Over the summer, Louis van Gaal’s recruitment at Manchester United seemed pretty good. Bastian Schweinsteiger and Morgan Schneiderlin formed the new ‘Schmidfield’, Anthony Martial was a surprise, but burst onto the scene and Memphis Depay looked to be a young yet solid replacement for the departed Angel di Maria.
But it wasn’t just the players themselves who were brought in which was interesting. It was the fact that these were all reasonably physical options, who were also either pacey or powerful. You could imagine these players in some sort of 1930s beach scene with resistance bands and moustaches and striped bathing suits. They’d flex into the camera whilst looking macho.
It was all power, pace and technique, yet United’s pursuit of Pedro said that Van Gaal wanted more penetration and guile in his side. He wanted to add more pace, even though he’d already brought quite a bit of speed into the side. Pedro, Martial, Depay, Rooney and Mata probably couldn’t have all fitted into the same side unless one was to play a more central midfield role, but it would have been strange if he’d left out Rooney.
Yet, as much as United’s problems this season may have stemmed from their turgid performances and their inability to even countenance a risky pass, it must also be said that when Plan A doesn’t work for Van Gaal, he rarely has a Plan B. That is, when he looks to his bench with only a few minutes to go, desperately in need of a player to change the game, the best he’s been able to come up with a few times over the last few weeks has been Phil Jones.
It’s debatable, though, whether Pedro would have made much of a difference to this United side. He may have given the team another option from the bench – that is, at least one of the pacier attacking players would have started on the bench – but surely lack of risk in United’s game and their inability to unlock defences wouldn’t have been cured by the addition of one more attacking player. It’s more of a tactical problem than a personnel problem. It’s a change of game plan more than a change of players that is needed.
And so January has arrived, and now United are being linked with the same sort of player, pacey, skillful, attacking. Sadio Mane, whether they get him or not, has been linked, as has Lazio’s Felipe Anderson.
But they, like Pedro, will not change United’s fortunes on their own.
Surely they’re similar players to the likes of Depay. And whether Depay has been good or not so far this season, it’s obvious that just replacing him with a better model will not completely change United’s fortunes.
The fact remains that Louis van Gaal has spent hundreds of millions of pounds and assembled a squad incapable of even the most modest displays of creativity. Just adding another attacking dribbler to the squad will only help if he’s actually told to dribble with the ball.
A new attacking option will be crucial to Manchester United’s attempts to qualify for the Champions League again next season, but only if it’s a real attacking option. There’s no point bringing in a new player and making him play in the same system that fails to actually attack the opposition’s defensive lines. Passing the ball in a semi-circle around the box just isn’t going to cut it if you don’t have the movement in behind or the bravery – or instructions – to play a pass in behind the defence.
For all the pace, power and technique in the Manchester United side, they ultimately lack anything to make those qualities useful. Like having a car but no engine. So to go and add new features to the automobile is simply a waste of money. Why buy those driving gloves when you’re not going to drive?
It doesn’t seem to be United’s team that creates their problem, albeit they could do with a few new recruits to bolster the squad. It’s the tactics that need to be changed more than the players do. Perhaps it’s the manager that needs to be changed most of all.