Van Gaal astutely addresses Man Utd’s long-standing midfield issues
Upon arriving at Old Trafford, Louis van Gaal opted to deploy his inherited Manchester United side, 6/1 with Coral to win the Premier League title this term, in an unfamiliar 3-5-2 formation, a system which proved to be too problematic to continue with throughout the season.
After eventually ditching this approach, which had previously helped him guide the Netherlands to a third-place finish at last summer’s World Cup, the demanding Dutchman switched tactics to suit his players.
Van Gaal soon found a system which complemented the creative talents of Juan Mata, saw Wayne Rooney rediscover his clinical eye for goal and, most notably, got the absolute best out of previously faltering aerial threat Marouane Fellaini.
However, the Red Devils boss will need to discover another approach which blends his recent new arrivals in midfield, as he now has the welcomed headache of a team selection struggle ahead of a hopeful campaign.
In the space of 12 months, United have seen their engine room ranks completely revamped, finally clearing out many ageing stars, under-performers and stuttering squad players.
Since Van Gaal took charge, the likes of Brazilian flop Anderson, out-of-favour Tom Cleverley and former live-wire Darren Fletcher depart, with World Cup winner Bastian Schweinsteiger and France international Morgan Schneiderlin arriving in their place.
The Red Devils’ midfield ranks look extremely promising, having endured seasons of decline in that area because of an evident lack of genuine quality and depth.
It was clear that Sir Alex Ferguson was unwilling to significantly strengthen before his retirement, somehow managing to depend on the likes of Anderson and Cleverley at times. David Moyes then tried to address the alarming midfield problems, but to no avail, missing out on both Thiago Alacantra and Toni Kroos to Bayern Munich and Real Madrid respectively.
Belgium bruiser Fellaini was Moyes’ last-ditch recruit, with the scapegoat turned genuine match-winner earning justified plaudits for his efforts last term in the club’s return to the top four.
Although, next season, with talented ball-playing duo Schweinsteiger and Schneiderlin joining creative forces Juan Mata, Ander Herrera and Michael Carrick, Felliani could see his first-season struggles come flooding back.
With such impressive midfield stars now at his disposal, it’s hard to see Van Gaal maintaining the long-ball approach which worked surprisingly well last term, meaning Fellaini could endure limited game time.
Carrick is widely regarded as one of the club’s best players, and a crucial component in midfield, with Schweinsteiger and Schneiderlin both highly capable of replacing him as the anchor or slotting alongside the Englishman seamlessly.
Spanish pair Herrera and Mata formed a deadly partnership as United’s most advanced midfielders last campaign, highlighted perfectly in the 2-1 triumph over Liverpool at Anfield, and Van Gaal will be keen to avoid hindering their creative prowess.
Daley Blind also became a mainstay of United’s side last term, but could be preferred at left back over Luke Shaw rather than in a central midfield role next season, where the Dutchman performed less convincingly in his debut campaign.
Old Trafford now possesses a wide range of midfield talents who can guide the club back to the summit of the Premier League, help make a successful return to the Champions League (20/1 to win) and end an 11-year wait for an FA Cup coup (7/1).
In what has been a truly exciting summer of arrivals, also including Italy defender Matteo Darmian and talented Memphis Depay, Van Gaal will aim to carry the momentum into next season and bring silverware success back to the red half of Manchester with his revamped squad.