Louis van Gaal will lead his Manchester United team onto the pitch for the first time when the Red Devils start their US tour against LA Galaxy at the Rose Bowl Stadium on Wednesday. With 26 players at the Dutchman’s disposal, van Gaal can opt for a number of different permutations when he fields his first 11.
Formation – When Gaal was formally announced as the next United boss, the general consensus was that the Red Devil’s famous 4-4-2 formation would be sacrificed for the 4-3-3 the new man has favored most of his coaching career. There was, of course, a chance van Gaal would opt for the 4-2-3-1 system he introduced at Bayern Munich.
Following the unexpected success of the Netherlands side in the 2014 World Cup – van Gaal led his nation to third place – it has now become apparent that a shift to 5-3-2 or even a 3-4-3 could happen. Van Gaal deployed the latter to compensate for the missing Kevin Strootman and it worked. Van Gaal had to make the best of a bad situation – if he was going to be without Strootman’s energy, Arjen Robben had to provide support to forward Robin van Persie. That meant Robben had to tuck into a more central role when required.
Midfield – Although the United squad is rather different to the one van Gaal managed in Brazil, it has been suggested that new signing Ander Herrera could take on the Strootman role as part of a midfield duo. That system could see Herrera partner with either Darren Fletcher or Tom Cleverley. Some United fans would argue against this. While some are not convinced Fletcher is back to match fitness and sharpness following a long time on the sidelines, others are not convinced Cleverley is even fit to wear the shirt.
Although there is a slim possibility left-back Reece James may be given a chance to slot into a midfield role, Herrera, Fletcher and Cleverley are the only midfielders in the US. If van Gaal does decide to go for his usual 4-3-3 then Juan Mata could be the focal point of the attacking midfield triumvirate. Shinji Kagawa can also fit in having formed an impressive understanding with Mata in the few games they played together last season.
Defense – It would be strange to see three central defenders starting as part of a United starting XI, but under van Gaal it is possible. If so, it will be down to Jonny Evans, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Michael Keane to compete for the three positions. Young left-back Tyler Blackett may also be given chance to impress given van Gaal’s commitment to give youth a chance. However, whether it as a left-back or left-wing-back, new signing Luke Shaw will be expected to feature early on.
One defensive position that has caused United problems of late is right-back. Although Rafael da Silva is good going forward, his erratic defending has cost United in certain matches. However, neither Jones, Smalling or Ecuador winger Antonio Valencia is viewed as a natural replacement should the Brazilian have time out of the game.
Strikers – This is one are of the pitch where van Gaal has options. In the absence of van Persie, a front three could be made up of Wayne Rooney, Javier Hernández and Juan Mata. Danny Welbeck can also slot in if needed, in place of each of those three due to his versatility.
Whatever formation the Red Devils start with against LA Galaxy, the focus will be on how van Gaal manages to fit all his key players in before the Premier title charge begins again in August. Whoever is named captain will also give fans an insight into what sort of player van Gaal wants for the job come the start of the campaign.
Commentary by Robert Shepherd