Louis van Gaal will face arguably his most daunting match so far, when Manchester United face Queens Park Rangers at Old Trafford on Sunday. Not because QPR are particularly good – quite the opposite – but the fact United would be expected to win comprehensively in this fixture every season has been rubber-stamped by the fact Radamel Falcao will make his bow. It is also United’s first match since the transfer window closed, so there is a feeling van Gaal will start to come under severe scrutiny if the result is anything other than a comfortable United win. What fans will want to know, therefore, is how the Red Devils could line up against the west Londoners.
There will be as many questions regarding who will be left out as who will be included. Here are some permutations at van Gaal’s disposal:
3-5-2: This formation worked so well for the Netherlands when van Gaal took the country to the semi-finals at the Brazil World Cup just two months ago. However, in the three games he has deployed it for United, the likes of Jonny Evans, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, and Tyler Blackett have failed to grasp the system with any elan. It is unlikely van Gaal will abandon the system so early on, especially because he has more suitable players available for the visit of Harry Redknapp’s side. However, if the result is disappointing for United, the knives will be out. New signings Luke Shaw, Marcos Rojo, and Daley Blind are expected to be available for the clash.
Should other new signing Ander Herrera return to fitness in time, it is likely Blind will play just behind him, so the Spaniard can roam forward. Rafael and Antonio Valencia will battle it out for the wide right role. With Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie, Ángel Di María, and Falcao all expected to be handed attacking roles, Juan Mata would most likely be the man to make way.
4-1-3-2: With Rojo the only recognized defender to sign for United during the transfer window, there is a possibility van Gaal could abandon his controversial system and instead opt for 4-1-3-2. It would allow for new defensive midfielder Blind to protect what has been so far a shaky back line and pick up any stray passes. It would also mean all of United’s attacking quintet would start, albeit with Mata out wide. The Spaniard’s lack of pace and reluctance to track back is an issue.
4-4-2 (diamond): Although United fans have become au fait with 4-4-2 for decades, they have not witnessed it very often with a midfield diamond. Again it would allow for Rooney to take up his much coveted roving role behind van Persie and Falcao. It would also mean Adnan Januzaj would get the nod for the right wing role, meaning Herrera would miss out. However, Herrera is one of United’s best passers and so van Gaal could be tempted to shoe horn his big money signing into the side. The question is where? Regardless of who the Dutchman picks, when his squad his fully fit, the likes of Ashley Young, Anderson, and Fellaini will struggle to even make the bench. Utility man Valencia, striker James Wilson, Blackett and Mata are further up the pecking order. Plenty for van Gaal when he looks at how his Manchester United team could line up against QPR.
Commentary by Robert Shepherd