way.
This is certainly a story to keep an eye on.