When Sir Alex Ferguson left the helm of affairs at Manchester United in 2013, it presented a situation from where the next destination was an unknown one. What he left was a defragmented champion squad, a chosen successor in Scotsman and former Everton manager David Moyes, and big shoes to fill for the latter. Eight months later, Moyes was sacked, United finished seventh in the Premier League and as the season ended, Louis van Gaal was anointed as the man for the job.
The changes at Old Trafford happened too quickly after the departure of Fergie. Backroom staff was changed, a failed transfer window followed with a panic deadline day signing of Marouane Fellaini, who later turned out to be one of the biggest flops at the club. In January, former Chelsea star Juan Mata was then bought at a club record fee but United’s fortunes went ghastlier day by day.
Records were broken by opponents at Old Trafford, six home-game defeats were staring and a manager, who was initially promised time, was beheaded by the club officials. The irony that struck Manchester was that the media knew about Moyes’ sacking before Moyes himself had any idea about it. It was a well known fact that a club that boasted about philosophy rather than a quick fix and performance based football over its history, soon saw a revival. The time had changed; United's think tank wanted a new direction.
Louis van Gaal entered the frame with a history of profound success, silverware and achievements behind him in Europe and world football. Just more than two weeks old in his task, he began to sound a bit like Moyes when he said he needed time to fix everything at United and put the club back to where it belonged. Yes, United need time and a proper plan to execute a philosophy, but with the present scenario, they look hungry for instant success. With that there are several dangers the club faces and a misplaced identity too lures in. (can’t understand)
Three games old into a winless EPL campaign so far, and a second round thrashing against League One club, MK Dons, in the League Cup, and a GBP 150 million summer spree shopping, the Dutchman has plenty to ponder about.
1. The 3-5-2 formation: Louis van Gaal has a plan with this system and he will hope to get it right no matter how. It bought him success at the World Cup in Brazil this year with the Netherlands. But will the 3-5-2 formation work in the Premier League? In a 38-game campaign with top opponents and physically powered players, will it sustain? The system under Van Gaal requires planning, precision, possession and confidence. So far, United have lacked everything. Players have played out of their positions, the defence and wing backs have failed to apply any sort of idea and a vulnerable start has plagued the Dutchman. With the squad he possesses, who suits his style, only time will tell. United have always played in a 4-4-2, 4-3-3 and recently 4-2-3-1 formation. Van Gaal suggested if his proposed system fails, he will switch back to a familiar formation. The question lies here is how long will it take? Van Gaal is like Jose Mourinho. Both are tactical geniuses and his ploy will tell how his team will shape up.
2. Identification of players: Louis van Gaal has a squad now of his liking after breaking the bank with massive spending and a huge clearance spree that saw many faces depart. With the team he has, his impetus on attack gives a strong picture. The issue he faces is where to use which players? In a 3-5-2 formation, Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo and Johnny Evans look set for a three-man defence. Luke Shaw and Antonio Valencia as wing-backs, Michael Carrick and Ander Herrera in midfield with Radamel Falcao, Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie upfront. So where will the obvious choices in Juan Mata, Angel Di Maria and Adnan Janujaz fill in? Will Rooney fall deep, will Di Maria take the place of Luke Shaw, and will a Juan Mata now be a prominent face on the bench? Only Van Gaal can fix that, but is his squad a 3-5-2 entity? Again, only time will tell.
3. Time Factor: Louis van Gaal needs time and he was quick to voice that in his press conferences. He needs a substantial period to lay foundations and then build on them. Will he get the time at United? Moyes too needed time but was sacked in eight months and although Van Gaal brings a different set of pedigree altogether, the question still brings aplenty forward. In the current scenario of managerial circus and performance based football, United too have fallen into the category of perform or perish rather than building. Van Gaal needs the latter and his authority and determination could see United back atop. A Champions League position will be his target for now, but will he get that is the question, given the way his team has performed.
4. A Moyes feel in Van Gaal’s United: Louis van Gaal’s troops look jaded and short of confidence. After failing to get suitable requirements in midfield and defence, the problem of old will continue to haunt United. In league matches so far in the EPL, the team has played in similar fashion as they did under Moyes. The lack of penetration from midfield to attack, the absence of feeding ball play, to the front three and nerviness in defence have rocked United. Possession play with no pressing has seen the attacking threat diminish. It is a sight even Fergie will question from the stands. United’s game isn’t beautiful to look at anymore. Van Gaal needs to bring back the aura.
5. A failed transfer window: United might have bought six players into the club this summer but a world class central defender and midfielder were the need of the hour. Chelsea and Manchester City enjoyed a better window as a result of identification of players needed to strengthen their team well in advance. With the sacking of Moyes, United’s pursuit of Cesc Fabregas and Toni Kroos ended. Both joined new clubs and United missed out on two magical assets. Arturo Vidal was the player United wanted this term, but they failed to land him too. United’s defence lacks a leader with the outgoing trio of Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra. Who will stand for the young defensive line-up is the puzzle Van Gaal needs to solve.
With focus being on youth, players like Tyler Blackett, James Wilson and Jesse Lingaard will be given chances by Van Gaal for sure, but United need to take care of its youngsters and help them getting immense experience. The sale of United’s future, Danny Welbeck, for Radamel Falcao, presents a concern and it was voiced out loud by David Beckham and Mike Phelan.
United under Van Gaal needs a mix of past and present to build a better future, and for now, the journey from September 14 onwards will be crucial.