Louis van Gaal has been the new Manchester United manager for a few days now. Under normal circumstances, we would expect to hear more from him about his plans for the club. However, this is a World Cup year, and the loyal van Gaal (who has never ended a contract early) is on his second stint with the Oranje.
As a result, one of the biggest lingering questions is how United will play under LvG. Under Sir Alex Ferguson, United came to play a ruthless, counter attacking style. Yet the same squad, under David Moyes, developed a defensive mindset. It was as if every player was thinking all hands to the pumps, and to hell with creativity.
But under LvG, United is likely to return to its prior, attacking mindset. However, some pieces will be different. First and foremost, van Gaal puts his vision of the game first. This means playing fast, attacking, total football. In order for that to work, van Gaal requires players who will commit to his instructions without reservation.
The second consideration is that total football means that players must be ready and willing to exchange positions in order to keep the flow of the game going. We saw flashes of this under Fergie, when players like Ronaldo and Nani would swap wings. But total football requires a different level of discipline; players may be asked to play in a certain position for an extended period.
Despite what some may say, van Gaal isn't committed to a 4-3-3 formation. In fact, Holland deployed a 3-5-2 against Ecuador. At AZ Alkmaar, he deployed a 4-4-2. Yet with Barcelona, he played a 2-3-2-3. In his own words, "A system depends on the players you have."
At United, we are likely to see a variant of 4-4-2 owing to the fact that that is the formation the squad has been built around. But this depends on which players United bring in over the summer transfer window. Should the club land Cesc Fabregas, it may be the case that we will see a 4-3-1-2 with Adnan Januzaj and Antonio Valencia on the wings and either Juan Mata or Fabregas providing service to Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney.
Wing play is the other important aspect of van Gaal's philosophy. By playing quick, incisive wingers, van Gaal is able to pull teams apart and keep them pinned in their own half. And because the trend of the modern game is to push playmakers out to the wings to keep them away from the central defensive midfielders, this would give United two playmakers on the field.
The United we end up seeing in the 2014-2015 season may resemble the teams Sir Alex Ferguson fielded. Speed, precision, and attack mindedness will be the order of the day. But the comparisons end there. An emphasis on absolute trust and discipline in order for well-prepared players to take over the field, coupled with an overarching philosophy means that the next time United take the pitch at Old Trafford, it will very clearly be the beginning of a new era.
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