Assessing Manchester United’s much-maligned 5-3-2 formation
Manchester United employed their first non-British manager last summer, in the form of the ‘Iron Tulip’, Louis van Gaal. Alongside that bold decision came potential new tactical territory for the current squad to learn and adapt to, and whilst many thought it’d be Van Gaal’s famous 4-3-3 setup, the 62-year old instead opted for a formation that is fairly new to him – the much maligned 5-3-2.
Van Gaal opted for the five-at-the-back formation in the recent World Cup over in Brazil, and he adapted his team to that formation purely down to an injury suffered by his star man, Kevin Strootman. Strootman was the back four protector, and when he went down with ligament damage, Van Gaal immediately switched from a 4-3-3 to a 5-3-2 to offer more defensive protection.
When the Dutchman took control of the reigns at Manchester United the 5-3-2 was adopted immediately – he openly admitted that it was the best formation to include all of his best players from day one, but that was when Manchester United lacked real quality in the midfield.
Since then, Michael Carrick has returned from injury, and we’ve seen Ander Herrera and Daley Blind come through the Old Trafford doors, with the signing of the aforementioned Kevin Strootman looking inevitable at some point.
The 5-3-2 immediately highlighted one major fault in its setup in the opening day 2-1 loss to Swansea City. The amount of space offered in the wide areas when teams are on the break against us is astounding. It left the three centre-backs wide open against the Swansea wingers, dragging everybody out of position.
On the flip side of that is it maximizes our attacking prowess. It allows the likes of Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia to play as extra men going forward, alongside the likes of Wayne Rooney, Radamel Falcao and Robin van Persie. We saw this tactic work wonders in the 3-0 demolition job at home to Liverpool, with Antonio Valencia the star man as he raided down that right-hand wing all game long.
This tactic certainly has its pros and cons, but if used correctly it can prove to be a solid setup. Lets allow Louis van Gaal to keep doing what he is doing as we’ve all seen how successful he has been over his long career. Cast your mind back to his Holland side in Brazil that managed a third place finish with this formation – despite being touted as a side that’d get knocked out in the group stage.
We’re now in January, and the 5-3-2 has been in use for the majority of Louis van Gaal’s time as manager so far. It seems as though the players are slowly getting used to this new formation, and with real top quality centre-backs its one that does have the potential to work in the long run.
Everyone expects Van Gaal to revert to he 4-3-3 in the not too distant future, but then that poses its own problem – how do you include all of Manchester United’s star attackers in one team? I’ll leave that one to the man himself…
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