How Does Van Gaal Solve United’s Defensive Crisis?
Manchester United’s resounding 4-0 win over QPR 2 weeks ago was ironically the worst thing that could have happened. As the team of ‘Gaalacticos’ majestically fitted together, United’s new stars put together a world class performance giving off the idea and belief that normal service was resumed and United were back. How wrong we all were.
Even 3-1 up away at Leicester after 60 minutes everything appeared to be going to plan. But for all the strengths and embarrassment of riches Louis van Gaal has in attack, the 4 goals Leicester scored past David de Gea in just 20 minutes on Sunday highlighted the desperate situation United find themselves in defensively.
It’s too late for new signings now. It’s too late to recall Nemanja Vidic or Rio Ferdinand. United need to make sure it’s not too late to put together a good season.
The more bad results, defensive errors and frailties at the back there are, the longer people will scream the word ‘crisis’. United need to get their season back on track and quickly. But what can van Gaal do at the back? Jonny Evans has now joined Phil Jones on the sidelines, but even when both were fit there were problems. Tyler Blackett is suspended after his sending off against Leicester, and United have loaned out their next centre back option, youngster Michael Keane, to Burnley.
Marcos Rojo is expected to move into the central defence on Saturday when West Ham face United at Old Trafford, and is a move which makes sense after the Argentine World Cup finalist played the majority of his games for Sporting Lisbon in the centre back position. Rojo has started at left back in the games against QPR and Leicester City, but with Luke Shaw and Daley Blind available to play in the position, it makes sense for him to move to centre back.
Will Rojo pick up an immediate understanding at the back with Chris Smalling though? The England defender is still yet to win around the whole Old Trafford faithful, and their partnership doesn’t immediately strike you with confidence. Time will tell, but does Rojo even have the strong physique, vision and leadership qualities needed for a centre back in the Premier League?
Throwing another reserve team player into the team is an option van Gaal isn’t afraid to do, but there’s more risk of it backfiring and isn’t the best position or league to ease an unproved defender into. Tyler Blackett did his job well in the first 4 games and 60 minutes this season, but ultimately had a day to forget at the King Power Stadium on Sunday. Marnick Vermijl is United’s best option, but was exposed in United’s 4-0 shock defeat away at MK Dons. United need an experienced leader at the back and this move would be the opposite.
If experience is what is needed, then the most obvious choices to partner Chris Smalling this weekend are either Darren Fletcher or the returning Michael Carrick. Despite being midfielders, both would bring a calmness to the back 4 and help to steady the ship. They’ve played there before under Sir Alex Ferguson and until Phil Jones returns to the team or even until United can sign a defender in January, either Carrick or Fletcher may be required to help their side out at the back.
Of course van Gaal could revert back to a back 3, but whoever he chooses to line up with on Saturday, West Ham will go into the game full of confidence knowing exactly what United’s weakness is. The Hammers beat Liverpool 3-1 last weekend by taking the game to them, eliminating the influence of Steven Gerrard in the middle of the field and exposed Liverpool’s defence. Sam Allardyce will set out his team exactly the same.
The result on Saturday will depend on how van Gaal reacts to his defensive crisis and how his players respond. For United, the best option may be to simply outscore the opposition.