Three games into the Premier League this season, Manchester United find themselves in a pretty reasonable position with a total of seven points, while last yeara s champions Chelsea struggle to get into single digits, ranking 10th in the table just below Arsenal with four points. Even though the table boasts vast improvements from the single point that United managed in Louis Van Gaala s first three games last season, the results have been fortuitous than anything else.
Defensively definitely more astute yet creatively fatally flawed, Van Gaala s United are clearly still a work in progress.
With the transfer window coming to a close in the next one week, United have done smart business this summer, when considering the a throw the money at anyonea attitude from the past few years. A few gaping holes apart, the squad is slowly taking shape as the club prepares for European football, which is all but secured with the 3-1 home win against Club Brugge in the first leg of the Champions League play-off. With the arrivals of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Morgan Schneiderlin, the lack of depth in the midfield has been addressed to the extent that talents such as Ander Herrera are sat on the bench, awaiting first team action. The defense has been more than patched-up with two marauding fullbacks at Van Gaala s disposal now, when compared to the makeshift right-back in Antonio Valencia and an unfit Luke Shaw at left-back, last season.
Many would argue that United still need a world-class centre-back, but with the impeccable rise of Chris Smalling partnered with the intelligent ball playing defender in Daley Blind, Van Gaal may very well have solved Uniteda s defensive problems. Also with Schneiderlin sat in front and capable backups in Marcos Rojo and Phil Jones, the latter less so, Van Gaala s Red Devils are looking a strong defensive unit. When the window ends, if United manage to keep hold of David De Gea as well for another year, even the most skilled European teams would find it difficult to get goals past this defensive unit. But alas the same couldna t be said of the attacking unit at the other end of the pitch.
Is there a a Philosophya
The Dutchman has always been scrutinized for his very mechanistic interpretation of the ideals of total football. Johan Cruyff, one of the most famous proponents of the Dutch Total football has always dismissed Van Gaal as being too organized and to be overly controlling of his players, whereas Cruyff always used the basic qualities of his players to achieve results.
Van Gaal has always talked about his a philosophya , which is something very rooted in the Dutchmana s ideals of Total football. Ita s not a particular formation, along his entire career he has utilized everything from the radical 3-5-2, the attacking 4-3-3 to the very conservative 4-2-3-1. Ita s his belief in possession based football, the key elements being coordination, spacing and player movement in order to produce scoring opportunities. The Dutchman believes in training the mind, nothinga s left to chance, everythinga s pre-planned. As many would opine, it curbs the flair and creativity of the players, leading to boring-predictable football. Yet, the Iron Tulipa s CV suggests otherwise.
In the Dutchmana s United career so far he has attempted all the above-mentioned formations, with the traditional 4-3-3 proving to be the most effective, in the latter part of the season last year. Yet he has moved towards a far more conservative 4-2-3-1 this season and even without De Gea in goal, the defensive setup of United has been so effective, producing three clean sheets in three games. But this conservative approach has come at a cost, leaving United so utterly unimaginative and predictable that Rooney & Co. couldna t break past a Newcastle defense at home, even with 66 percent possession of the ball.
With Schneiderlin and Carrick or Schweinsteiger sitting deep, protecting the backline, even when playing lower ranked teams at home, it is a bit much on the safer end. On the road, yes ita s a ploy that could prove to be very useful, as at show in Villa Park last weekend. But for a team like United, which lauds free flowing attacking football that spanned decades under Sir Alex Ferguson, Van Gaal needs to add a lot more zest and zip into this starting XI, if they are to trouble even the likes of Bournemouth.
Uninspiring football down to excess of creative talent?
When a team plays such uninspiring football, unable to penetrate the weakest of defenses, one wonders the reason for such a lack of creativity. The subtle irony is that United have an unnecessary abundance of creative talent. Take the current starting XI. Adnan Januzaj currently plies the No.10 role, holed up just behind Rooney. Juan Mata who plays the a false right-wingera aka the playmaker on the right wing has his favored position No.10 given to a lanky inexperienced Belgian youth.
Wayne Rooney who plays as the lone striker up front is no longer the finisher he was and prefers to see a lot more of the ball and create the play, thus dropping deep. Basically the starting XI has three players up front trying to play the same role, with Mata cutting into the middle at every opportunity and Rooney dropping deep to get the ever eluding touch of the ball, thus leaving the United attack narrow and toothless.
Ita s basically down to the Dutchmana s stubbornness in playing his players out of position. Yes, he has reinvented a number of very famous players, the likes of Schweinsteiger and Thomas Muller belong to this list. And Daley Blind could very well be next one to make this famed list, but the Dutchman has to start playing his players in their preferred roles. Juan Mata has been great for United on the right-wing but the Spaniard is not even close to the heights he reached with Chelsea where he played at 10.
The transfer period comes to a close on September 1st and with Van Gaal missing out on Pedro last weekend and United still to replace Robin Van Persie, the Red Devils need to bring in a conventional winger/striker if they are to obtain the Dutchmana s much sought after a balance.a After the rumor broke about Neymar this weekend, United virtually have no one left to be linked with this summer, the Brazilian adding to the very long laughable list of Lionel Messi, Gareth Bale and Thomas Muller. However with the record-breaking Adidas deal taking effect from this season, the chances of United signing a high-profile player are not entirely laughable. Antoine Griezmann maybe? Gareth Bale even, with De Gea going the other way. Until September 1st arrives nothinga s for sure really, but the fact remains that this United squad badly needs a top-class finisher, if they are to challenge for any titles this season.