3-5-2 has had mixed results for Manchester United this season. The formation was blamed for United’s initial slow start with poor results against Swansea, Sunderland and Burnley. More recently, draws against Aston Villa, Stoke and a poor first half against Yeovil Town on Sunday have revealed similarly average performances.
Of course United’s recent mixed run of form comes off the back of having won six games in a row during November and December. However since the Liverpool win in mid-December, they have drawn three of their last five games.
The problem stems largely from the fact that defenders who are not overly comfortable with the ball at their feet are launching it forward to the likes of Robin van Persie and Radamel Falcao.
This bypassing of United’s midfield makes it relatively easy for opposition defenders to predict what the Red Devils are going to do. They can then mop up with relative ease as Falcao and Van Persie prefer to run in behind the backline, rather than hold the ball up. This minimises the effect that Ander Herrera, Juan Mata and Wayne Rooney can have on the game in the final third of the pitch.
Compounding the issue is the fact that Louis Van Gaal's most experienced defender, Jonny Evans, has looked shaky and nervous recently. He has been bullied by opposition strikers, such as Christian Benteke. In Sir Alex Ferguson’s final season in charge the defender looked calm and assured in possession.
The legendary Scotsman felt that in Evans he had one of the best young centre-backs in the country. However, since his retirement Evans has regressed and it is difficult to imagine that he would fit into United’s back line had it not been for their torrid injury luck and failure to recruit a suitable replacement for Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic in the summer.
United undefeated for two months
On the plus side for the Red Devils they have still not lost a fixture in over 2 months and there have been some impressive performances from members of the squad. Herrera was voted the man of the match by the club’s supporters against Yeovil after his second half strike put them ahead in the tie.
Juan Mata’s impressive recent form, combined with the return of record signing Angel Di Maria should yield more success for the Red Devils as the latter gives them an outlet that they have sorely missed in his absence.
Carrick could be crucial
The 4-4-2 diamond formation gave the Manchester club some success earlier on in the season. If Di Maria and Herrera can be worked into that system with Michael Carrick in the holding role, it would enable United’s midfield support the club’s strikers more effectively than has been seen in recent fixtures.
Van Gaal's defenders would also be able to find Carrick and allow someone who is far more comfortable on the ball to quickly find more attacking players in the opposition third.