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First trophy in three years not enough to save Van Gaal’s job

SIMON WILLIAMS looks at the final season under the Dutchman, who was replaced by his former assistant Jose Mourinho

Louis van Gaal arrived at Old Trafford at the start of the 2014/15 season, boasting an impressive CV having managed Ajax, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and the Dutch national side among others.

And after his first season at the helm, he achieved his target by returning United to the Champions League in his first attempt and the 2015/16 season looked bright with Van Gaal’s brief for his second season in charge simple — build on the previous season and launch an assault on the league title.

The summer transfer window had supporters feeling optimistic with a number of marquee signings arriving at the club, including the German international Bastian Schweinsteiger, Morgan Schneiderlin from Southampton, Italian international defender Matteo Darmian, Dutch international Memphis Depay, Argentinian keeper Romero and the £36 million acquisition of Anthony Martial from Monaco.

And things started well for the club who were top of the tree in September, despite the football not being great to watch.

However straight defeats to Bournemouth, Norwich and Stoke in December saw United’s season start to unravel both on and off the pitch.

Van Gaal’s brand of football was a far cry from the attacking style that United supporters had been accustomed to under Alex Ferguson and was heavily criticised by both fans and pundits — no ground in the top-flight had seen fewer goals scored than Old Trafford.

And despite the Reds taking points off every team above them in the table at some point during the season — with the exception of champions Leicester City — they dropped points against the sides in the bottom half of the league.

There was also unrest following a disappointing Champions League campaign.

United had been drawn into Group B with Dutch champions PSV Eindhoven along with the runners-up from Russia and Germany, CSKA Moscow and VfL Wolfsburg.

However a poor run of results saw the three-time winners of the competition eliminated at the group stage having finished third behind Wolfsburg and PSV.

And the side’s failure in Europe continued when they were beaten in the first leg of their Europa League tie against Danish Champions FC Midtjylland.

Despite the defeat, United went on to win the tie 6-3 on aggregate after victory in the return fixture at Old Trafford.

The round of 16 saw United drawn against arch rivals Liverpool as the sides met in Europe for the first time in their history. But further misery saw Van Gaal’s side exit the tournament, losing 3–1 on aggregate.

There was mixed success in the domestic cup competitions. Defeat to then Championship side Middlesbrough saw United dumped out of the League Cup at the fourth round stage.

However, victory over Crystal Palace in the FA Cup Final at Wembley saw United lift the cup for the 12th time in the club’s history and secure their first piece of silverware for three years.

But an FA Cup win was far from Van Gaal’s priority at the start of the season. That coupled with a fifth place finish in the league after losing out on a Champions League place to neighbours Manchester City, who themselves did their very best to throw away their chance of a top four finish, on goal difference saw the Dutchman part company with the Old Trafford club without having a chance to celebrate his FA Cup success and without anybody being any the wiser about his “philosophy.”

As one chapter in the club’s history ended, another began as United announced that Van Gaal’s former assistant manager at Barcelona, Jose Mourinho, would be the man to hopefully once again bring the success back to the Theatre of Dreams.

Over to you, Jose.

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