Angel Di Maria can could make a huge difference this season
Perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that, despite missing the last twenty minutes of today’s match with Burnley, the Argentine still looked like the most likely to make a difference in the middle of a team that has yet to stutter into life. Plus, if you hadn’t heard, he cost 60m-odd quid, so he’d better be decent. But Di Maria is certainly in possession of qualities that have been missing from United for longer than this season, and whilst he wasn’t able to inspire a more powerful result, he didn’t look out of place in the Premier League.
The first thing to notice was his delivery, which was, by and large, superb. The vision to land a long ball onto Robin van Persie’s chest in the opening period was sumptuous, and you can’t help but wonder what he might have been able to create had there been more space available. His effort, application and willingness to run at the home side made for a nice change of pace considering United’s utter lack of…..well, pace this season. You wonder if Louis van Gaal will be tempted to prod him out to the flanks given how poor Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia’s crossing was/has been. Either way, it’s clear that Di Maria will not have too much trouble fitting in, and could be a huge influence for United this season. Given the price tag, it’s just as well.
United’s front three are struggling
At present, the front trio of Robin van Persie, Juan Mata and Wayne Rooney is not working. The reasons are vast; the former has only just returned to action after a lengthy World Cup campaign, the middle is struggling to fit into a system behind two strikers and the latter, the captain, no less, is barely flickering so far this season. If they’re kept together, things should undoubtedly get easier for them once they get better service from behind and out wide. But the problem United currently face is that shoehorning all three into the side is making for a forward line lacking in pace. As such, if Van Gaal sticks with playing three of his now-four most talented players up top, then he has to make sure they are given the support and delivery they need. Today, one completed cross between the selected wing-backs tells its own story.
Squad depth could severely hamper United’s ambitions
There’s no denying that Van Gaal’s options for getting the club back on the road to recovery have improved this summer. Adding quality additions like Luke Shaw, Ander Herrera, Marcos Rojo and now Daley Blind have helped immensely in that respect, but if you wanted an indication of the work still to do, then look no further than the identity of Di Maria’s replacement. Anderson is not wanted at Old Trafford, and hasn’t been for some time, but due to injuries and sheer necessity, he was brought out barely four days after having been dominated by a League One side. Not only that, but the fact that United’s wing backs seem to struggle so much with crossing should tell you instantly about the lack of options available to Van Gaal.
Of course, the amount of players currently sidelined is not helping. It never does. But in comparison with the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea, with the former easily able to put out two competitive XIs if they fancied, United are far behind. This summer’s revamp could see the likes of Cleverley, Hernandez and Kagawa leave before the window closes, and has already seen some squad fodder shipped out. But it could take another two to three windows before Van Gaal has his entire squad in a state fit to challenge the country’s finest. For the time being, as much of a cop-out as it might appear to be, injuries and lack of quality could continue to be a factor.
United are too easy to play against at present
So far this season, in the league at least, all three matches have followed a very similar pattern; United end up with the lion’s share in possession as their opponents sit back and wait for an opportunity to swarm forward. At present, the pace and urgency needed to counter-attack in response is not there, so when Van Gaal’s side do win the ball back, they are allow their opponents far too much time to settle and reorganise. This has frequently led to a repeat of last season’s template; pass it up and down the width of the pitch and try to cross it in. Two draws, a defeat and two goals scored suggests that this can’t be the club’s only game plan.
The majority of United fans appreciate that this new side is a work in progress with potential, and that is exactly the best way to approach it. There is an understanding that, to Van Gaal, 3-5-2 is the best way to accommodate the club’s best players, but what happens when United fail to make a breakthrough? Well, the half-time formation switch in the Swansea game aside, they simply keep plugging away, and so far, it’s yielded nothing. Teams aren’t afraid of United because they’re set up in a fashion that is already predictable. The easiest solution to this is to have a back-up plan, something that was needed once Di Maria was taken off with a quarter of the game to go and with the visitors plugging away unsuccessfully. Van Gaal’s pedigree suggests that he will find a way to turn this United side into a well-oiled machine at some point, but until then, a plan B is needed, as his side are currently far too predictable for their own good.