Lies, Damn Lies & Statistics – Belief Is King

Perception: the way in which something is regarded, understood, or interpreted. Perception is an odd thing in football.

It is particularly relative depending on your disposition and that wildly varies. Circumstances can lead us to believe something is what it is actually not and vice versa. The major question for Manchester United fans right now should be: is Louis Van Gaal doing a good job? For the majority, it is not even an afterthought.

Immediately after United’s defeat to City in the derby, scouring social media for reaction – as you do – optimism was still rife. One high-profile fan account tweeted: “David Moyes had more points than Van Gaal at this point but Moyes was a coward and the football was 10x worse and also your mother tbh” – charming stuff but salient reasoning, or so you’d think.

Indeed, the stats are rather concerning when examined. This is Manchester United’s worst start to a season in 28 years. You’d be forgiven for thinking the Scot was still in charge. In fact, as mentioned above, the former Everton manager had won more points at this stage last season than Van Gaal has managed this campaign.

They had also scored more goals, had more shots on target and equal in terms of the number of chances created. Quite surprising considering the amount of money that has been spent over the summer coupled with the Dutch coach’s reputation for offensive football.

The optimism remains, though, and that is all based on the perception of Van Gaal’s reputation as a winner; the ‘anti-Moyes’: a fearless footballing behemoth who bows to no other team, who plays his beautiful way at all times – win or lose. The stats mentioned above are important but there is certainly a case to be made for ‘lies, damned lies and statistics’.

There is a fine line between perception and belief – they are absolutely, congruously related. Manchester United with David Moyes at the helm were a club drowning in doubt and negativity. Through his words, his actions and his style of play on the field, the side lurched from one disaster to another.
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Under the former Barcelona and Bayern coach, there is the sense that when the team take to the field, they’ll win. Or they will at least go down trying to win. The latter part of that ethos may seem uncomfortable for some – Manchester United are not Sunderland – but that feeling of hopeless surrender that was so conspicuous last season is now gone. Despite the poor results, the conviction among the players and the supporters is still very much there.

The statistics may paint a poorer picture right now but there are mitigating circumstances. Injuries continue to haunt the club. Not a game goes by wherein someone suffers some mishap; Marcos Rojo the latest casualty with a suspected dislocated shoulder. Falcao has also been unfortunate with fitness problems meaning he has only appeared in five games this season whilst Robin Van Persie looks a shadow of the striker that shot United to the title in 2012/2013.
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There is also the sense that Van Gaal has yet to decide on his best eleven. Maraoune Fellaini’s recent rejuvenation has meant the fit again Ander Herrera warms the bench whilst the debate as to who is better in the hole – Rooney or Mata – rages on with both failing to show the consistency to nail down the position. Angel Di Maria’s rotation between central midfield and the wing is another complexity for the former Oranje coach to work on.

Belief is the most underrated trait in sport. Without it, success is impossible. Under Van Gaal, Manchester United retain it in spades and ten games of relative mediocrity under one of the most revered coaches in the game won’t be enough to shake it, either.
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The quality that runs throughout the club – between the coaching staff and the players – is utterly undoubted; it is only a matter of time before things start to click.