Manchester United are looking up again. Despite being on a similar points tally as they were on this time last season under David Moyes, they are enjoying a considerably better league position of 4th, and the football has been altered by Louis Van Gaal to produce a more attack minded United, with players capable of hurting any defence. However, in recent games such as the 1-0 loss to Southampton, fans seemed to be growing unhappy with the lack of pace and fluidity their team was moving the ball around with, and even in the recent 2-0 win away at QPR, there was signs of discontent within the travelling support, with chants of “4-4-2″ and “Attack, attack, attack” directed at the manager. From what I can see, there is one problem right in front of Louis Van Gaal’s nose, however if he wishes to rectify it, he may have to bite the bullet and bench a couple of his big stars.
Twice in two weeks Angel Di Maria has played as a striker to play off firstly Robin Van Persie and then Radamel Falcao, however there is a feeling that Van Gaal has just stuck him up there because he cost £60 million. But Angel Di Maria is not a striker, to utilise him best he needs to be playing as the furthest forward of the three central midfielders, in an attacking midfield role. In here he can utilise his pace and run directly at the heart of defences, which United miss greatly when he isn’t playing. However playing him there presents Louis Van Gaal with his first problem, where does Juan Mata fit in?
For me he cannot play both. They are both too attacking to be played together in a midfield three and would leave gaps and defensive issues for United, putting pressure on their already fragile defense. But Juan Mata, who left Chelsea for £40 million just a year ago in pursuit of first team football for the Red Devils, would surely feel aggrieved if he was dropped to the bench, especially as a lot of fans believe he has been a top player for them this season. So who does Louis Van Gaal leave out? He seems to see a future for Wayne Rooney playing in a deeper central midfield role, and with him needs to be a defensively minded partner in the shape of Daley Blind or Michael Carrick. Tactically thinking, to balance out the side and have everyone playing in their out and out position, I can only see a team working with one of Di Maria or Mata playing in the hole behind the two strikers. Personally I would choose Di Maria, as I believe his pace was greatly missed when he was out injured. Although Louis Van Gaal may prefer the class on the ball and added goals of Juan Mata. It’s a decision to be made if he wants performances to improve from the disjointed team we’ve seen in recent weeks.
It’s evidently clear that Van Gaal still doesn’t know his best side, with constant rotation of his central defensive trio, wing backs, central midfielders and perhaps most notably his strike partnership. Looking at his options, dropping Wayne Rooney deeper has left Van Gaal with Robin Van Persie, Radamel Falcao, and young James Wilson. Personally I don’t see a Falcao and Van Persie partnership working. For me they’re too similar, both clinical finishers who’s all round games suit playing as a lone striker more, but partnered together I’m left looking for which one plays more as the target man playing with his back to goal, and who will get in behind and finish off the chances. Top class partnerships are hard to come by these days, and these two don’t seem to click for me like Suarez and Sturridge did last season for example. James Wilson, albeit nowhere near the finished article, took his goal against QPR very calmly, and is definitely the quickest and most mobile of the three, possessing plenty of energy to do the hard work off of a poacher such as Falcao or Van Persie.
So another decision presents itself to Louis Van Gaal, and with Falcao on huge wages and a top centre back the priority in the transfer market it looks likely that the Dutchman will have to find a way to best utilise his striking options. And whether that means hoping that the two big names will click, or giving young James Wilson a run in the team up front with one of either Falcao or Van Persie, Louis Van Gaal is going to have to take a risk, it’s just deciding which one will bring the most success to Manchester United’s goalscoring exploits.
With United looking to carry on the huge spending spree to reclaim their ‘big team’ status, Louis Van Gaal will have to make more big decisions as more top class talent comes in, but at the moment changes need to be made, or their often slow and disjointed build up, partnered with very questionable defending, will cost them vital points this season, which could be the difference between Champions League football, or another finish outside the top four.