Manchester United is only two matches into the Louis van Gaal era. A home loss to Swansea City and an away draw against Sunderland wasn’t the start that United supporters expected.
These are early days. Man United fans might feel like Bill Murray’s character who suffered the same nightmarish day over and over again in the 1993 film Groundhog Day, but they need to put their full faith behind the experienced Dutch boss.
Van Gaal’s résumé is impressive. He has managed Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Ajax and AZ Alkmaar to league titles. The no-nonsense Dutch boss guided Ajax to Champions League glory in 1995 and twice finished runner-up in Europe’s top club competition.
He certainly has his work cut out for him at the “Theater Of Dreams.” Previous manager David Moyes sunk United from English champions to a dismal seventh-place finish last season. Filling the shoes of legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson proved impossible for Moyes, who was sacked by the club on April 22. The former Everton manager was completely out of his depth at famous Old Trafford. He lacked the charisma and tactical nous required to appease demanding supporters accustomed to decades of superiority under Ferguson.
Man United supporters turned on Moyes quickly. Their furor reached a boiling point on March 16, after arch rivals Liverpool had outclassed the Red Devils by beating them at Old Trafford 3-0. Just watch the post-match reaction of this enraged elderly supporter.
Van Gaal will be hoping to avoid a similar fate. He’s a keen disciplinarian, who employs unconventional formations and tactics. Moyes appeared unfit to stand up to the senior players at Old Trafford. That won’t be the case now that the headstrong van Gaal is in charge.
Former Man United legend Paul Scholes described Van Gaal as a “mad genius” who has brought a fear factor back to the Old Trafford dressing room.
“I think he’s brought a bit of fear back into the players, which is no bad thing,” Scholes told the Guardian. “I played for 20 years for Sir Alex Ferguson and he could be a scary man. Sometimes fear can bring performances out from you. There’s no doubt these players need to perform this year or they won’t be there for very long. Players will know where they stand, which is what you want. You knew where you stood with Sir Alex Ferguson. This manager has great experience with proper clubs and has been successful. Hopefully he can bring a bit of that to us.”
Van Gaal has ushered in a 3-5-2 that requires wing-backs to bust their lungs up and down the pitch. United players are learning this new formation on the fly. The 3-5-2 is foreign to many of them, as variations of 4-4-2 and 4-4-1-1 formations have become commonplace in the Premier League.
So far, the 3-5-2 formation hasn’t been ideal. That could be more to do with the personnel than anything else. The trio of Tom Cleverley, Darren Fletcher and Ashley Young stand out as players who aren’t up to United’s standard. Sunday’s draw 1-1 against Sunderland further highlighted the Red Devils’ weakness in defense.
Versatile Argentine defender Marcus Rojo has been recruited from Portuguese side Sporting C.P. and English left-back Luke Shaw has been lured from Southampton to strengthen this weakness. Further signings at central defender and central midfield are needed, as United lack commanding players in the spine of their starting XI.
The new United boss has been in evaluation mode as the days edge closer to the August 31 transfer deadline. Van Gaal is about to make a real splash by signing exciting winger Angel Di Maria, but what this team is aching for is physically-strong players who can dominate the middle of the park.
DI MARIA SET TO JOIN FOR RECORDING-BREAKING TRANSFER FEE
According to the Telegraph, van Gaal is on the verge of signing the 26-year-old Di Maria from Spanish giants Real Madrid for a club-record transfer fee above £ 60 million. The final fee could be as high as £ 64 million. This would also be a Premier League record, surpassing Chelsea signing striker Fernando Torres from Liverpool for £ 50 million in January 2011.
The capture of the top-quality Argentine winger will surely boost the mood at Old Trafford. It could also signal van Gaal abandoning his 3-5-2 formation, as Di Maria isn’t suited to play wing-back. Having Di Mara and Spanish midfield maestro together in the starting XI could be the catalyst for a revival of the attacking football United supporters demand.
Overall, the Man United squad appears to be unbalanced. There are far too many wingers and forwards on the books, and a clear need to strengthen at central midfield and defense. United fans will expect more big-name signings and will follow the final days of the transfer window with great interest.
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