Five things of note as Louis van Gaal and Man Utd get off to flying start
New Manchester United boss Louis van Gaal, whose side are 5/1 to lift the Premier League this season, has set the benchmark high after overseeing his first Red Devils victory in stupendous style, with United scoring a septet of goals.
United thrashed MLS side LA Galaxy, skippered by former Spurs striker Robbie Keane, 7-0, with Wayne Rooney, Reece James and Ashley Young each bagging a brace after Danny Welbeck’s stunning opener.
Van Gaal revealed the emphatic scoreline was “a surprise”, and praised the “beautiful goals” on show, as his evidently eager side demolished their opponents, ahead of further friendly clashes with European elite sides Inter Milan, Roma and Real Madrid.
As the Red Devils continue their pre-season preparations in America, Coral writers bring you a round-up of the most intriguing aspects from Van Gaal’s first match in charge, and how they may hint at what is yet to come.
Fruitful formation – 3-4-1-2/5-3-2
Buoyed by Van Gaal’s arrival, the contrast in atmosphere from last season’s summer tour could not be more evident, with every man and his dog speculating as to how the Dutchman would set up his side.
In the end, Van Gaal opted for the 3-4-1-2 system that served his Netherlands squad so well during the World Cup. Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones impressed as a back three during the first half, with Darren Fletcher, Michael Keane and Tyler Blackett given the chance to shine after the break.
Antonio Valencia and Luke Shaw were tasked with the flying full back roles, before being replaced after half time by Rafael and goal hero James, as United changed subtly to a 5-3-2.
Despite a successful trial, Van Gaal admitted he is not wedded to any formation, revealing: “The other system they can play is 4-3-3…so I can change back”. However, after stating he inherited an unbalanced squad with “four number 10s”, it seems this is the most likely way to bring the best out of talented trio Robin van Persie, Juan Mata and Rooney.
Man of the Match – Ander Herrera
Much hope and expectancy has been placed onto the young shoulders of Herrera, who was signed for around £29m from Basque outfit Athletic Bilbao this summer, and he did not disappoint.
Herrera, who played in both halves, had a hand in almost all of United’s impressive attacking play, and provided assists for both Young goals.
Sharp, positive and confident, the much-heralded signing illustrated just what has been lacking from the Red Devils midfield in recent times, providing penetrative passing, vision and constant movement.
Despite excelling in his debut, though, Herrera was keen to play down the result, stating: “7-0 is a great score but it’s a friendly game”. However, United fans will rightly be excited by the prospect of the Spaniard and his compatriot Mata, who also shone in his role behind the strikers, combining again.
Rising star – Reece James
Whilst another of United’s summer signings, Luke Shaw, enjoyed a competent debut, it was fellow full back James who captured the imagination.
A key player for the Red Devils reserves last term, versatile James can play in a variety of positions, including central midfield. Replacing Shaw on the left, the younger brother of Leicester City star Matty certainly seized his opportunity.
Clearly delighted at bagging a brace, with two excellent finishes, the youngster will only have improved his chances of remaining with the first team this season.
United are widely reported to be in the hunt for another new left back, following former vice-captain Patrice Evra’s move to Juventus. Van Gaal, however, has said he is keen to evaluate the players he already has, before dipping back into the market, which could be good news for young James.
Captain fantastic – Darren Fletcher
Fletcher, Man United’s longest serving player after the recent retirement of Ryan Giggs, was rewarded with the armband against LA Galaxy.
Aside from Herrera, the Scot, who has overcome significant health problems, was the only other member of the starting XI to stay on the pitch for the second half.
In a surprising move, Van Gaal switched Fletcher from his comfortable role in central midfield, to part of the back three.
The United academy product performed well in both positions, but it remains to be seen whether he will be deployed regularly as a centre back in competitive games. If anything, it only serves to highlight the dearth of defensive options available, after veterans Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic departed on free transfers.
Michael Carrick had previously been mooted for a conversion to the heart of defence, having impressed in short stints there before. After the England international’s untimely injury, however, it seems Van Gaal could ask Fletcher to take on that responsibility instead.
As for the captaincy, many expected Rooney to receive the honour in the absence of Van Persie, but former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss Van Gaal seems to be sticking to his word to test out a variety of candidates.
Lucky number seven
All in all it was an incredible start to a new era, but the bigger tests are yet to come. This drubbing of LA Galaxy was an optimistic indication of a change in mentality, though, and a return to swashbuckling, stylish football.
Here are our top picks for the best goals scored at the Pasadena Rose Bowl:
1-0 Danny Welbeck
After Mata stumbled in possession, Welbeck pounced on the loose ball to rifle home from 25 yards. Hit with confidence, it was an encouraging sign from the young striker, who is often accused of lacking ruthlessness. Could this be about to change under Van Gaal?
4-0 Reece James
Young curled a low cross over to debutant James, who slotted the ball home with a beautiful first time finish.
6-0 Ashley Young
Herrera played Young through with a defence-splitting pass, allowing the much-maligned winger to round on-rushing goalkeeper Jaime Penedo, and hit home from just outside the area.