Johan Cruff may not be a fan of it but Louis van Gaal’s 5-3-2 system has proved to be a success at the World Cup, thus far. A free-flowing ‘total football’ 4-3-3 system is the traditional Dutch style. However, it isn’t something you could label at van Gaal’s 2014 team preparing for a semi final against Argentina led by Lionel Messi.
In reality, Holland were hardly a joy to watch at the last World Cup in South Africa. The physical, counter attacking display, which was so heavily criticised against Spain, was the lasting memory of the defeated finalists. This Oranje arrived in Brazil unfancied and starved of the talent they are usually associated with.
The plan for van Gaal is to remain defensively organised, while getting the best out of his three standout attacking talents. It has not been a popular choice with many back home, or indeed Mr Cruyff. In spite of that, few can doubt its effectiveness that includes a 5-1 victory over holders Spain. It has brought mesmeric performances from Arjen Robben and a rejuvenated Robin van Persie.
It raises an interesting question. Should Manchester United fans be readying themselves for a similar change in tradition?
One of the alarming problems David Moyes’ team notably displayed last season was dreadful defensive organisation. Moyes may point to injuries being a contributing factor to this but, in truth, this is something that should not be associated with Manchester United. It was just not good enough. Poor concentration saw many goals conceded at the start and end of halves, particularly in big games and this will be a defence without Rio Ferdinand or Nemanja Vidic for the first time since 2002.
There is much work to do for van Gaal in redeveloping a new look back line structure. A defensive set-up that includes 5 players may prove to be a success. The club are expected to add one or two central defenders over the summer with a number of targets mentioned already, including Arsenal club captain Thomas Vermaelen.
The Belgian has struggled to hold down a regular starting place at The Emirates after picking up numerous injuries. It remains to be seen if the clubs can agree on a fee that would see Vermaelen leave the Emirates a year before the expiry of his contract.
Question marks are still hanging over the long-term futures of Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Johnny Evans. All three struggled to hold down a regular place in the team under Moyes because of poor form and injuries. Smalling and Jones particularly, once suggested as the future of England and United’s central defence, have much to prove. Both have failed to progress since the big money moves as teenagers, regularly displaying a lack of concentration that has resulted in goals and penalties conceded.It is a mystery how on Earth both were selected by Roy Hodgson for the World Cup this summer. Despite the evident lack of quality options available, neither should have been considered.
Should van Gaal implement this idea it will be intriguing to see who is regularly selected at wing back. The importance to these positions would be vital as it supplies the team with the only real natural width it has. New signing Luke Shaw would be the obvious choice for the left hand side, although Patrice Evra will still see his fair share of games after agreeing a new one year extension.
Antonio Valencia could be the solution to the right. Valencia has clearly struggled when used as an emergency right back by David Moyes or Sir Alex Ferguson. This role would allow him to contribute defensively without the responsibilities of being a part of a structured back four. He has also found difficultly in undertaking the pressures of playing further forward on the wing. His fragile confidence was exposed when he handed back the number 7 shirt at the beginning of last season. He has never been able to come to terms with replacing Cristiano Ronaldo – but then again who would?
Right wing back would allow him a lack of restriction down the right hand side when attacking. He then may be able to recapture the form he produced to win United’s players’ player of the season in 2012. The same goes for the experienced 18-year-old Shaw, who will be given freedom to express himself in his first season at Old Trafford. Rafael should not be forgotten as he enjoyed his best campaign for the club in 2012-2013. However, with last season’s rash tackles, concentration lapses and poor use of the ball collectively, it a very frustrating season for him. He was not considered for Luis Felipe Scolari’s squad for the World Cup hosts, and it remains to be seen whether he will ever produce the consistency Louis van Gaal will demand.
The midfield area is something that has become an obvious weakness. Marouane Fellaini was the first central midfielder bought by the club for 6 years at £27.5 million. Not fancied by many when signed, he has done little to convince that he is good enough to play regularly for United. The other midfield options are limited. Michael Carrick is now 32 and was unable to find anywhere near the level of the previous season that earned him a place in PFA team of the year. The amount of games he has played in recent seasons appears to have taken its toll and he has become ineffectual. Still good in possession, there is a place for Carrick in this squad, however a starting place should be questionable. As for the others; Tom Cleverley, Anderson and a returning Darren Fletcher are not of the level needed to sustain a title challenge.
Ander Herrera has been brought in from Athletic Bilbao. A player David Moyes chased at the end of the summer transfer window last year. He enjoyed an excellent season with the Spanish club that saw them reach the qualifying round of the Champions League. Herrera will seemingly walk into a midfield that lacks ambition, flair, energy and enthusiasm. Only Cesc Fabregas attempted more through balls than Herrera last season in La Liga. It is clear he is a player not lacking in creativity. He will likely have to be partnered by another top class arrival if United are to be in with a shout of challenging for honours the coming season.
Where do you play Juan Mata? A question that has been continually asked since the Spaniard arrived from Chelsea in January. David Moyes, unsurprisingly, was unable to get the best out of him from the right side of midfield. Moyes employed Mata on the wing in an attempt to make the most of Robin Van Persie and Wayne Rooney as well, although this has left the question whether all three should be played together. The 5-3-2 formation would allow United’s best 3 players to feature in their favoured roles. Mata, like Wesley Sneijder for the Dutch, will be given the opportunity to create centrally and recapture the form shown in his first two years at Stanford Bridge. Just like for Holland, it would enable van Gaal to bring the best out of his 3 best players.
Shinji Kagawa could then be given a lifeline by his new Manager. The talented playmaker has never been able to reach the heights achieved at Borussia Dortmund, although many of his admirers would suggest that the lack of opportunities in his preferred central role is the predominant reason for this. It also would not hamper the progression of Adnan Januzaj. The Belgian international is expected to develop as a central attacking forward in the future. Januzaj will undoubtedly flourish under the tutelage of his new manager. Van Gaal has been commended for the guidance he gave to the likes of Andres Iniesta, Xavi and Thomas Muller early in their careers. A similar outcome will be anticipated with Januzaj, who has enormous potential.
Finally, can Louis van Gaal make the combination of Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie work? It has failed to flourish since the arrival of the Dutchman from Arsenal. We know van Persie will be pivotal to van Gaal’s plans, but it is imperative he is able to incorporate both effectively if they are to strike a deadly partnership. Rarely have the two players played together both as central strikers. Unlike Liverpool’s Sturridge and Suarez partnership that proved to be so valuable last season, Rooney has usually been utilised in a deeper role to protect the middle of the midfield behind.
As mentioned earlier, largely this is down to the midfield being the weakest area of the team. Rooney’s best position is not as a ‘number 10’ and without question it isn’t on the left hand side where Roy Hodgson played him for England‘s against Italy. It is as the furthest forward player, scoring goals. The same goes for van Persie. In this system it would allow both to play as advanced as possible, still with the freedom to make runs in wider areas. This would enable Juan Mata to progress higher and be innovative because of the lack of wingers.
This system may not be the ‘Manchester United way’, but isn’t the ‘Dutch way’ either. Sir Alex Ferguson decided to go with a diamond in midfield during his last season in management, which did not go down well with many fans. It remains to be seen how much van Gaal is criticised if he picks a team operating without wingers. If van Gaal does decide to regularly play a 3-5-2 system, the likes of Ashley Young and Nani could be fearful of their United futures. They can’t say they have not had their chances.
One man who will unquestionably be integral to the new manager’s plans next season will be goalkeeper David De Gea – one of the few players who progressed last season. The Spanish goalkeeper should think himself unlucky to have not been Spain’s first choice for the World Cup ahead of the troubled Iker Casillas. De Gea has improved significantly each season he has played for United since joining from Atletico Madrid in 2011. The British record fee for a goalkeeper at just over £17 million now resembles a bargain fee. Still only 23, he has is propelled himself to one of the best goalkeepers in Europe.
How do you expect Louis van Gaal to set the team up?
Written by @JospehMaloney