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Van Gaal’s game of patience

‘We’re actually still in pre-season’

It was the hottest day of the year in Munich on Thursday, at a blistering 34 degrees and with the sun beating down from a cloudless sky. That provided food for thought at the club. Head coach Louis van Gaal initially considered delaying the training workout planned for midday, but finally decided to go ahead with a team session as planned. “We worked with our brains rather than our legs,” the Bayern coach reported afterwards. He had allowed his men plenty of breaks, “and we took on plenty of fluid. It was very tough for the players to maintain concentration, but they’ve done very well.”

In any case, practice matches supervised by Van Gaal are always characterised by frequent interruptions and pauses to stop and think. The boss always whistles play to a halt if he detects an error or a false decision, and the players have learned to gather around him and listen. He often talks for two or three minutes, explaining how it might have been done better. On the flip side, he always praises skilful or tactically adept play.

Time and patience required

Van Gaal is a believer in a rapid passing game. “You’ll see it every day on the practice ground.” Philipp Lahm and Co sometimes spend up to 20 minutes on the same exercise, watched hawk-like by Van Gaal and accompanied by his expert commentary. “Co-ordination is vital. We have to make the speed of the pass fit to the player calling for the ball."

On Thursday, Van Gaal again emphasised the need for time and patience when the squad included nine new players under a new boss. “We’re actually still in pre-season, exacerbated by our long injury list. It’s a shame,” he said. Mark van Bommel, Martin Demichelis, Luca Toni and Franck Ribery - “four of my key players”, Van Gaal said – are unavailable to the 58-year-old.

Many crosses, no takers

The continued absence of Ribery means the coach is having to improvise in terms of his formation and tactics. The playmaker role has gone to three different players in the three competitive fixtures so far - Thomas Müller, Alexander Baumjohann and José Sosa respectively. “I’m continuing to feel my way towards the right system for this team,” the Dutch supremo commented.

The key issue right now is finishing, the coach believes. “We sent over 50 crosses in the first two matches. I don’t think any team delivered more, but we’ve only scored twice. That’s not enough,” said Van Gaal. The team was making chances, “but our understanding in the last third isn’t enough, nor the final ball through the middle. That’s where we have to improve”. Neither had the strikers shown enough presence in front of goal so far, “but I’ll attend to that.”

However, in the circumstances, Van Gaal is not dissatisfied with the stage his team has reached, especially in defence. “You can count the number of chances our opponents have had on one hand.” However, there would need to be “a great deal of work” before the team produced the football he wants to see. “I need time, and the team needs time.”