Manchester United should aspire to more than direct display against Cambridge

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Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal decided that he need a more direct approach against Cambridge United in an FA Cup fourth-round replay at Old Trafford tonight, moving the considerable physical presence of Marouane Fellaini into a more advanced role and playing to his strengths with long crosses consistently.

Finding Fellaini and feeding off the knock-downs is the kind of move which would have earned previous Red Devils chief David Moyes massive criticism, which is perhaps why he refrained from playing that way even when times got tough last season.

Van Gaal could care less what people think of his methods though and has proved it by chopping and changing to the point where onlookers have absolutely no idea if there's a clear direction to his plans for life at the Theatre of Dreams, with results the only thing on his mind.

Van Gaal will insist his tactics were spot on

After struggling desperately to break down Cambridge two weeks ago Van Gaal clearly decided United needed to get more crosses in the penalty area, with Fellaini used as the focal point for that shift in strategy.

United's opening goal against the U's in a routine 3-0 win saw that tactic pay quick dividends, with Fellaini heading down Angel di Maria's teasing cross into the path of Juan Mata, who prodded home from inside the six-yard box.

Before anyone gets all giddy in their praise of Van Gaal for beating a side from League Two at the second attempt though there are plenty of issues to be discussed, not least the lack of cohesion in a system that played the vast majority of its key players out of position.

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United fans should treat win with mixed emotions

Van Gaal is playing with fire in terms of his tinkering, because there's still question marks over whether he's using the system which gets the best from this group of players.

Robin van Persie for example was often left isolated against Cambridge off all teams, surely that same tactic cannot be expected to work against an established Premier League rival?

United were dysfunctional in the first 15 minutes in what had the look at least on paper of a 4-1-4-1, but ultimately contributed to a fairly dour if functional display.

Even when United were 2-0 up the shackles didn't come off, which is hugely disappointing when you consider at least a sizeable majority of the United faithful in attendance only bought a ticket to avoid a one-match ban which would force them to miss the Premier League clash with Sunderland.

Maybe I expect too much of a United side that is one of the most expensively assembled in the history of English football, but you can't help but feel like if Moyes spent that kind of cash and churned out a game plan against Cambridge that centred around Fellaini's aerial prowess he would have been crucified.

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Premier League
FA Cup
Manchester United

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