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Assessing The Louis Van Gaal Selection Predicament


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:

De Gea


Rafael/Herrera/De Jong/Blind

Di María

Van Persie/Rooney

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.

De Jong’s role is important as he would provide a defensive screen for the back three as well as looking out for Herrera as the Spaniard adapts to the Premier League.

However, what if the 3-4-1-2 isn’t the best system to employ with the addition of the new personnel? Could van Gaal switch to a 4-3-3? If that were the case then the lineup could look something like this:

De Gea


Herrera/De Jong/Blind

Rooney/Van Persie/Di Maria

Jonny Evans and Marcos Rojo should figure as the center-back pairing given their ability to accurately distribute the ball from the back. Phil Jones could well be shifted to right-back if the manager opts for defensive solidity over Rafael’s attacking prowess. If United play with a back four, that could open the door to Shaw and see him given a run in the first team. De Jong will once again provide the screen, allowing Herrera and Blind license to push forward and support the attack. The attacking trio once again poses the most questions. The odd man out could well be Mata again, but playing a 4-3-3 could also see Rooney deployed on the left or right of the attacking three – not his natural position. Indeed it was instructive to see Rooney play high up the pitch in the match against Swansea and to a lesser degree against Sunderland. It appears that he is being told to stay up, in part to cover for his lack of pace, and maximize his potential to score. However, if the skipper is to be part of a three and is deployed in a wide area, then his impact on a game may be greatly diminished. It’s arguable that United would be better advised playing Adnan Januzaj as part of a front three in order to create a more mobile unit.

But what if the playing squad is more suited to a 4-2-3-1?

De Gea


Blind/De Jong

Januzaj/Mata/Di María

Van Persie

This formation has the potential to see an extremely dynamic United with Jones, Shaw, Januzaj, and di María providing the pace United have lacked this season.

Van Gaal could trust the defensive midfield responsibilities to de Jong and Blind, giving the central area the right blend of silk and steel. Blind’s versatility may tip the scales in his favor ahead of Herrera and see the Dutchman picked for the starting XI.

Mata is arguably the best No. 10 at the club so should get the nod in that role, though his recent performances haven’t been great.  If he doesn’t perform Shinji Kagawa provides an adequate alternative to the Spaniard.

The big decision is to who should play in the lone striker role? Van Persie may just edge Rooney for the role of lead striker. The Englishman may be club captain, but that doesn’t mean that van Gaal would be afraid of dropping him if it benefits United and van Persie is arguably the better striker.

In the unlikely event van Gaal opts for a 4-4-2 United could line-up as follows:

De Gea


Valencia/Blind/De Jong/Di María

Rooney/Van Persie

If it’s a straight, flat 4-4-2, then keeping shape will be vital so that could see the dependable, if limited, Valencia starting ahead of Januzaj. Di María could be given a license to roam though he may not be afforded as much freedom in a 4-4-2 as he would find in other systems. Again, Mata misses out but could figure if van Gaal opted to play a diamond formation:

De Gea


De Jong

Valencia/Di María


Van Persie/Rooney

If van Gaal used a diamond the emphasis would be on the fullbacks to push forward to provide the team with attacking width.

There are a multitude of formations Louis van Gaal could try but the smart money would be him persisting with a 3-4-1-2, and use the 4-3-3 system as a back-up option.

There are other tactical considerations van Gaal will need to make regardless of the formation. If he wants his team to press high up the pitch, then he’ll need to get David de Gea position himself around the edges of the box to allow the defense to do this. The Spaniard does have a tendency to stay deep in his penalty area, thus forcing his defense to drop to compensate. In de Gea’s defense, given how shaky United’s backline is at the moment perhaps it’s not a surprise that he’s choosing to anchor himself well inside the box.

Van Gaal could spring a surprise and opt to do something completely different, but whatever he does he will do whatever he deems pragmatic.

Come the end of the transfer window Louis van Gaal will hope to have made a few more signings. If he gets who he wants, then a couple of United’s stars could witness the Van Gaal revolution from the bench.

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  1. Sesar Pacheco

    August 29, 2014 at 1:18 pm

    I believe he will keep the 3-4-1-2 with valencia as his main man in the right side and di maria either playing as a second striker ir in the LWB position with cover from either a dm player and marco rojo.

  2. How

    August 27, 2014 at 7:25 am

    Gaffer you’d better remove some of the posts here, they’re upsetting ya little plastic clickers lol wouldn’t want that eh!

  3. Longsight Lad

    August 26, 2014 at 9:09 pm

    The 4-3-3 is his preferred system but he has a lack of defenders and he’s made that known to Mr. Woodward. Ed hasn’t managed to sign any of LVG’s other defensive or midfield targets.
    The same media that Gee’d him up is now saying he’s not a miracle worker. He never was and never will be because there’s only one Sir Alex as far as I’m concerned.
    The team hasn’t been playing a back 3 but more of a back 5 to cover for the deficiencies of the CBs. As most commentators have correctly pointed out the wingbacks have been sitting extremely deep and there’s a reason for that.
    The manager has been instructing them to do that because there’s no way 2 natural wingers no matter how bad they are would play so defensively.
    Most likely the team will end up with a lone striker formation. RVP and Rooney have never really clicked. Rooney is overrated and has a poor first touch. They’ve had games where they have played well together but they’re just 2 individuals playing up top.
    Being the Captain doesn’t necessarily mean he has to start because looking at the side there’s not one leader in the squad. Rooney got it because of seniority. When Wayne Rooney and Darren Fletcher are your main options for a captaincy then you’re going to be in trouble.
    Be happy with what your club has won. You can’t win everything. Glad to see some of these fans humbled. The arrogance on display has been shocking.

  4. rej4sl

    August 26, 2014 at 9:06 pm

    If it takes time it takes time I am not worried. At least we got rid of Moyes. We need time to rebuild and reassess the strategy. I think everyone knew it would not be easy. But I will support Man U through the good and bad times.

  5. Brian

    August 26, 2014 at 8:37 pm

    I think too many people are getting carried away with United’s poor start. LVG has always started his tenure at a new club slowly. Under him Bayern did not win any of their first 4 games but once they got going they were unbeatable and won the title. I don’t think United will win the title but I also wouldn’t write them off for a top 4 spot.

    There will be plenty of twists and turns this season, as always. If United beat Burnley and Liverpool lose to Spurs then United will be 1 point better than Liverpool. That’s right in just 1 game the team in crisis will be above the team supposedly better than United. Will everyone be talking about a Liverpool crisis? I doubt it. It’s too early. When the transfer window closes and the teams have played 4-5 games with the new recruits then we will know more about the fortunes of teams.

  6. Ivan

    August 26, 2014 at 6:25 pm

    I am still trying to figure out which one is funnier: the Manure humiliation or the UEFA/Celtic humiliation…

    Both results were fantastic, that’s for sure!

    I hope Celtic doesn’t challenge those shorts that the Maribor players were wearing…they were surely a couple of inches short.

    But, on the other hand, it would have been nice to see Celtic lose by 9 to 11 goal margin and break the record for the worst loss in the history of the Champions League. And we all know that was coming…

    Manchester United: welcome to the wilderness…you aren’t getting out of there for at least 5 years, with or without Van Gaal, di Maria, etc.

    • Longsight Lad

      August 26, 2014 at 8:46 pm

      People like you are scum. Continually using that disrespectful term that comes from West Brom fans.
      What does disrespecting the Munich Tragedy get you?
      Does that make you fel better as a person?
      If you called the team rags I could half understand but what’s with continual disrespect to the dead.
      They’ve done nothing to you at all mate. Poor form from you. Banter is banter but taking the piss out of a tragedy isn’t right.

      • How

        August 27, 2014 at 7:22 am

        Why is it any name for Man U is scum? You just make crap up! Prove wht you’re saying before calling people and weel my mate said don’t cut it! Oh and u live in a siit hole

        • Longsight Lad

          August 27, 2014 at 3:43 pm

          Calling United ‘manure’ isn’t the same as calling Arsenal ‘Arse’ or Liverpool ‘looserpool’ or whatever. ‘Manure’ has a deeper meaning, it comes from the chant ‘Duncan Edwards is manure, rotting in his grave which is a parody on the Munchen tragedy sang by WestBrom fans in the 1950s.
          It’s like someone making light of Hillsborough. It’s wrong from a moral perspective but then again most people don’t care about morality nowadays.
          I’ve proved what I said and I’d like to ask you when people use words or phrases shouldn’t they know the meanings of the things they say and whether they can be offensive to others?
          It’s an offensive term and shouldn’t be said period.
          I like your terming of plastics considering I was born near my club something you probably can’t say.

          • How

            August 27, 2014 at 8:15 pm

            Firstly, how on Earth have you ‘proved’ anything????? By saying ‘it’s true’? People should know the meaning yes but these are fake! and I really ‘prove’ it, with…. you know proof!! Secondly you were born nearer MY CLUB if you were born where you say you’re from. Unless you’re 100 years old that is of course!
            The game you refer to was on Wednesday 5 March 1958: FA Cup 6th Round Replay. Here are the real facts that prove you wrong unlike your ‘I’ve heard a story off someone’ bollxcks, which isn’t any sort of proof by the way. I suggest you actually go and revise as you seem like many Utd fans clueless to their own clubs history and simply listen to fantasy and try to turn it to truth with time.

            1, Zero evidence of what you say was ever in Pathe news reels or their back catalogue at the time or later, same for any other types of reports Evening news and evening standard. Nothing was mentioned regarding this in the 50’s, 60’s 70’s 80’s or even 90’s about this, why is that? Where is anything backing it?

            2, This story only appears on the internet posts in the 00’s, why isn’t it any form in any earlier decades?

            3, Football was totally different in the 50’s there wasn’t hatred in the game fans didn’t fight or even have today’s banter. Violence appeared in the late 60’s, there didn’t need to be away ends with segregation they just didn’t exist! So I’d love to know how these WBA fans did it! Add to that it’s not long after the war and travelling to games would have been expensive and hard.

            4, Manure was actually bought on the streets!! People unlike today seem know that it’s faeces from horses and nothing to do with death nothing dies to make manure!!! It would have made NO sense to the 50’s man.

            5, Sadly Utd fans over the last few years have come out with this sort of rubbish before, and using it a some sort of weapon to did and say what they want. A few years ago it was said the term ‘rags’ was derogatory toward Utd, ie it was the clothes worn! The scum who made that one up were easily put right as I’m sure even you know where that’s from, if not the historians do. So basically some utd fans seem have a track record of making things like this up.

            6, The final 100% proof is from a Utd website where a fan who was at the games in question this was supposed to have happened in tells us how subdued they were, and how ‘kicking off’ didn’t exist in a different time to today. You talk of ‘morality nowadays’ yet accuse people many long dead of having none, from a time of hi morals, go and look in the mirror with the other sados spreading this cxxp cos they don’t like a name, disgusting! I mean the whole nation was in mourning Liverpool fans, City fans, butchers, bakers and candle stick makers! Nobody at that time would have even thought of such a vile thing just like the recent plane crash involving Newcastle fans can you imagine people singing song now never mind in a time much more genteel, NO but you somehow can back then??? Look at the respect shown even in this day and age to those supporters , and think of it a few years after the country had lost hundreds of thousands in the war!

            Here’s that link


            After you have read it, if you can be bothered and being provided with all this proof and not ‘I got told by some guy’ like your own so called proof, I have zero doubt you will continue calling people scum for something you know nothing about and refuse to listen to like many of your pals who gave you and continue to give others this duff info which spreads it more out will feel it got to be right. Problem is some Utd fans don’t like a name they’ll say ‘well make some scum story up then the other dunces will believe it and say; it’s gospel cos me mate said it’s right’, fortunately I and anyone with sense didn’t, maybe you show stop calling people scum now but I doubt it!

            P.S you still live in a shxt hole

          • How

            August 27, 2014 at 8:22 pm

            why do you keep tak=ing replies down??

  7. Ardwickian

    August 26, 2014 at 5:40 pm

    Well one things for sure he won’t be able to experiment in the league cup.

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