Manchester United fans from across the DMV assembled at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland on Tuesday to watch United play Inter Milan. This US tour has been particularly interesting for United fans across the globe because we all get to watch new manager Louis Van Gaal’s direct and demanding approach to management take effect immediately. Aside from the squad itself, Van Gaal already ordered that two of the training pitches be pulled up, in order to replace them with replicas of the pitch at Old Trafford. His influence is being felt just as quickly off the pitch as it is on, which is exactly what United need.
Coming off of what was their worst Premier League finish in history, Van Gaal has inherited what he has been quoted saying is a “broken” squad. We are being given a glimpse into the future of how United are going to play under Van Gaal with the current squad still remaining at the club (a number of players are more than likely on the way out). With the players he currently has available at his disposal, Van Gaal has been attempting to implement a 3-5-2 formation, which he used successfully during the World Cup with the Netherlands. He used this formation with the Oranje because of the World Cup ending anterior cruciate ligament tear to the left knee of do-all midfielder Kevin Strootman. Although the injury was a massive blow to the Netherlands, Van Gaal adjusted his formation to the players he had at his disposal, which is exactly what he is doing at United. In an interview with FIFA Van Gaal said, “My way is a footballing philosophy is more than a system. A system depends on the players…but a philosophy is for life.”
While implementing the 3-5-2 formation at United (basically a 3-4-1-2), Van Gaal is able to put Juan Mata in his favored no. 10 position, right behind what will presumably be the duo of Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie. Mata was quoted saying, “Things are changing and everyone is finding their new role in the team, but if I play behind the two strikers I feel comfortable”. That triangle upfront is easily one of the most dangerous attacking trios in the Premier League. Each player is playing in an area that is comfortable for them. Rooney is playing some of his best football up front as a striker as he has in years and Mata is finally playing in his most natural position, as opposed to being placed on the right. Van Gaal has given Mata the same role in United’s 3-5-2 that Wesley Sneijder held in Holland’s 3-5-2, and it is apparent that he is ready for the job. His link play with Rooney so far on the US tour has been spectacular, and he is creating chances for his teammates and himself. When Van Persie comes back into the mix, you can be sure that United’s front three will be as effective as ever.
Rooney has been joined up front by Danny Welbeck, Shinji Kagawa, Luis Nani, Chicharito, and Wilfried Zaha so far on the US tour. There is a lot of speculation around numerous United players at the moment, including all five of those mentioned previously. Rooney should be a definite starter for the club, and is one of the clubs premier world-class players. His work rate is absolutely phenomenal, and he has a knack for scoring goals. When he isn’t scoring, he is delivering almost unimaginable balls to put teammates into scoring position with the vision of a hawk.
One player Rooney and Mata have already formed a special connection with is new signing Ander Herrera, who has also been impressive during his first few appearances in a United shirt. The 24-year-old Spaniard central midfielder was £24 million (roughly $40 million USD) and was one of United’s first two summer signings, coming from Atletico Bilbao. When asked of Herrera, Mata replied, “Ander is a very, very good midfielder. He is a good guy, my friend, and we have known each other since we were 15. He is top quality. He can play quick, slow and dictate the rhythm of a game. He can score as well. He is a very complete midfielder and he can bring these qualities to the team. I enjoy playing with quality players like him and Wayne.”
The other early summer signing was 19-year-old Englishman Luke Shaw, £27 million ($45 million USD), coming from Southampton. Luke Shaw is a natural left back who has the ability to quickly cover ground up and down the left wing. In the current 3-5-2 formation, Van Gaal has placed Shaw at the left wing back position. This is a demanding position which requires Shaw to virtually control the entire left wing – coming back to defend while adding width to the United attack, and having the ability to sufficiently do both. Although Shaw has proven at Southampton that he is capable of his role at his new club, Van Gaal has been quoted saying that Shaw is ‘not fit enough’ for his new role. “Shaw is ok, but I am always a trainer-coach who sees individuals and what they need,” said Van Gaal. “He needs to be fit… he is not fit enough to do what I want.” Shaw has been placed on a personal fitness program in order to get into better shape so that he is able to perform the way his manager requires of him. He is a player who shows great potential, and clearly will play a big part at United for years to come.
Both new signings have not only been featured on United’s 2014 US tour, but they have been major contributors and simply excellent to watch. Herrera’s pure speed and passing ability in the central midfield is exactly what United have been lacking in recent years. He plays with such a desire to get the ball to his feet, and then uses his vision to pick out the right pass. His first touch is spot on, and he has instantly clicked with his new squad. Although Shaw has not done anything truly spectacular thus far, it is way too soon to judge the future English national left back.
So far this tour, Herrera has been linked up with mainly Darren Fletcher in the central midfield, while other candidates for the top spots are Tom Cleverley, Marouane Fellaini, and Michael Carrick. The latter of the three is out following surgery on his ankle, and Fellaini expected by many to be sold, as rumors of talks with Napoli grow. Cleverley believes that his style of play suits Van Gaal’s system, so even though many United fans have been screaming for Cleverley to get the boot; his time may not be up at United.
The right wing has looked solid, with Antonio Valencia and Rafael both able to fill the wide midfielder role. The question on that wing is which player will be in better form when the season begins a couple weeks from now at Old Trafford vs. Swansea City. Now it is up to Ed Woodward to bring in the players that United need to build a more robust defensive back line and another central midfielder to pair up with Ander Herrera.
Rumors of such replacements include Arturo Vidal, who is rumored to have reached a verbal agreement of $80 million. Defenders Mats Hummels, Thomas Vermaelen, and Stefan de Vrij are three center backs who have all been strongly linked with possible moves to United before the end of this summer’s transfer window.
With the players Louis Van Gaal has brought to The United States, the squad has performed very well. United has outscored opponents 10-2 just three games into International Champions Cup (ICC) play. The Reds’ next opponent is Real Madrid this Saturday, August 2nd, at The Big House in Michigan. The game is SOLD OUT. This is pretty crazy because The University of Michigan’s stadium is the LARGEST stadium in the United States and the third largest stadium in the WORLD! The stadium can officially hold 109,901 fans, but may surely end up housing even more for what will be a clash of giants. Attendance the other night at FedEx Field was around 61,000; United fans outnumbered Inter fans at the match 10:1. The stadium was a sea of red, which is great to see and to be a part of.
Louis Van Gaal hit the ground running at the start of his new position at the helm of Manchester United, and the Dutchman has made it very clear that he intends on getting United back in a position where they will fight for the top spot. It is a very exciting time for United fans everywhere – with consistent and attacking football, new signings playing the roles that were expected of them, and more players surely on the way—everyone is eagerly waiting to see what moves our club will make next…