LOUIS van Gaal pulled out a dossier full of statistics at his press conference yesterday as he hit back at Sam Allardyce’s claim that Manchester United are long-ball merchants.
West Ham United manager Allardyce described Van Gaal’s team as “long-ball United” after they scraped a 1-1 draw at Upton Park on Sunday. But Van Gaal said Allardyce’s “interpretation” was incorrect and the Dutchman produced a pamphlet filled with statistics to support his stance.
The stats, put together by Van Gaal’s analysts, claim West Ham sent a higher percentage of their long passes forward than United. West Ham attempted 200 passes, according to the figures, and United 343. The pamphlet said 71.1 per cent of West Ham’s “long passes” – of over 25 metres – went forward whereas United’s percentage was just 49.9 per cent. Diagrams claim to show United’s passes went sideways or diagonally, rather than forward.
Van Gaal talks regularly about the fact that he wants his teams to play attractive football. He was clearly, therefore, annoyed at Allardyce’s comments.
“Because I expected this question, I have made an interpretation of the data for this game and then I have to say that it is not a good interpretation from Big Sam,” Van Gaal said at his press conference ahead of tomorrow’s home match v Burnley.
Van Gaal insisted his team only started launching balls forward after 6ft 4in Marouane Fellaini came on in the 76th minute of the draw in east London.
“You have to look at the data and then you will see that we did play long balls, but long balls wide, rather than to the striker,” Van Gaal added. “I am sorry, but we are playing ball possession play and after 70 minutes we did not succeed, in spite of many chances in the second half, then I changed my playing style. Then, of course, with the quality of Fellaini we played more forward balls and we scored from that, so I think it was a very good decision of the manager. But, when you see overall the long ball, and what is the percentage of that, then West Ham have played 71 per cent of the long balls to the forwards and we 49.”
The whole scene was bizarre, evoking memories of Rafael Benitez’s press conference rant, directed at Sir Alex Ferguson, over referees in 2009. Van Gaal’s tactics have come in for criticism this season, with the team lacking the energy, dynamism and flair of the Ferguson era.