The unerring dominance with which Louis van Gaal has initiated his reign as Manchester United boss has left few people surprised.
His conduct whilst in previous tenures in charge of the likes of Barcelona and Bayern Munich left many expecting him to enter the Old Trafford fray with the intent to make big changes, and the knowledge on just how to go about it. The 62-year-old may not officially have given up as coach of The Netherlands’ national squad, but it’s clear to see that he plans on living up to his reputation as a manager who instigates transition, not coasts along with it.
The most immediate example of his intent to revolutionise the current set up at United? The rumoured decision to have the team playing in a 3-4-3 formation next year. The Daily Mail this morning claim that Van Gaal has resolved to turn his back on the tactics deployed by both Sir Alex Ferguson and then David Moyes, perhaps a wise decision given the latter’s fortunes last term.
But would this rather attacking system suit the current United squad? Will the lack of a rigid centre-back partnership haunt a team which struggled so profusely with keeping goals out last season? Do the Red Devils have the players capable of adapting to such a structural adjustment?
The obvious positives
Above all else United fans want to see their team restored to the glory days of years past, and the only way that was going to happen was by accepting considerable modification to the team which was so obviously out of its depth last year. A new formation means an innovative approach, and the emphasis on wide-men attacking from the back in the 3-4-3 setup will excite plenty of Old Trafford supporters keen to see their side feared by the other top teams.
The likes of Luke Shaw and Rafael would be given license to bomb up either flank from a wing-back position, which is a particularly interesting notion for those hoping for the former to follow in the footsteps of Gareth Bale. At only 18 years of age one wonders, does the newly-signed left-back have it in him to develop into a registered threat at the other end of the pitch?
Then there’s simply the idea of change, and the promise of entertainment which goes with it. Van Gaal is a vastly experienced coach who knows precisely what he’s doing when it comes to arranging attack-heavy squads - as evidenced by his exploits with Holland - and so fans can have faith that his master plan will ultimately bear fruit.
Needless to say, there’s a considerable risk factor involved with the proposed change in formation. More than one position lacks a top quality player at Old Trafford, and last season it appeared that the spine of the team was dreadfully exposed through sheer unorganisation.
In a 3-4-3 there can be no room for error in terms of individuals not knowing exactly what needs to be done and at what time. Experience at the back (something United are quite short of at the moment) is a necessity and a strong presence in front of the defensive three is an absolute must have to ensure protection when the full-backs press forward.
The extra midfield presence often allows teams who play with said formation to dominate in the middle of the park and suffocate opposition, but there is a reason few Premier League sides have thrown their lot in with it over the past decade. Could United spectacularly fail through experimenting?
What’s needed to make it work
Put simply, more top signings. If a 3-4-3 is to be implemented then the purchase of a world-class centre-back is pivotal, and Ander Herrera also needs a natural ball-winner to accompany him in midfield. Arsenal's Thomas Vermaelen has been cited as a potential libero character in the defensive three, and his experience would certainly be welcomed alongside the likes of Phil Jones and Jonny Evans.
Even then it remains a risky scheme, but will Van Gaal’s expert education be enough to overcome the hazard factor?
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