How Will Di Maria Fit Into Louis van Gaal’s Team?
The purchase of Angel Di Maria should have been the cherry on the cake for van Gaal in the transfer window this summer. Instead, it feels more like a frantic panic buy.
Tactical Analysis: Sunderland 1 Man United 1
There has never been such a furore surrounding tactics at Manchester United. New manager Louis van Gaal arrived with a legacy of being a tactical genius but so far it has been a bit of a mess. After the disappointing opening at Swansea last week, United really needed to hit back at Sunderland. The abandonment of 3-5-2 at half time against Swansea was short lived, as it lasted the distance at Wearside, although the same cannot be said for the team. They were awful. Van Gaal’s philosophy failed as there was absolutely no correlation between defence, midfield and attack. Confusion was rife among the defence and the team really have no idea how to protect the flanks without fixed full backs. In attack, the service was non-existent leaving the three most quality players isolated and frustrated. Knee jerk reactions are usually poor when analysing any team but it is difficult to see the current players adapting to this formation any time soon. Will Louis give it three months?
Attacking Impetus Needed at Old Trafford
With Sunday’s 1-1 draw against Sunderland, Manchester United registered not only their first point of Louis van Gaal’s reign but also another abject and lacklustre display. The game saw Robin van Persie make his return to action, starting for the first time this term alongside Wayne Rooney. Despite the Dutchman’s return, an injury ravaged United side were missing Ander Herrera and Jesse Lingard from last week’s defeat against Swansea and things only got worse when Chris Smalling bowed out with a hamstring injury just before half-time. Juan Mata kept his place behind the two strikers in Van Gaal’s 3-4-1-2 system, however, despite the attacking quality on paper, moments of actual quality were few and far between in the final third.
Mata grabbed United’s only goal after some clever play from Antonio Valencia but it is hard to think of any other real positives from the front three. Perhaps the club’s most technically gifted player, intelligent interplay is expected from the Spaniard but little of that was seen and Rooney and Van Persie were forced to come deep in an attempt to get involved in play. A lack of urgency in the build-up and an alarming deficiency of attacking penetration from the midfield made it difficult for all three attackers to play the way many supporters would like.
Van Gaal’s system has been one of the main talking points during pre-season and has again come into question following two disappointing competitive results. Earlier this month the Dutch boss called for a world-class winger and it looks, surprisingly, like the club are striving to make that happen. Angel Di Maria’s arrival is expected imminently and could lead to a shift in formation, likely back to Van Gaal’s preferred 4-3-3. Whether the use of a back three is to get the best out of a shaky defence or to allow United’s best attackers to start remains to be seen but it may become clear with the signing of a few more new faces.
Questions have been asked of Rooney and Van Persie as a front pair before and the question is likely to be raised again unless the tandem can show something else in the coming weeks. As a trio Mata, Van Persie and Rooney have started together just six times and may still be taking time to gel. Not to mention the fact that Van Persie spent much of last season out injured and Mata was a January panic buy forced into a system and position that didn’t play to his main strengths. There are reasons to be positive though, especially when it comes to United’s record signing – he’s chalked up 7 goals in his last eight Premier League appearances. Tellingly all of these goals have come when he’s played centrally.
This isn’t the first time Van Gaal has had to find a way to fit three top players into a side despite a massive lack of quality behind them, during the World Cup a similar system was put in place to get the best out of Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder and Van Persie. The rewards were reaped as the Netherlands finished in third place with some emphatic displays along the way. The experienced manager has remained true to his vision throughout a long career and has mostly been proved right, so despite a less than ideal start there is no reason to doubt him yet.
As the transfer window draws to a close it is heavily rumored that three new players will be arriving at Old Trafford. Should this be the case and Van Gaal does prefer a shift to his usually elected 4-3-3 a big call on United’s front two may have to be made, assuming Mata retains his place. As newly appointed captain Rooney’s position would appear safe but the Dutch boss isn’t afraid to upset big names for the benefit of his teams. A familiarity with Robin van Persie could see the Netherlands captain favoured, a move that would likely agitate the club skipper. Beyond that the roles of Adnan Januzaj, Shinji Kagawa and Danny Welbeck are unclear and United may have to move quickly to resolve one or more of their futures.
United’s Summer has been a Transfer Failure
Hysteria, desperation and panic are the words on the lips of those assessing Manchester United’s behaviour in the transfer market. Despite shelling out over £70 million, United have managed to emulate last season’s failings and thus far have not strengthened to the levels required by the fans and reportedly manager Louis van Gaal. A wealth of experience has departed the club, leaving United with a young and inexperienced defence, a physically weak midfield and an attack that is starved of creativity due to the inadequacy of those playing behind them. Big words from executive Ed Woodward raised expectations among the Old Trafford faithful and failure to act has sent a mutinous wave through them. Last year’s jokes about Ed have been replaced with genuine disdain as fans begin to look further up the echelons of power at United. Love United, Hate Glazer has returned. Sensationalism or not, the fans feel let down and if the appropriate players do not arrive between now and September 2nd, the suits will have a lot to answer for.
379 appearances, 10 goals, 40 assists and 54 yellow cards.
Bought by Sir Alex Ferguson during the 2006 January transfer window, Patrice Evra took some time to adapt to the Premier League. Considered somewhat of a flop at the end of his first season, Evra and Vidic are the perfect examples that, sometimes, players need time to acclimatise themselves to new environments.
8 years on, and both players have left at the end of the same season as cult heroes in the eyes of the vast majority of the Manchester United fan base. However, there is a difference in the way both players left the club: Vidic’s decision to leave for Inter Milan midway through the season was seen by many as a player making a swift exit from a sinking ship; a decision the Serbian seemed to regret when saying goodbye to the fans. Manchester United’s ex-captain will always be regarded as one of the team’s greatest defenders, but there is something about Patrice Evra that makes his departure from the club that little bit harder to take.
First and foremost, he understood exactly what it meant to play for Manchester United. Many players have come and gone at this great football club without showing the professionalism or the passion that is expected from a player when he puts on that red shirt. Patrice Evra has.
“I got a load of DVDs, about the Munich disaster and the Busby Babes, about Bobby Charlton, George Best and Denis Law, about Cantona. The whole story of the club. You meet these people around the club and I wanted to know who they were. What they had done for the club. Out of respect. All the young players here need to understand the history of the club. I realised I needed to respect the shirt. I needed to respect the story. Every time I play that is in my head. What a privilege it is to play for Manchester United. When you pull on the shirt you are pulling on history, and I say thanks to God that I play for this club”
Every time he spoke about the club, he always did so with great respect. His constant references to the club’s history endeared him to the fans, as they saw how proud he was to be at Manchester United.
On the pitch, the past few years weren’t the kindest to Evra. His reluctance to track back and his loss of pace hindered the team, and many fans made sure to voice their opinion on the matter whenever they could. However, the bond Evra had created with the fans was such that, whenever he spoke off the pitch, much was forgiven.
Patrice Evra is a born winner, something Sir Alex Ferguson quickly picked up on, meaning it came as no surprise when the former Manchester United manager made him vice-captain. The past year has been a great example of this. During one of the most disappointing seasons in the club’s recent history, Patrice Evra always voiced his support for the manager. He knew the fans were disappointed and so, in turn, this disappointed him even more. Evra became, to a certain extent, Manchester United’s spokesperson and said all the things the fans wanted to hear; something David Moyes seemed incapable of doing.
With his contract up at the end of the season, Patrice Evra could have done something similar to Nemanja Vidic and sign for a new team on a free in January. Instead, he waited until the end of the season and left after Manchester United triggered a clause in his contract, allowing the club to make money from his move.
The fact that Ferdinand, Vidic and now Evra have departed from Manchester United’s defence is a huge loss in terms of experience, but the new manager won’t be too bothered. As the Dutchman said in his first press conference, “I’m not always convinced by the experience of players”.
The fans will be forever grateful that Evra did not leave the sinking ship half way through the season, but stayed until the very end, ensuring that, when he left, his departure wouldn’t be missed. The signing of Luke Shaw certainly shows that Manchester United are thinking ahead rather than relying on the old guard for the coming season, and with Louis Van Gaal in charge, it’s almost as if Patrice Evra knows that the Manchester United ship has found its new navigator.
He can now leave knowing the club is in safe hands.
Welcome Louis: What to expect from Van Gaal’s United.
After the dismal failure of the cut-price continuity candidate, change is in the air. Expectations are sky high as we welcome the man tasked with being the catalyst for a revolution. The accepted view amongst the fanbase is that last year was an anomaly and we will now swiftly be returned to our rightful place at the top of the game. Such an outcome is certainly not impossible, but I believe it would be wrong to judge the approaching season purely in terms of trophies. The job facing Louis van Gaal is to lay the foundations for a new Manchester United. This revolution very much will be televised but the key changes will occur behind the scenes.
So what am I hoping to see from the new boss?
One of the low points of last season was the steady trickle of petty dissent expressed by the players through all manner of methods. A clear strength of the over-achieving Netherlands World Cup squad was the unity in the squad and deference to the manager. The biggest force in that dressing room must be the man who picks the team and it is crucial that the ‘special treatment’ doled out to certain members of the squad by Moyes is not repeated. A key relationship will undoubtedly be Robin van Persie; it would be self-defeating for van Gaal not to see his kinship with his fellow man of Orange as an asset yet there exists potential for such a bond to sow seeds of jealousy in others. Judging the mentality of the individuals he inherits is as important as assessing their talent; I expect to see at least one high profile departure to assert the authority of the new man. van Gaal has experienced the highs and lows of managing at the biggest clubs with the highest expectations. He is, and must remain, the single most important member of staff at the football club on and off the field. The last man in charge was in awe of the superstars he was meant to lead, the new man must instil awe and desire in those same players to embrace and obey his methods.
A new era requires a new start for all involved. Playing staff must go into the new season on an equal footing; no players in a squad that performed so far beneath expectations are entitled to feel irreplaceable. The appointment of Giggs was a shrewd move; the continued involvement of our most decorated player keeps the fans onside but more importantly he can advise on the current playing squad. Giggs has shared a dressing room with these men as a teammate and gained an insight into their personal strengths and weaknesses that any manager would love to have. However it is just as important that the new manager relies upon his own judgment. van Gaal regularly talks about a collective approach to success; it just might be that a player derided last season will be transformed into a key man. Ideally we will see promotion from within – continuing the proud tradition of producing our own. A pattern throughout van Gaal’s career has been promoting youth when he felt them capable of performing a role in the team rather than a senior alternative. Several disenfranchised and/or under-performing players have been marked by the media as bound for an exit but would this not be hasty? Take Chris Smalling for example; his star has undoubtedly dimmed after an inconsistent season played largely at full back. Speculation has surrounded the possibility of Smalling moving on but I dearly hope he is given the opportunity to show that he can improve and reach the standards required of the new boss. Talk of being ‘on trial’ during a short money spinning tour of the US is ludicrous. I haven’t followed the career of Bruno Martins Indi or Ron Vlaar closely but until this summer they were never considered potential United players. In terms of talent Smalling could prove to be superior to both players who so impressed against the very best in Brazil. The time to judge is after working on a daily basis with the new coaching team for at least six months. For some, decisions may already have been made; financial considerations mean players with expiring contracts might not be afforded sufficient time to impress. For the majority however I hope to see them stay and be given an opportunity to embrace the new era. Who knows, maybe even Frenchy’s beloved rotund Brazilian will enjoy a renaissance?
Much is made of the ‘United way’ – a commitment to attack which originates from Busby’s demand to entertain the hard-working people of Manchester. The ‘United way’ has been lacking for many years – in the later Ferguson years and under Moyes the emphasis was on individuals to produce moments of magic against a backdrop of limited but hardworking midfielders and (under Fergie at least) solid defence. Total football will not be coming to Manchester – van Gaal cares too much about winning for that – but I am at least hoping to see a collective style to our team that has been demonstrably absent. The debate around the likely approach of the new man in charge continues to rage. Initial predictions of a possession focused 4-3-3 have been thrown into doubt by a summer of success featuring counter attack, three centrebacks and two forwards. The only thing we can be certain of is a break from the 4-4-2 model employed and interpretted with varying success by our last two managers. For me, the importance of formations are exagerrated, the key is the approach. I am hoping to see an assertive, positive approach with an emphasis on fluid, attacking football. Last season we witnessed an unhappy marriage of a conservative, rigid, reactive manager and creative, technically gifted players used to Meulensteen’s diet of Coerver coaching. The club’s pursuit of midfield and defensive reinforcements echoes my belief that the current squad’s strength is in attack. A shrewd coach will harness a team’s strength and address their weaknesses. In United’s case, that means a system and approach that maximises the opportunities for the creative players to shine.
I’m not expecting all of this to happen overnight and finishing in a Champions League berth would constitute a success. Infusing new ideas and finding the right blend will take time. Fans are understandably excited and expectations are exagerrated but we can have faith that this time we have the right man for the job. The future’s bright, the future’s oranje.
Double Dutch – A new system for United and Holland
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.
Louis van Gaal must solve United’s identity crisis.
The football season is over. If you’re like me you zoned out weeks ago, only to return in disbelief as football player Ryan Giggs had a go at being football manager Ryan Giggs. The sight of homegrown heroes in the dugout was both surreal and exhilirating. A token act to reignite optimism after a wretched season? Possibly, but for me it represented more than that. It reaffirmed the real issue facing United; that of identity.
American owners. Registered in the Cayman Isles. Looking for a third manager within two years. Anticipating a Dutch influx on the coaching staff. Things aint what they used to be. The club has changed beyond all recognition in the last thirty years; in many ways for the better. Yet for all the joyous success there has long been a nagging sense of what the cost might be of winning. United the global brand is all well and good, but what makes us different from any other European super club?
Horrible football and embarrassing results have been the lasting impression of the Moyes era. The end of season DVD makers face an unenviable task. Thank goodness for Adnan. He has been the shining light and the powers that be would be wise to recognise why his emergence so thrilled the United support. Youth development has been at the heart of United’s identity since the days of Sir Matt. The pleasure of seeing a player from within make it in the first team is without parallel. Longsight’s finest notching in Madrid brought me more pleasure than any of Robin van Persie’s many briliiant goals. Why? Because he is ours. We were truly spoilt by the emergence of a uniquely talented group in the nineties; that was not and never could be the norm. However the presence of those legends in the dugout and the blooding of Wilson and Lawrence was a stark reminder of what defines Manchester United. United have always created more superstars than we have imported.
The benefits of bringing through our own are obvious and you’d be hard pressed to find United fans who would disagree with the above sentiments. Yet ever since Ferguson retired fans have talked excitedly of the need for mass investment. Figures of up to £200m have been widely circulated as fans debate their fantasy shopping lists. I’m not sure how healthy this is. The squad needs investment – and you’ll not find me complaining at the arrival of truly world class central midfielders – yet spending your way out of trouble seem very, well, City. The recruitment of players is no guarantee of success (see Fellaini, Marouane) and brings with it a potentially damaging impact on prospects lower down. Glamour signings like Cavani might delight the sponsors but signings expect to play. Every new purchase is an additional rung on the ladder to the first team for a younger player already at the club. James Wilson might not be ready to lead the line in 2014, but two years down the line we would hope him to be. If the strategy is to switch to marquee signings then the chances of players like Wilson having that opportunity will be reduced. The question to be considered above all others when seeking to improve the first team must always be ‘can we promote from within?’
All of which is further cause for optimism at the imminent appointment of van Gaal. A track record of ignoring reputations and promoting youth is as important a quality for me as a trophy packed CV. Research van Gaal and you don’t need to do much reading to gain a sense of de ja vu; the promotion and development of youth is central to what he does. If a younger player suits his system then to hell with the consequences of putting a superstar’s nose out of joint. I feel reassured that once the new manager familiarises himself with the whole club he will ease the passage of talent to the first team. It might seem fanciful to expect a Xavi or Muller to be plucked from our youth team but the stunning rise of Januzaj shows that there is rewards to reap by trusting in the untried.
In the meantime the concern is that Woodward running around with a chequebook will have an entirely different philosophy based on fuelling his own ego with expensive star names. I dearly hope that the incoming manager is already driving the process but given the way the club has conducted business over the last eighteen months forgive me if I’m more than a little pessimistic. All that will change though once the appointment is made. It is testament to the chaotic period we have been through that my hope for rediscovering our identity is placed in an outsider. The consensus is of the need for major changes this summer but if United are to regain our identity it is essential that this remains the exception rather than the rule.
We Are United
It was the best of times and the worst of times, what an emotional roller coaster the last twelve months have been. It seems like yesterday that United won the league and shorter still since Sir Alex was standing in the dugout, making sure that everyone feared the biggest club in the world. As such, no team has dominated the Premier League era anywhere near as much as Manchester United. But after a “transitional” season, and it has indeed been a transition, things have changed.
The Dirty Dozen Who Need to Go
I think most would agree by now that David Moyes and Manchester United is not a marriage made in heaven. It’s an arranged matrimony, in which the partners have always appeared to be curiously miss-matched. One of those couples that people stare at in restaurants and question ‘how has he done that?!’ United are an underwear model, Moyes is a below-average looking man, who lacks social skills. Neither appears comfortable, and whilst one is eager to give it another try, the other is seemingly desperate to get away. Move on David. Find somebody at your own level who’ll love you back, and be happy. You’re batting way above your average, and United is looking around for more attractive suitors.