A Team Analysis Looking ahead to Louis Van Gaal’s Tenure at Manchester United
Following on from what was a rather disastrous first season for Manchester United after Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement under David Moyes, it seems that the board at United have taken a radical step to put a halt to the slide in success at the club, by employing the highly respected and successful manager Louis Van Gaal, who is currently managing the Netherlands national team through the 2014 World Cup, before taking up his post at the Red Devils outfit.
Louis Van Gaal is notorious in the football world for not being a man who is very forgiving, or flexible in his approach. Throughout his career, in which he has managed sterling clubs such as Bayern Munich and Ajax, he has implemented a 4-3-3 system rather strictly. Indeed, if it wasn’t for the lengthy injury of Kevin Strootman, his current Holland side would be mechanizing with the 4-3-3. Unlike the pragmatism of David Moyes’ style of play, Van Gaal prefers to be very proactive in play, attempting to retain possession in the opponents half, whilst always looking to breach their back line.
It seems an appropriate time to now consider which of the current squad at Manchester United would fit into the Dutchman’s philosophy, despite the signings that will imminently be made before the start of the next season. In this article written by our new football writer Luke Regan, he will discuss some of the preferred tactical changes at Manchester United under Louis van Gaal – a team analysis looking at Manchester United’s possible style of play for season 2014-2015.
How Man United’s Current Players Could Fit Into Van Gaal’s 4-3-3
This role is already one that it practically decided, David De Gea is definitely the stand out candidate. Despite having shaky spells during his first season at Manchester United, De Gea has effectively fended off the other candidate for the role – Anders Lindegaard. The Spaniard, who was named as one of Spain’s three goalkeepers for the World Cup, couples excellent shot stopping with reliable distribution – the latter of which will be important for Van Gaal, given his preference of possession based football.
Despite Patrice Evra’s age and what could be described as ‘worrying’ form last season under David Moyes, he has had his contract extended by another year, suggesting that he will once again be a regular at left back for another season. Evra’s attacking tendencies will suit Van Gaal’s 4-3-3, which encourages full backs to push on into advanced areas. Evra’s only other current challenger for the spot is Alexander Buttner, who sadly has not developed as well as was clearly planned when he was bought from Vitesse in the summer 2012.
On the right hand side, it would be likely that the energetic Brazilian Rafael will be Van Gaal’s first choice, the Brazilian, like his counterpart Evra, excels when attacking the opposition as opposed to defending his own goal however. Other contenders for the role would be Chris Smalling, who has certainly never convinced at right back, or Phil Jones, both of which are more likely to be considered in the centre of defence.
This season will be the first one since the 2005-06 season, when Nemanja Vidic joined, that United have been without their long favoured centre back pairing of Vidic and Rio Ferdinand. This clearly represents a new era, and a new opportunity for the central defenders currently at the club. Jonny Evans will probably be first choice next season out of the current crop, Evans is a player that is criminally underrated due to a few below par games early in his career, but is now defensively solid and comfortable on the ball.
The player who will partner Evans is less clear, in fact central defence is clearly a position that needs reinforcing at United. But out of the current playing staff, the spot is between Chris Smalling and Phil Jones. Whilst neither of the two have ever convinced during their careers at United, Jones would seem to be the more likely to play next to Evans, given that he is more comfortable on the ball- and quicker than Smalling- which in a system that values ball retention and implements a relatively high defensive line, is invaluable.
The role of the deepest midfielder in a 4-3-3 is often the vital position on the pitch. This player is responsible for instigating attacks through reliable but incisive passing, and using astute positioning to snuff out any opposition attacks. Michael Carrick is the man who will be tasked with this role by Van Gaal, Carrick is a player that is technically effective on the ball and excellent at forcing opponents into areas they don’t want to go to through his positioning. Darren Fletcher would perhaps be Carrick’s main rival for the spot, but Carrick’s ability on the ball is better than Fletchers, and so Carrick should get the nod.
Van Gaal’s template for his two central midfielders who operate in front of the holder is for one of them to get from box to box, contributing to all phases of play often, and for one to be primarily an attacking player, playing as playmaker. Whilst Shinji Kagawa is naturally a number ten – a position further up field, his boundless energy and defensive diligence could mean that he is able to fill the role of the box to box midfielder in this system. Another option for the industrious role would be the much maligned Tom Cleverly, who despite a poor season last term is harshly criticised. Indeed Van Gaal may like Cleverly in that he works hard for the team, and is neat and tidy, if not spectacular in possession. Marouane Fellaini could provide a more physical option in the midfield, however his perceived lack of technical proficiency on the ball could limit playing time. Meanwhile, Darren Fletcher would have been perfectly suited to the role prior to his health problems which kept him on the side lines for such a long time, the Scot doesn’t seem to have the boundless energy that he used to have, meaning that he probably isn’t suited to the role.
The playmaker role in the midfield three would probably be given to Wayne Rooney – of the current squad. Despite obviously preferring to play further up field, Rooney doesn’t have much chance of beating Robin Van Persie to the centre forward spot, given that Van Persie is Van Gaal’s skipper for the national team.
Again, clearly Kagawa and Rooney aren’t perfectly suited to the two roles profiled, meaning that major investment is probably needed to supplement the options in the middle of the park for the incoming manager. However, both players have played conventional midfield roles before.
It is difficult to judge who out of the current crop of players at United Van Gaal would favour on the wings, if his Bayern Munich and Holland side is reflective of his needs on wings, it would seem that he likes players stationed out wide to be able to cut inside and score goals- think Frank Ribery and Arjen Robben. This then, is probably good news for Adnan Januzaj and even Nani, who are both very different players, but like to cut inside. This is perhaps not to good for Antonio Valencia, who is a very old fashioned line hugging winger.
Van Gaal’s love for technically adept players will surely mean that he is able to find a slot in his team for Juan Mata, who can operate on either side effectively. Given that he is a natural number ten, Mata would naturally tuck in, in keeping with Van Gaal’s preference for wide men to tuck in slightly. An alternative here could be Danny Welbeck, who has frequently played wide left for United in the past, however you wonder if he has the guile to fit into Van Gaal’s system.
This, like the Goalkeeper spot is already sewn up. Van Persie and Van Gaal enjoy a great relationship for the Holland national team as captain and manager, and this looks set to continue with the Dutch striker likely to captain United under Van Gaal. In reserve, United have Javier Hernandez who looks set to leave, Danny Welbeck who is probably more likely to be used on the flanks, or Wayne Rooney, who will probably be forced deeper into midfield or out to the flanks.
Manchester United’s Playing Style and Formation under Louis van Gaal
Of course the team above is unlikely to be the one that starts for United in their first game under the disciplinarian Van Gaal (surely he wouldn’t play such an open midfield), given that he is rumoured to be looking at signing players of the calibre of Toni Kroos, Thomas Muller, Kevin Strootman and Mats Hummels. However, it gives a bit of an insight into the type of players that Van Gaal likes in his system, and ways that certain players may or may not fit in. Indeed, the next season is perhaps the biggest in United’s history, Van Gaal must galvanize the team and perhaps even more importantly the fans, after the unrest which occurred through the turbulent spell of his predecessor Moyes.
Written by Luke Regan