United finally turning a new leaf?
So for the first time since August 2013, United are perched on one of those four Champions League spots, and there seems to be a general mood of ‘well.. it’s a start’ amongst the many, many United fans. Some of the more skeptical ones in the midst of that seemingly boundless wave of mostly ‘clueless gloryhunting’ (well I can tell you they’re not MY words) myriad of red are not quite convinced. Justifiably so.
Why there’s no reason to celebrate just yet
With all the other contenders for the top 4 spots having faced atleast two of their kind, United, with their one good win against a so-so Queens Park Rangers and two unnecessarily tight wins at home now have a testing run of fixtures to confront after the international break with games away to West Bromwich, Man City and Arsenal with the daunting task of hosting Chelsea in between. That’s three gruelling games and one tricky fixture in a run of five matches.
Needless to say that Louis van Gaal who has seemed to be slightly fidgety and unsure about how his team should shape up or how best to utilize the squad he’s got, with a problem of plenty going forward and a injury stricken backline causing a perpetual headache in his first couple of months in England, will need to come up with a Mourinho-esque gameplan to get through this run of games unscathed.
Van Gaal’s highly discussed and anticipated 3-5-2 formation which he intended to inculcate into United’s style of play flopped quite sadly and he has since then adopted a comparatively more conservative 4-4-2 diamond, with Rooney and Daley Blind at the tip and base of the diamond respectively.
Angel di Maria pulls the strings from the left flank, whereas play on the right is more reminiscent of the Ferguson era with overlapping runs from the right back Rafael and Herrera to perform some sort of a right sided central midfielder duty (that place is now temporarily Antonio Valencia’s with Herrera out with an injury).
Rooney played as striker along with van Persie, whilst also dropping deep occasionally making up for Juan Mata’s defensive shortcomings until the arrival of Falcao, at which point Rooney dropped a little deeper to play in the number ten position, or Juan Mata’s position in the hole, rendering the Spanish midfielder redundant and to be termed by the media as United’s ‘fall guy’ (which is very frustrating and maddening to any person with the intelligence to understand the sort of footballing wizardry he can bring to a pitch on a consistent basis). With Radamel Falcao’s introduction to the side, and a couple of other factors, including injuries to Jones, Evans and Smalling and Luke Shaw coming in, here’s what the current line up looks like (This is ignoring Rooney’s suspension, which is only for two more games)
Now keeping all this in mind, here are is a short SWOT analysis :
Angel di Maria’s scintillating play, Rafael’s adrenaline rush inducing runs down the right, Daley Blind’s sagacious anchorman performance, and generally the attacking part of United’s game. Especially early on, when they don’t have a lead to protect with thousands of supporters breathing down their neck and without all the ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ following an attempt on goal from the opposition that are now a familiar fixture in the last quarter of a United game in which they are in the lead.
That backline. Although now it seems just a little more sure and has a little more conviction in its warding off of threats to goal, especially in the first half of the Everton game, it was haplessly disoriented and erroneous in the earlier games, bordering on what people from across the Atlantic where the Glazers live would call batcrap crazy, as seen in the Leicester game. Finishing was a tad rusty but that’s understandable given Rooney is now in that ‘settling into midfield’ phase and van Persie had to shake of all that utter disappointment, not to mention poor form, of last season. Falcao also seems to have found his footing now. which would be fantastic news, knowing what he’s capable of in the box.
Manchester United, should they choose to shift into a more counter attacking team, will arguably be the best team on the break in the Premier League. When the likes of Jones and Evans come back from injury, and with the likes of Paddy McNair and Rojo holding their own in the centre back roles, there will be healthy competition for those two spots, which might bring a little more competence to the backline and United’s overall game. Facing the likes of City and Arsenal, United will no doubt be on the backfoot and more reliant on the fast breaks from Rafael and di Maria than possession play, which is undoubtedly to United’s advantage.
Let’s just put it out there. This is by no stretch of the imagination a real ‘team’, in the Ferguson or Mourinho definition of the word. It is a very good group of talented individuals put together by a manager in his first season at United succeeding a man who was sacked after 10 months in the hotseat, who had succeeded another man who spent a quarter of a century at the club winning everything there is to be won and doing it multiple times. For the team to really come together and understand each other and complement each other’s style of football, and for each player to fit into the multi cultured dressing room with varied personalities, some with a more dominant ego than others, it takes more than just a few weeks. To take on a squad like Chelsea which gives this impression of being a large brotherhood or a very large family rather than just a football club roster, or one that has taken many years to build like Arsenal or Liverpool or to a lesser extent even City, over the course of a season and come out on top will be a mighty ask.
Keeping all of this in mind, I’ve played around with the many permutations and combinations available with this current United roster and settled on one shape or formation which seems best suited to the team, both in accordance to Louis van Gaal’s model and also most advantageous in respect to the players available.
Now, come January, van Gaal and Woodward might give me reason to alter this or even scrap it wholly, but with the present set of individuals United have got, I can’t think of any other shape better than this for them. Now I could spend a lot of time elucidating why this set up will be to United’s advantage, but I assume that SportsKeeda’s readership is intelligent enough to figure it out for themselves. Therefore I will spend some time listing out the apparent or possible flaws in it.
Flaws in the lineup?
The three man backline is a bit of a stretch, isn’t it? Or so you might think. Because United have been very vulnerable at the back and one less at the back doesn’t really seem like a solution prima facie. But for this, United will need to adopt a more defensive, more counter heavy approach, with the backline, along with Blind and Rafael defending as a unit and the solitary central midfielder screening that back 4 or back 5. When they do recover possession of the ball, with the likes of di Maria and Rooney and Rafael all options to pick out, United can be devastating on the break with those two brilliant strikers waiting forward.
What needs to be done with Mata, Van Persie, Rafael and Carrick
Why Mata? Well, why not? Here on one hand we have a 25 year old midfielder who was Chelsea’s player of the season for the two full seasons he spent there. And instead of thanking your lucky stars you’ve got him on your squad, would you keep him warming the benches and then eventually frustrate him and sell him for half his transfer fee and then rue it six months later? No.
You phase out Robin van Persie. It wasn’t too long ago that an injury to RvP was equal to catastrophe. Now it could be a blessing in poor disguise. Mata needs to play in that hole behind the strikers. Rooney can still play as a centre forward, or outside forward, or play alongside Mata in that number ten role but Mata, needs that position. An injury to RvP means that Rooney takes that vacant CF role and Mata plays in his favoured position. If it was upto me, Mata would be on of the so called ‘Untouchables’ in my line up.
Rafael on the right wing? Yes. It’s been quite apparent for some time that he’s best suited to play that right wing back position, not just making overlapping runs to put the ball into the box, but also to make dribbles of his own down the flank and also maybe play some slick one-twos with Rooney or Mata and shoot himself or put the ball in from the byline. He has the ability to be a fantastic wingback if he can keep his head about him and not make stupid mistakes while getting back to aid in defence. Also, in his absence, Antonio Valencia takes care of the job.
Carrick/Fellaini/Herrera? Well to be quite frank I didn’t know who to start. Fellaini is the guy I’d call upon when I’d need to defend a lead for the last 20-30 minutes of the game and also maybe when I’m playing West Ham or Stoke away and need a little height and power at both ends of the pitch. Of course, I’d prefer Michael Carrick to carry this out for the team but he’s not getting any younger and his fitness could be questioned.
A fit Carrick would pick himself in that position in the aforementioned scenarios, but Fellaini could also play dependind on the nature of the task and the opposition. Herrera, on the other hand, is when I’d want a nice, peaceful 2-0 win at home to the likes of Villa or Crystal Palace or Burnley. (See how I didn’t mention Leicester in there? #NeverForget). This sort of squad rotation keeps the players fit and fresh and also develops a greater understanding of what each one’s role is at the club.Since I don’t find any other grave miscalculation in there, I will inform you that you have reached the end of this analysis, or opinion, or rant, whatever you’d like to call it. If you do find anything, scroll down a bit, find where to comment, and leave your comment or suggestion or burst of outrage. I’m all ears!