Three weeks ago Louis Van Gaal gave an interview in which he described how his squad possessed ‘five No.9s and four No.10s’ yet didn’t have ‘wingers of the highest level, like Ronaldo or Di Maria’.
A mere 22 days later, the Dutchman has managed to refine his ‘unbalanced’ squad which now boasts three world class strikers in addition to a new No.7 in Angel Di Maria, a new No.11 in Adnan Januzaj and the £37 million pound talents of Juan Mata.
Combine this potent attacking threat with the clever acquisition of the versatile Daley Blind, the artful Ander Herrera and the defensive reinforcements of Marcos Rojo and Luke Shaw and it becomes immediately clear that this is a United side with ambition.
This is, however, (minus the prolific Radamel Falcao) the same squad that is yet to get their first win this season and whilst the lack of a victory is of course worrying, the manner of the defeats is what is most alarming for United fans.
But for the Chevrolet emblazoned white shirts of United, anyone that endured United’s visit to Turf Moor over the weekend would have struggled to make out which team was representing the self-dubbed ‘biggest club in the world’ and which was Sean Dyche’s newly promoted side, such was the quality of the football on display.
I cannot remember a United performance that consisted of so many uninspiring, lifeless, long balls and an altogether lack of structure and team ethos.
United were utterly dormant portraying a side seriously lacking in belief and direction.
Van Gaal has repeatedly expressed the need for patience as he continues to entrench his ‘philosophy’ into the club, however, with every minute that has gone by this season, both on and off the pitch, it looks increasingly likely that the persistent Dutchman may have to assess his options.
Whilst taking nothing away from an inspired World Cup for the Dutch, Van Gaal’s use of 3-5-2 as Netherlands coach appeared more of a ‘maximise what you’ve got’ ploy rather than a system that inspired exciting, attacking football, something embedded in United’s philosophy of their own.
If Van Gaal had of had the options at United’s disposal available in his Netherlands squad it is very unlikely that they would have lined up as they did.
The trouble is, however, that at the time of Van Gaal’s implementation of his system in pre-season United hadn’t even signed Marcos Rojo let alone those signings that followed the Argentinian.
The success of the system in United’s tour of the US added further fuel to Van Gaal’s fire of persistence and it is of course important to note that the absences of Luke Shaw and Ander Herrera have undoubtedly been significant in United’s early season blip.
It is, however, imperative that Van Gaal adds an element of flexibility to his side and a switch to 4-3-3 could allow United’s new signings to flourish.
United have traded in their spare parts this summer and, albeit at great financial cost, appear to have upgraded from David Moyes’ rather dated and rusty banger to a somewhat flashy Ferrari.
Appear, however, is the operative word. The flair of Di Maria, the youth of Luke Shaw, the finesse of Herrera and the ruthlessness of Falcao all add to the aesthetic qualities of United but despite posing a beautiful exterior it is the engine of Van Gaal’s machine that is a cause for concern.
Daley Blind will improve the ethos of the team and Marcos Rojo should provide capable defensive reinforcement but it is still hard to see how United are going to be a better side playing 3-5-2 than they would be in a more natural 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 formation.
A back four of Shaw, Rojo, Jones and Rafael would provide a strong base for United’s midfield consisting of Ander Herrera and Daley Blind operating behind Juan Mata in the creative midfield role. With Di Maria and Rooney providing support for Falcao in his No.9 role a 4-3-3 system could provide some much needed direction for a side currently looking a little aimless playing 3-5-2.
This is, however, just a suggested XI for United and a 38 game Premier League season always poses threats of injuries, issues of form and inevitable tactical flexibility.
If Robin van Persie can survive his knee injury scares to rediscover his form he will no doubt cause a serious selection headache. Michael Carrick is set to return from injury at the end of the month and Adnan Januzaj has already shown signs that he will continue to grow into the player we all hope he will be.
Juan Mata’s dip in form may also require Rooney to drop into a three-man midfield and Di Maria has also shown excellent ability in that position during his time at Madrid.
One thing is for sure, United have shifted a lot of dead wood from their squad and Van Gaal has to adapt his tactics accordingly.
Woodward has delivered on his promise to bring in new faces and has provided evidence for his willingness to spend big in the market.
It is now time for Van Gaal to hold his end of the deal and bring this stumbling team back to life.
United are far from the complete side and remain underdogs to finish in the top three this season, especially given their failure to acquire top class centre back and defensive midfield cover, however with the club’s spending exceeding £150 million Van Gaal will know that results are more important than ever.
You can ask for patience and describe the importance of one’s philosophy endlessly but ultimately if you can’t achieve Champions League football at a bare minimum with this squad of players then United may be forced to reevaluate their options.
It seems ludicrous to even be talking of Louis Van Gaal’s job being under pressure because in truth it is not remotely. There is, however, a nervousness of the unknown that surrounds Old Trafford and Van Gaal must provide the fans and players with stability and get his team performing to a consistently high level that is capable of making a serious statement of intent this season.
United’s signings hint at an ambition beyond top four aspirations, however it is imperative that the basics are put in place for United’s stars to flourish whilst ensuring that a strong team ethos is evident in United’s performances.
The Sir Alex Ferguson years are well and truly over. United have discarded a number of English talents whether on loan or on permanent deals with Rio Ferdinand, Tom Cleverley, Wilfried Zaha, Nick Powell, Michael Keane and Danny Welbeck notable absentees from last year’s squad.
A new influx of foreign talent has arrived at Old Trafford, with the exception of Luke Shaw who looks every bit the classic United signing. It will be a real test for Van Gaal to ensure that he can create a balanced team and incorporate United’s new signings, both in the dressing room and on the pitch, with those that have survived the Dutchman’s ruthless refinement process.
United fans finally have their new Ferrari, or Chevrolet as Ed Woodward might add, however, a set of racing stripes and sparkling new rims may not take them to where they need to be. Money is no substitute for unity and direction.