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How will Louis van Gaal revolutionize Manchester United?

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Manchester United’s ‘bouncebackability’ will be tested to the max this season as Louis van Gaal arrives and tries to turn the Red Devils back into the imperious force they once were.

This will not be easy. Not at all. But if anyone can do it, van Gaal can.

[RELATED: PL season previews]

Last season, their first Premier League campaign without legendary boss Sir Alex Ferguson in charge, United finished in seventh under new manager David Moyes who didn’t finish out the campaign before being fired. That was their lowest ever finish in the PL era and something had to change.

[RELATED: How will United line up?]

Dutch national team boss van Gaal (who led his country to an unexpected semifinal berth at the 2014 World Cup this summer) is the man tasked with a monumental overhaul. So far, things have gone rather smoothly for LVG during preseason but we all know that counts for nowt as the new season is almost upon us. Winning the International Champions Cup after beating the likes of Real Madrid, Roma and Liverpool is all well and good during a U.S. tour but the 38 PL season is what matters most. With no European soccer to distract them this season, United’s sole focus will be on returning to the top four. At least.

How will van Gaal make that happen? Here are five steps the Dutchman will likely take to usher in a new era at Old Trafford.

source: Getty Images
Van Gaal’s no-nonsense approach has already won him plenty of fans on the terraces.

3-5-2 formation

Van Gaal loves the flexibility this formation gives him and he championed it with Holland at the World Cup this summer. There are plenty of square pegs in round holes at United right now, but in the long term it seems like the formation of the future. Just as Tiki-Taka too over in the last decade, expect a fluid 3-5-2 formation to become the most fashionable in soccer. With three ball-playing center backs, LVG stays true to his Dutch beliefs. The midfield three are interchangeable and are encouraged to drop deep and pick up the ball. Summer signing Ander Herrera has already shown he’s a star of the future in the holding role. While Juan Mata is given the role of chief creator in the hole behind two central strikers of Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie. It is adaptable when United will be under pressure as the wing-backs will drop in to create a five-man defense. It also allows you to dictate the tempo but the players must be extremely fit to make it work.

Hunger, fight, hard work

That segue’s us nicely onto this next point. The passion, desire and determination to roll up the sleeves and grind out wins seemed to disappear from United last season. LVG is working hard to instill that back into his players. With Darren Fletcher back fit and leading the charge from central midfield, United have a figurehead as the wily Scot is a warrior in the engine room. Just like van Gaal had with Nigel de Jong with the Dutch team, he needs players who aren’t the most gifted but will graft and sacrifice themselves for the team. Look at the way he singled out the most expensive teenager in the world, Luke Shaw, and made him train on his own to up his fitness levels. That sent out as message to United’s players: they must be willing to give all they have to succeed.

Experience counts for everything

In order to succeed, experience is key. Now, after the fact, we can point to Moyes appointment last season as the wrong choice as he had no experience managing a side who are expected to win the league title and other trophies. Van Gaal has that, in abundance. LVG has won trophies wherever he has gone. He has claimed silverware at European giants Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich. He is no stranger to success and knows exactly what to do to achieve it. However he has never managed in the PL, so this may be his biggest challenge yet. Especially with Sir Alex Ferguson’s success hanging over him ominously from the get-go.

source: Getty Images
Mata and Rooney will be key as United’s players roll up their sleeves to succeed.

‘Us against them’ mentality returns

Fergie was famous for this. A wall has already been erected by LVG between his side, the press and the outside world. His no-nonsense approach has already won him plenty of fans with the Red Devils faithful as the similarities between his mentality and Sir Alex’s is striking. LVG has screamed and bellowed at his players in practice sessions this summer and has put them through their paces with a grueling routine. However, publicly he has been supportive of them (even Shaw) and it is clear that he wants to foster a family environment at Old Trafford.

Clean slate signifies new attitude, philosophy

The old United ‘family’ have gone. Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra have left this summer, while Nani, Anderson, Javier Hernandez, Marouane Fellaini and Rafael have apparently been told they are free to leave United should a suitable offer arrive. The ‘clearing of the deadwood’ so to speak, needed to happen last season and we all saw why. Veterans like Ferdinand, Evra and Vidic have been great servants for the club but it was one season too many. Now van Gaal can finally cast aside a group of players who were so loyal to Sir Alex that perhaps they weren’t willing to change their style under a new boss at United. Van Gaal has been ruthless and he has needed to be to provide a clean slate to every single Manchester United player. No matter how much you cost or what your name is, you are all the same to van Gaal. That is huge for United heading into the new season as a new attitude and philosophy arrives at old Trafford. Lets see how successful it is but one thing is certain, van Gaal has impressed at every hurdle so far. Now the biggest one is on the horizon: returning United to glory.

Wenger worried over Sutton’s pitch heading Monday’s clash

SUTTON, GREATER LONDON - FEBRUARY 16:  Pundits Paul Merson (4L) and Matt Le Tissier (2L) take part in a training session alongside Paul Doswell manager of Sutton United (L) and players during a Sutton United FA Cup media day on February 16, 2017 at the Borough Sports Ground in Sutton, Greater London. Sutton United are due to face Arsenal in the Emirates FA Cup Fifth round on 20 February.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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The story of Monday’s encounter between Arsenal and fifth-division Sutton United will be whether the minnows can overcome the mighty Gunners.

[ MORE: Mourinho pleased with United’s “attitude” against Blackburn ]

However, Arsene Wenger already fears a bigger challenge within the game, one that concerns his players’ safety.

Sutton’s 5,000-seat Gander Green Lane features an artificial surface, which is largely uncommon for English and most European venues regardless of club standing.

“First of all the pitch. Secondly their enthusiasm. Thirdly that we are not ready mentally for a big fight and think subconsciously that it doesn’t matter,” Wenger said ahead of Monday’s FA Cup meeting in South London.

In preparation for their meeting with the U’s, Wenger had his side train on their own indoor artificial field on Friday.

“Look, ideally we would like to play on a normal pitch. Competition is as well to deal with what you face, and we’ll face an unusual pitch and we’ll have to deal with it,” he said.

“We practice inside [on Friday] because we have an artificial pitch. It’s not the same as it’s a dry pitch, and at Sutton I’ve heard that’s a wet pitch, they water it before the game. So it will be much quicker than what we have.”

Leipzig beats ‘Gladbach 2-1, cuts Bayern’s Bundesliga lead

Leipzig's scorer Willi Orban, center, and his teammates celebrate their side's 2nd goal during the German Bundesliga soccer match between RB Leipzig and Hertha BSC Berlin in Leipzig, Germany, Saturday, Dec. 17, 2016. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
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BERLIN (AP) Leipzig held on for a 2-1 win at Borussia Moenchengladbach to cut Bayern Munich’s lead in the Bundesliga to five points on Sunday.

[ MORE: Messi rescues Barca, Pescara wins second Serie A match ]

Emil Forsberg scored one and set up another for the promoted side to end its two-game losing streak and stay on course for Champions League qualification with its 14th win of the season.

[ MORE: Bielsa makes Ligue 1 return, joins Lille as new manager ]

`Gladbach `keeper Yann Sommer pulled off a brilliant fingertip save to deny Marcel Sabitzer early on, but he was powerless to stop Forsberg from breaking the deadlock after half an hour played.

Sabitzer and Timo Werner played their way through the static `Gladbach defense and Werner laid the ball off for the Sweden midfielder to fire inside the bottom left corner.

The home side was given a lifeline when Marvin Compper brought down Lars Stindl and referee Felix Zwayer pointed to the spot, but Peter Gulacsi saved Thorgan Hazard‘s penalty before the break.

More poor defending allowed Werner grab the second 10 minutes after the break, firing inside the far post after Forsberg played him through.

Jannik Vestergaard pulled one back with a powerful header from a corner to set up an exciting finale. However, six minutes of injury time were not enough for an equalizer.

Leipzig had kicked off to a chorus of whistles from the home fans, who then mostly stayed silent till the 19th minute in protest against the visiting side. Huge banners in the north stand said “Traditional club since 1900” – an apparent protest against Leipzig, founded in 2009 when Austrian energy-drink billionaire Dietrich Mateschitz rebranded a fifth-tier team with his company’s livery before financing its steady promotion through the lower leagues.

COLOGNE 1, SCHALKE 1

Cologne stopped Schalke’s progress but the point was enough for the visiting side to overtake `Gladbach on goal difference in 10th.

Alessandro Schoepf got the visitors off to a flying start in the second minute with the help of the left post, and Leon Goretzka hit the post after half an hour with the home side still struggling to get into the game.

But Anthony Modeste equalized before the break with a fine strike inside the far post, and might even have scored again just minutes later, when his hesitation allowed Benedikt Hoewedes get back and clear.

Guido Burgstaller came closest to a winner for Schalke in the second half, his shot just wide of the far post after beating the goalkeeper.

Mourinho pleased with United’s “attitude” after gritty FA Cup win

BLACKBURN, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 19:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Manchester United celebrates with a fans as he runs onto the pitch as he scores their second goal during The Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round match between Blackburn Rovers and Manchester United at Ewood Park on February 19, 2017 in Blackburn, England.  (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
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Danny Graham gave Manchester United some early worries on Sunday at Ewood Park but the Red Devils ultimately responded and booked themselves a place in the FA Cup quarterfinals.

[ MORE: United books place in quarterfinals after Zlatan’s winner ]

Despite the adversity from both the Blackburn Rovers supporters’ roars and the deficit, United fought their way back into the tie after Marcus Rashford equalized on 27 minutes and Zlatan Ibrahimovic completed the comeback with a quarter hour remaining.

[ MORE: Kane hat-trick sends Spurs past Fulham ]

Ibrahimovic entered the match after the hour mark along with Paul Pogba, which gave United the final lift it needed to get past Blackburn.

Jose Mourinho spoke highly of his group following the 2-1 victory, particularly of his squad’s “attitude” after trailing inside the opening 20 minutes.

“I think the attitude of every player was really good,” Mourinho told BT Sport. “With a different attitude, we wouldn’t win. They gave us a really hard match and I am really happy with the players, of course.”

“I have important players on the bench and I can try to make them have an impact, but that doesn’t always work,” he said. “I spoke with Paul and Zlatan and they came with the right attitude.”

While Mourinho was understandably pleased with the result, the Portuguese boss gave Blackburn their credit for the hard-fought bout.

“We deserved to win, but Blackburn also deserve to go to Old Trafford,” he said. “But they can now focus on a very difficult Championship. A second match at Old Trafford would have been a disaster.

“I think the referees had everything under control and were really calm and even the ball boy to my right was really good.”

United will now move on to face Premier League leaders Chelsea in the FA Cup quarterfinals, easily making for the most exciting fixture in the last eight of this season’s competition.

La Liga & Serie A: Messi rescues Barca, Pescara earns second win

BARCELONA, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 19: Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona shoots on goal next to Martin Maximiliano Mantovani of CD Leganes during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and CD Leganes at Camp Nou stadium on February 19, 2017 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)
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A roundup of Sunday’s action in Spain and Italy’s top flights…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Barcelona 2-1 Leganes

The Blaugrana were just minutes away from another disappointing result but Lionel Messi rescued his side on the brink of time with an opportune penalty kick. The Argentine attacker netted a brace on Sunday, which helped keep Barcelona within a point of league leaders Real Madrid at the top of Spain’s top flight. Messi entered his name on the scoresheet in the fourth minute before Unai Lopez equalized for the visitors in the 71st minute. The loss for Leganes keeps the club just two points above the relegation zone through 23 rounds of play.

Real Sociedad 0-1 Villareal

Samu Castillejo’s stoppage time winner kept Villareal in a top six position after the team struggled to find its way in the attacking third for much of the match. The Yellow Submarine currently sit six points out of fourth place Atletico Madrid, while Sociedad holds a slim, two-point margin over Villareal.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Valencia 2-0 Athletic Bilbao
Celta Vigo 3-0 Osasuna

 


Roma 4-1 Torino

A pair of goals on both sides of halftime helped propel Roma to its 18th win of the season on Sunday, while keeping the Giallorossi within seven points of Juventus at the top of Serie A. Edin Dzeko continues to pay dividends for Luciano Spalletti’s side after scoring early for Roma, while Mohamed Salah, Leandro Paredes and Radja Nainggolan each booked their place on the scoresheet in the rout. Maxi Lopez provided the visitors with a consolation in the 84th minute, as Torino remain in ninth place.

Chievo 1-3 Napoli

Napoli’s potent attack continues to score goals at an astounding rate, and the third place side is still very much alive in the title race. The visitors jumped out to a 3-0 lead before the hour mark before Chievo finally pulled one back by way of Riccardo Meggiorini. Their three goals on Sunday move Napoli to a total of 60 for the season, which is six more than Roma.

Pescara 5-0 Genoa

The last place side picked up its second win of the season on Sunday after scoring three goals inside of the opening 45 minutes. An own goal from Lucas Orban in the fifth minute kickstarted Genoa’s misfortunes, and Pescara continued to pile it on from that point.

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

Bologna 0-1 Inter Milan
Sampdoria 1-1 Cagliari
Udinese 1-2 Sassuolo
AC Milan 2-1 Fiorentina