The new Premier League season is only two weeks old and Manchester United under Louis van Gaal are already playing catch-up. The pre-season tour feels like a very long time ago now.
The Red Devils have placed a significant number of eggs into an Ángel di María-sized basket and the spending may not end there with utility Daley Blind and defensive midfielder Nigel de Jong heavily linked to the Old Trafford club. Centre-back Mehdi Benatia has been mentioned as well, whilst van Gaal may have been a bit mischievous namedropping Arturo Vidal when answering a question regarding United’s transfer dealings.
This transfer window is not as bad as last year’s shambles – it would have taken a special kind of incompetence to surpass that level of ineptitude, but Ed Woodward and United shouldn’t look at this summer’s dealings with much satisfaction.
United’s fans were assured that lessons were learned and things would be different this time, but going into the last week of the transfer window it appears careless to the point of negligence that the club are still desperately trying to fill in key positions. If United do land their players, how and where would they fit in?
Let’s assume, dangerous a game as it is, that United sign their other realistic transfer targets and that no one else leaves and everyone is fit. Therefore, joining Ángel di María at United are Daley Blind and Nigel de Jong.
The additions will no doubt help but the next question to ask is who will best fit in van Gaal’s favored 3-4-1-2 system? One possible line-up could be:
In this line-up two expensive signings would miss out – namely Juan Mata and Luke Shaw. It is inconceivable that di María won’t start, so one of Mata, van Persie, or Rooney will have to be dropped. Robin van Persie has an extremely good working relationship with van Gaal and Wayne Rooney is the club captain so it is unlikely – though not impossible – that either of them will be dropped, leaving Mata as the odd man out. However, the Rooney-van Persie combination for one reason or another has never really sparked since the Dutchman joined from Arsenal. This season could well be a defining one to discover whether this partnership can really work.
Blind may be selected ahead of Luke Shaw because he is more accustomed to playing as a wing-back whilst on the other flank a fit Rafael simply offers more than Antonio Valencia, though van Gaal is reported to have his reservations about the Brazilian.
This lineup possesses strength and is complete with players who are comfortable in possession. In terms of pace there will be a reliance on Di María and Rafael to help stretch the game. There is an element of flexibility too as Ander Herrera could be encouraged to go forward to support the attack with Rooney dropping deep to allow van Persie to play as a lone striker. There’s even possibility of switching to a 4-4-2 with Blind dropping into the left-back role, allowing di María to play as an out-and-out winger.