Louis-van-Gaal_en(dot)wikipedia(dot)org

The United manager admitted that too many changes are not ideal for the team, but he must show he believes this by makingAi??up his mind now.

Up until a few seasons ago, Sir Alex Ferguson was known to never play the same eleven in consecutive Premier League matches at Manchester United. Compared to Louis vanAi??Gaal’sAi??sweeping changes both in terms of formations and personnel, Ferguson’s ploy could be seen as decidedly mundane. Still getting the feel of the self-confessed massive job at his hands, VanAi??GaalAi??is determined to bring success to the club, but the enormity of the occasion is just beginning to dawn on the Dutchman.

Calls for judging his own methods after three months wereAi??swiftly moved to declarations that he would need three years to make United the force they were under Ferguson again. Although no criticism was forthcomingAi?? – as an aside, it is worthwhile to imagine what the reaction would have been had DavidAi??MoyesAi??said the exact same words three months into the United job – it is worth noting that VanAi??GaalAi??has bent back a bit on his ideas of playing United with the three-at-the-back formation he seemed to carry with him with so much confidence after his World Cup exploits with the Netherlands.

Even with an extremely modest start to the season,Ai??United are just two points shy of the fourth place in the Premier League table. VanAi??GaalAi??must now stop confusing his players and bring out a definitive style of play he wants his team to exhibit for the rest of the season. He has changed formations too much as he tries to find the perfect balance to his side, and although handicapped by injuries, VanAi??GaalAi??has tried out players in one position too many to give them any sense of regularity for the season. WeAi??pick at the formations he has used so far to see which he might pick and when.

1) The 3-5-2:

Much ado was made about the tactical genius of VanAi??GaalAi??when he used the 3-5-2 formation well with Holland at the World Cup in Brazil, with his team absolutely hammering Brazil and Spain, two of theAi??favoritesAi??of the tournament. The 3-5-2 has not worked at United for one simple reason – United just don’t have the defenders with the right skill and judgmentAi??to play this way. They are just not used to maintaining an aggressively high line, defending on the front foot and rushing out to break up play before it develops inside their half. British defenders are not bred in this manner. So it is of little surprise that Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Jonny Evans all looked at sea at this aspect of the 3-5-2 defending.

In the 3-5-2, the number 10's role at tracking back cannot be stressed enough. One of the midfield double pivot must also cover for the central defender who goes forward.

In the 3-5-2, the number 10’s role at tracking back cannot be stressed enough. One of the midfield double pivot must also cover for the central defender who goes forward.

(courtesy sharemytactics.com)

Sure they are all better ball playing defenders than their former captainAi??NemanjaAi??Vidic. However, it was embarrassing to see them rush out to intercept the ball off the feet of the attackers with little composure or tact, getting caught out instead and conceding a goal in the process. For the central defender of the back three to rush out like this needs cover from the defensive midfielder, as the remaining twoAi??centreAi??halves try to cover for the space left by the non-specialist attacking wing-backs. United just do not currently have players who have got used to this system.

The wing-backs need to be absolutely skilled in getting up and down the pitch, one of the defensive midfield pivot needs to track back and occupy spaces left by the ball playingAi??centreAi??back, and the number 10 must be disciplined and willing to perform his defensive duties to assist the two midfielders. United now have Wayne Rooney as that number 10 and Daley Blind as one of the midfield pivot, but they lack sorely in the wing-back department, where Ashley Young, Antonio Valencia and JesseAi??LingaardAi??played in the opening matches to little effect. These shortcomings are well explained by former United defender Gary Neville.

One might say VanAi??GaalAi??failed to bring in the required kind of players for such a system. No wing backs were pursued, with Leighton Baines’s name only fleetingly mentioned. No technical ball playing defenders were finally bought, with MarcosAi??RojoAi??being something of a compromise. It could be said that while VanAi??GaalAi??is a huge fan of this system, and it is a system that offers a lot of attacking options, he is no position to use it with the players at his disposal.Ai??With the way opposing teams in the Premier League line up, with a lone striker andAi??wide men as a front three, playing three at the back is very risky business, especially if the other team relies entirely on counter attacks.

2) The 4-1-2-1-2 Diamond:

This has arguably the formation that has brought out the best in United in terms of attractive football and results. United won 3 games and lost 1 playing this formation, and United’s strength in attacking options is best underlined with the Diamond. With VanAi??PersieAi??and Falcao playing up front, Rooney filled the number 10 role, with Ander Herrera and AdnanAi??JanuzajAi??the horizontal extremities of the diamond, and Daley Blind bringing up the bottom of this shape, playing the holding midfield role.

United certainly scored more goals, and utilized their 59.7 million pound signing the best. Angel di Maria, playing on the left hand side of the diamond, showcased his dribbling skills, took on players and beat them with his pace and ball control. He played well in tandem with the left back and scored his three goals this season from such a position. With VanAi??Persie, Falcao and Rooney up front, it is no surprise that United scored the goals up front.

But what they got in terms of attack, they lost defensively. With the midfield too narrow, the wing backs were expected to occupy those spaces in attack, leaving theAi??defenceAi??vulnerable and short in numbers. Blind as the holding midfielder was expected to cover for the marauding wing backs, which is very hard if both the wing backs have bombed on ahead. The discipline just wasn’t there for either wing back to stay in position when the other attacked.

This formation is not without its sacrifices. Blind performs a role here that involves tracking back a lot, something Michael Carrick is not the best at. The only way Carrick can be utilized without displacing Blind is in a right side of the diamond position, which would require pace, another weakness for theAi??English midfielder, who is best utilized from deeper positions in midfield from where he can control the game better.

3) The 4-1-4-1 or 4-2-3-1:

Perhaps to find a formation that protects his goal the best, VanAi??GaalAi??has recently gone with two versions of the lone striker formation. Given the defensive susceptibilities of the diamond, especially against the big teams, VanAi??GaalAi??needed to go for strength in numbers in midfield for the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City. So came the midfield double pivoted 4-2-3-1 against Chelsea, where interestingly enough, AdnanAi??JanuzajAi??was wide on the right hugging the touchline while Di Maria was more central on the other side, probablyAi??to utilize his dribbling skills more.

Falcao, who hasnai??i??t really lit up the league yet was dropped inAi??favourAi??ofAi??MarouaneAi??Fellaini’sAi??strength in midfield, and to be fair, the Belgian has performed admirably so far. His best performance came as one half of the double picot in midfield where he markedAi??CescAi??FabregasAi??out of the game, while also pushing up to support VanAi??Persie.

United's 4-2-3-1 version against Chelsea had Fellaini as the left central midfielder marking out Fabregas and joining up in attack. Di Maria stays more of an inside left to use his dribbling skills.

United’s 4-2-3-1 version against Chelsea had Fellaini as the left central midfielder marking out Fabregas and joining up in attack. Di Maria stays more of an inside left to use his dribbling skills.

(courtesy sharemytactics.com)

The latest in the series of changes is the more conservative 4-1-4-1 formation which gives more security to theAi??defenceAi??and allows United more ball possession. However, with the likes of Rooney in midfield, this formation does little to light up the offence, as was seen in the drab 1-0 win against Crystal Palace. It is now up to VanAi??GaalAi??to decide which of these two lone front-man formations he prefers.

VanAi??GaalAi??has tried out a host of formations ranging across the spectrum of footballing philosophies, from attacking to conservative. But, he must make up his mind now to settle into a formation soon to allow his players to get comfortable with aAi??preferredAi??system. Since the beginning of the season, Daley Blind has played as a lone defensive midfielder, part of the double pivot,Ai??centreAi??back and even leftAi??back for a bit. MarcosAi??RojoAi??has played both full back andAi??centreAi??back (as part of a four and three manAi??defence). Wayne Rooney has played as a striker, a number 10,Ai??centreAi??midfielder and a left winger and Di Maria still isn’t sure if he has been brought in to be a winger or a more central dribbler of the ball. VanAi??GaalAi??needs to communicate his ideas quick before United find themselves slipping away from the leading pack.

 

 

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