What Does Manchester United’s Transfer Business mean for van Gaal’s Philosophy?
One of the biggest changes Manchester United has endured under Louis van Gaal’s tenure so far is the 3-5-2 formation which the Dutchman has set his team up to play. It’s a system which brought van Gaal success at the World Cup with the Netherlands, and is one which the United Manager insists he is forced to play due to the ‘unbalanced’ nature of his squad. The ‘unbalanced’ tag referring to the number of options up front compared to defensive frailties.
However, van Gaal has had time to assess his squad and has also been busy in the transfer market. Angel di Maria and the deadline day loan signing of Radamel Falcao from Monaco are world class additions to the squad, but many fans will point to the lack of defensive cover and may see the transfer window as an opportunity missed to make key additions at the back.
So how will United line up with their new signings? Will van Gaal stick with 3-5-2? Or will they revert back to a more familiar system?
It would appear the ‘philosophy’ that van Gaal is hoping to implement at Old Trafford is the 3-5-2 formation. Whilst the system worked effectively on United’s pre-season tour to the United States, the team has had less success in the start to their Premier League campaign, picking up just 2 points from their opening 3 games and still looking for their first win.
The system thus far has had its fair share of criticism, particularly with the 3 at the back who seem incapable of adapting to the formation. The use of wingbacks has also been ineffective, mainly due to the opposition using their wingers to mark them and therefore not causing any problems for the defence. It also means there’s no-one on the overlap as the role of the wingback incorporates both the full back and the winger.
United have also misfired up front so far, perhaps a problem they’re looking to new signing Radamel Falcao to rectify.
The system is key to playing Juan Mata in his favoured position and sees the Spaniard being integral to United’s play going forward. However, he’s yet to create the chances that the position allows for him to showcase, and with di Maria and Falcao to fit in to the side, he’ll be wondering what the signings mean for his first team opportunities.
4-4-2 is the traditional Manchester United set up and is one which many fans are keen to see a return to. Whilst the system is more familiar and is easier to identify what each player’s role is, it wouldn’t deal with the ‘unbalanced’ aspect of United’s side and leaves certain stars playing out of their position.
Juan Mata is forced to play out wide, a role which he has proved at Chelsea under Jose Mourinho and during the 2nd half of last season at United does not suit him. He could play behind the main striker in a 4-4-1-1 formation, but then van Gaal is left with a difficult decision to choose between Rooney, van Persie and Falcao.
It seems inconceivable incidentally that new club captain Wayne Rooney will be left out of the team, and Falcao’s arrival suggests he’ll offer van Persie competition for the 2nd strikers position.
Di Maria was used as a central midfielder in the goalless draw at Turf Moor on Saturday, but 4-4-2 would most likely see him play as a winger, particularly if Michael Carrick and Ander Herrera return to full fitness.
One thing 4-4-2 would ensure is a return to a familiar back 4, with Rafael and Luke Shaw being first choice full backs and United’s centre backs being placed in a more comfortable defensive set up.
Perhaps the system which United’s new signings indicate a change to is 4-3-3, similar to the way the majority of the big teams in Europe set up.
At a glance, the formation has numerous advantages in both defence and attack.
Defensively, the system adopts a return to the traditional 4 at the back, as well as 2 defensive midfielders. Juan Mata is also able to play in his favoured central position, although will be required to track back more often. One of United’s problems in the past with 4-3-3 is a lack of quality in central midfield to utilise the formation, but with the additions of Daley Blind and Ander Herrera, as well as the option to play di Maria there, playing 3 in the middle now looks a lot more reassuring than before the transfer window opened.
In a 4-3-3 di Maria may be preferred in the forward 3, playing off Falcao or van Persie as well as having some duties out wide. Rooney can also play off the main striker under the system, although can fit in any one of 4 positions you feel.
United’s 2nd choice XI certainly appears a lot stronger with the 4-3-3 formation, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the new look Manchester United line up with the system against QPR a week on Sunday.