A mere 20 days remain until Manchester United’s season begins at home to Swansea City. After 10 goals in 2 games, the Van Gaal regime already seems to be ticking along nicely. Regardless of the fact that all we have been treated to so far is a bit of pre season yada-yada, I’m beginning to become all too excited: Think about it, how often did United score 7 last year?
In a feeble attempt to conceal my anticipation for next season’s events I do what every hopelessly bored football fan does on those dreary summer evenings when there’s absolutely nothing going on; I’m obviously referring to the common hobby of drawing up potential lineups and formations that could be on display in the coming months, this will invariably include players that the club hasn’t actually signed, their inclusion is only justified through Twitter speculation and false hope and expectation: Robben playing on the right? Only on Lineup Builder. I should add that I do have a social life as well.
Funnily enough, the formation that I selected more or less every time was 4-3-3. I have many reasons for this; firstly, Louis Van Gaal has utilised this formation successfully with every team he’s managed. Secondly, Manchester United have always played with a back line of 4. And thirdly, Sir Alex Ferguson and even David Moyes (at times) used this formation if their side was chasing a game and required a bit more width and pace. It just seemed like the most logical shape for the Van Gaal era to operate under.
That being said, Louis van Gaal has other ideas. After being officially made in charge less than two weeks ago, Coach van Gaal has assessed the squad’s strengths and weaknesses before coming to the conclusion that 5-3-2 is the best way for this group of players to make use of their talents. Louis van Gaal used this formation in the World Cup and it payed dividends; as long as every member of that team is on the same page in regards to the formation and the work rate matches the lofty standards of the boss the results can be universally positive.
The 5-3-2 formation forces players to exceed what their job title manifests. If you’re a striker then your job is far more complex than just putting the ball into the back of the net, Van Persie will end up being a player who holds the ball up more often, makes decoy runs and looks for the overlapping wing backs more than his strike partner. On top of that, he must score 30 plus goals by the end of the season. Centre half’s are required to develop the technical side of their game along with the quality of their long passing. Wingbacks must evolve their crossing game and spacial awareness. The system that Van Gaal employs is the epitome of football modernism. At the highest level, a player carries and increased level of responsibilities.
The 5-3-2 formation is somewhat under-utilised in the Premier League. Teams like Liverpool and Manchester City have toyed around with it but never fully bought into it, the only team off the top of my head to have used that formation consistently is Steve Bruce’s Hull side. Customarily, its rather taboo in England. This is down to a few things; most obviously the idea of not having 4 at the back can leave defences bemused and out of position. Another reason revolves around the fact that a wingback is a rare breed in the English game and that strike partnerships are now considered outdated and unconventional. Lastly, the route to a lot of success seems to materialise due to wingers and fullbacks making runs down the touchline. The 5-3-2 formation administers the daunting prospect of having to give up several traditions that to date, has served English teams so well. It forces a change in a players mindset and forces them to abandon certain habits and learn new traits.
Regardless, the 5-3-2 shape can work with its master at the helm. It will require time and patience. If the centre back shortage is an issue at Manchester United, then the shortage of centre back’s who understand how to play in this formation is a cataclysmic dilemma. If this formation is going to be successful, then the purchase of Hummels and De Vrij is paramount. The inclusion of another right wingback wouldn’t be a bad move, either. That much was clear yesterday when Ashley Young ended up making a fool of himself in that role. The mood around Manchester United appears to be quite content and relaxed, there were evident doubts regarding David Moyes’s defensive minded regime as his short lived reign wore on. This time around, its different. I firmly believe that every single Manchester United player is buying into Louis van Gaal’s formation and his exciting and revolutionary philosophy.