Last week we surveyed Manchester United’s activity in the transfer market and asked the question: how are they going to fit in all these signings? Whilst a couple of question marks still remain, United’s demolition of QPR on Sunday afternoon certainly gave us more than a fair idea of how this new look United side will line up; and if we’re honest, it looks alarmingly impressive.
Although it was only one game, I believe that Sunday’s clash at Old Trafford taught us some interesting things about how Louis van Gaal wants his United side to play, and indeed, whether his approach will bear fruit (it probably will). Here are my five thoughts from United versus QPR.
1) Back to basics
Much of the coverage of van Gaal’s early tenure at Old Trafford has focused on his decision to change the formation at the club, deploying three centre backs and two wing backs in defence. In short, this hasn’t worked; and credit where credit’s due, the Dutchman seems to have realised this.
Against QPR, he opted for a standard back four, and this really helped his team’s shape. With new signing Daley Blind shielding his back four; the two more creatively minded midfielders were free to express themselves and create chances for the guys further forward. It’ll be interesting to see if Van Gaal sticks with this formation – I think there’s every chance he won’t – but the early signs are that this is how his players will be most effective.
2) Angel di Maria is something special
Perhaps an obvious point, but United’s record signing di Maria is an absolute star, and his performance on Sunday really was a joy to behold. Perhaps most importantly for United, di Maria is the kind of player who makes things happen. While United have some very impressive talent at their disposal, having a player that can create chances seemingly at will is invaluable.
Di Maria looked electric every time he touched the ball, and his ability to take defenders on and make them commit will make him a very important cog in this United team.
3) So is Herrera
When the signing of Ander Herrera from Athletic Bilbao was announced earlier this summer, I have to admit that I was slightly sceptical. Here was a player who cannot get a start in the Spanish team, yet United were going to pay £30 odd million for him. Herrera’s performance on Sunday showed why I was wrong to have such doubts.
In short, Herrera is the sort of player that United have been crying out for a long time (probably since the days when Paul Scholes was in his pomp). Herrera’s biggest strength is that he is a totally different type of player to Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley. While the two England players are tidy on the ball, they simply don’t take the risks that they need to and often prefer to pass the ball sideways or backwards; retaining possession but making very little progress.
Herrera isn’t afraid to give things a go; and some of his incisive passing was key for United against QPR. The Spaniard also popped up with a great goal, and to me it seems clear that he has the potential to become a very valuable member of Van Gaal’s side.
4) Van Gaal has a headache up front
The Dutchman began with Robin Van Persie and Wayne Rooney up front, with Juan Mata in the number ten role and Radamel Falcao on the bench.
The question now is; when all of these players are fit and match ready, who misses out? It seems highly unlikely that Falcao will be sitting on the bench, Wayne Rooney is captain and Van Persie is a Can Gaal favourite.
The most likely conclusion is that Rooney will move to number ten, with Mata on the bench, and Falcao and Van Persie up front. The trouble is, Mata moved from Chelsea because he wasn’t playing; and if the Spaniard can’t get in the United line-up, it seems unlikely that he’ll stick around.
5) All is not well at the back
Whilst United’s performance was brilliant from an attacking perspective, the same cannot be said about their defensive performance. United were poor once again at the back, and given that QPR were absolutely rotten, the ease with which Harry Redknapp’s side carved through United will worry Van Gaal; a man who believes very strongly that a good defence is the backbone of any successful side.
United fans will be hoping that their defensive issues can be sorted out on the training ground, but it has to be said that if they turn in performances like that against the better sides, they’re set for another dismal season. Sumptuous attacking football might be great to watch, but if it’s not combined with some serious defensive grit, it’s always going to be much less effective.
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