Louis van Gaal's 3-5-2 and why the philosophy is not working at the moment
Alex Ferguson walked into Manchester United when they were at their lowest, he changed their fortunes dramatically and a whole new system of eye-catching football moved United up the European ladder.
Ferguson opted for a more possession based football style in 2001 to challenge continental teams, but it did not pay off at first. Players like Roy Keane, Paul Scholes, and Ryan Giggs struggled to adapt to this style of play as it was just not only about passing the ball around, it was a lot more than that.
Take for example Barcelona’s possession based game. Their style didn’t just exhibit the sheer expertise of passing but also included a lot of detail about positioning. The players should know each other well and understand each others movements well. It is also how you press and retain possession and knock your opponent out of play that determines your style.
Louis van Gaal is a different coach altogether. He is trying to create a legacy, a team that would be remembered for years, like the Ajax of ’95 or the Milan of 2006/ 07 . That Milan was a team who moved well, with the players knowing each other well and performing as a unit.
Van Gaal’s total football is about the players understanding each other’s game. It not only requires technically sound players but intelligent players. As Van Gaal said in an interview, he teaches players in the ‘brain’, meaning he prepares the players mentally. It improves their decision-making and awareness. The philosophy of Van Gaal is to attain a high level of cohesiveness through the collective chain.
It would take time for the players to get used to the system. It’s a very difficult one to grasp but when it is successfully implemented then the result would be great. But Van Gaal needs the right players, all-round footballers like Paul Pogba or Arturo Vidal who can shift between attack and defence easily and contribute both ways. Maybe Van Gaal sees that in Wayne Rooney, thus opting to play him much deeper to help both attack and defence.
You need the right players and Van Gaal lacks that, injuries have ruined it further, hence making the implementation painstakingly long. The manager has the long term in mind. The team shape looks haphazard due to the poor decision making and the lack of understanding of positional play by the players. As a result, United look mediocre, as without those elements, they are unable to bring out the true essence of the system.
If the players grasp the system quickly, the results will come. Injuries are not helping the cause either. To successfully carry out his ideas, clever and versatile players are required, and he knows which players suit his system with the newly signed players such as Blind, Di Maria, Rojo all being extremely versatile.
Van Gaal needs time, as does the system. The long term future looks bright for the Red Devils and some defensive acquisitions in the summer could propel United closer to the summit of the Premier League.