By Adam Joseph
Louis Van Gaal has been known to coin a phrase in his time in Manchester. His buzzword in his first season was philosophy. This season philosophy has been replaced by process, Van Gaal’s catchphrase to explain the obvious rebuild taking place at Old Trafford.
This is hard to hear for some supporters who’ve only known success in their time as fans, but it’s a way of relaying the need for patience throughout the re-establishment of Manchester United Football Club at the big boy table of world football. It doesn’t happen overnight, and with so much necessary turnover Van Gaal was the man trusted with making the transition happen.
Something constant that the Dutchman has stated was that he was searching for the right “balance in his selection”. He has searched for it from the time he has arrived in the summer of 2014 and that process goes on right to this day.
In the beginning when the team played a 3-5-2, he was clear that there was a lack of balance in the squad he inherited from David Moyes. When last season ended, Van Gaal went into the transfer market with Ed Woodward looking to improve that lack of balance.
By the end of the summer that lack of balance was not fully addressed, with defensive targets like Sergio Ramos not acquired. United only wanted players of a certain quality and weren’t willing to settle for less, to the chagrin of many of the club’s fans. This led to a lack of signings in some key areas.
They still addressed a few of them however, and Van Gaal has beamed on multiple occasions how much happier he is with the balance of the selection in his squad.
In recent times though, it appears that balance is still lacking somewhat for Manchester United. Defensive struggles have killed United occasionally in the Van Gaal era, with David De Gea sometimes the only protection from conceding goals a tad too regularly.
Through the rise of Chris Smalling, and a lack of the injury curse that plagued the club last term, the Red Devils have found defensive solidarity. Their defence is the best in the Premier League this season (only 8 goals in 12 games) and is well supported by the 2 defensive midfielders stationed in front them.
However, this solidarity has come at the cost of balance. Despite not conceding a goal since the Arsenal thrashing on October 4, a lack of goals has become a serious concern at the club. Only 15 have been produced in 11 games, and not a single goal in the 3 league games before West Brom.
This unnerves fans that want nothing less than pure attacking zest at Old Trafford. They want goals to flow and trophies to be claimed. This is not an overnight process though, and patience is a virtue now. Improvements are being made and more focus should be on the positives rather than the negatives everytime something goes wrong on the pitch.
Van Gaal’s style is not going to change. Whilst some grow frustrated with his style of play, there’s no arguing at it’s best it’s truly stunning to watch. The 3-0 demolition of Everton on October 17 for example, which was only 3 weeks ago. At it’s best the passing put on display can be truly sublime. What truly short memories people in football seem to have nowadays.
The team is only two points from the top of the table, but there can be no doubting team is working its way out of a funk at the moment. Goals are a problem and the football has been tough to watch. But perhaps some tactical twinges could be the spark to revitalising this team on the pitch.
United’s current 4-2-3-1 allows for possession and control in all areas of the pitch, something Van Gaal craves most. A minor few changes in a 4-3-3 provide the exact same, but with more attacking thrust. This is a system the Dutchman has used to much success his entire managing career.
With David De Gea in goal, he would have Chris Smalling with Phil Jones or Daley Blind paired in front of him depending on the opponent. Matteo Darmian, despite his recent struggles, is the first choice right back, and Marcos Rojo has earned his spot on the left in the absence of the injured Luke Shaw.
Manchester United possesses four brilliant central midfielders in their current set up – Michael Carrick, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Morgan Schneiderlin and Ander Herrera. Schneiderlin and Carrick can play the anchor role brilliant, albeit with completely contrasting styles.
They would be well supported with Herrera playing the right side of central midfield, where his box-to-box skills have been a hit in England thus far, leaving Schweinsteiger on the left of the central three. The German’s industry and discipline would be a good influence on Memphis, whose tracking back has been an issue thus far.
Up front there’s no doubt Anthony Martial is the man who should lead the line, flanked by Juan Mata and the aforementioned Memphis. This system would provide adequate defensive protection whilst supplying the needed attacking thrust to get the goals the team needs. It should also be noted the great link up play of Herrera and Mata, key to some of United’s best passing moves.
There’s no question the rebuild is still ongoing and pieces must be added to the squad in the coming transfer windows. Another central defender will always be on the agenda, whilst the lack of depth and versatility in the forward department is a serious concern.
Fans and pundits are already looking ahead to January with delight, where they feel the team must strengthen to move forward. However these minor tactical changes could go a long way to easing the concerns of an already frustrated fanbase.
Adam Joseph is a freelance writer from Melbourne, Australia. Manchester United fan from back when they were the only team on Australian TV and it was love at first sight. Manchester United, Oklahoma City Thunder, New England Patriots and Carlton Blues fanatic. If it’s sport related, I’ll talk about it.
Follow him on twitter @