It seems that Louis van Gaal is still experimenting with his Manchester United starting XI. He is clearly a big fan of the 3-5-2 formation which often includes two wing-backs and an attacking midfielder usually in the form of someone like Juan Mata, who thrived in that particular role in his time at Chelsea.
The problem with van Gaal’s squad is that there is no obvious formation to play whereby he can balance all the talent he has into one team. It is no secret that United currently resemble a ‘top heavy’ side, boasting an abundance of attacking talent with little defensive solidarity, other than the outstanding David De Gea.
One of the biggest issues for LvG has been the handling of his strikers. Robin van Persie has been hit and miss while Radamel Falcao is still trying to adapt to Premier league football. When Wayne Ronney has played in the striker’s role, he has performed well. However, the England attacker’s positional flexibility encourages the manager to place him deeper into midfield, when Rooney can often assert his influence onto the game.
The potential striking duo of both Falcao and van Persie simply hasn’t worked as well as some Manchester United fans would have hoped. Instead, both strikers look slightly more comfortable playing up front on their own, just look at Falcao at Atletico Madrid and van Persie at Arsenal. They scored plenty of goals despite not having a strike partner. If van Gaal wants to see his side improve in an attacking sense, he is going to have to make an important decision in playing either van Persie or Falcao.
There is the other possibility of playing the 4-4-2 formation. When United switched to playing more of a diamond in their last match against Queens Park Rangers, they scored twice and won the game 2-0. This is the preferable formation that Manchester United fans have been chanting for in Premier League games this campaign and it is easy to understand why. Van Gaal himself admitted that his players were struggling to adapt to his 3-5-2 formation:
“I know all the stats,” Van Gaal told the BBC.
“I know that we have won more with 4-4-2 in a diamond.”
His comments came after he stated that playing Angel Di Maria in a striking position will add more pace to his attack, as well as creating more space for his midfielders. This clearly makes sense as the Argentine is very quick and he will have the agility to stretch opposing teams’ defences. However, Di Maria is not an out-and-out striker and his creative presence could be missed in midfield. It is another example of van Gaal experimenting with histactics as right now he doesn’t seem completely convinced as to what his best team is.
It is understandable that the Dutchman wants his team to adapt to a formation that has brought him so much success over his managerial career. However, he may look to the short term solution of 4-4-2 in order to guarantee that his side qualifies for the Champions League. If he achieves this, he will have the summer to buy players that he knows will be able to adapt to the formation he wants to play. It will also give him the opportunity to work with his players for another summer in order to familiarise them with his ‘vision’ for how he wants his United side to operate. Fans should expect a lot of movement at Old Trafford this summer as Van Gaal will also want to sell the players he feels cannot contribute to United’s long-term success.
Although there has been slight agitation surrounding the United manager’s style of play and the amount of time it has taken for the team to adapt, they are still sitting in a Champions League spot despite the club’s struggles this season.
Van Gaal may still not know what his best team is but he is learning more about his players every week and he is not afraid to change his preferred formation in order to win matches. It may seem like the Dutchman is still unsure about this United side but they are getting results.
The summer will be the big test for Van Gaal, it will be his opportunity to really shape the side into title contenders after a season of experimenting. Manchester United fans may not be too pleased with how their side plays at times but in the long term, the future looks bright under van Gaal’s leadership.