Despite coming out on top against Tottenham, there was a lot for Louis van Gaal to work on after an unconvincing Manchester United performance.
Plenty was wrong with United’s match and, with an encounter against Aston Villa on the horizon, these two main areas need to be rectified before it's too late.
We can begin in defence, a department that the Red Devils have struggled in for the last couple years. It seems that Manchester United’s centre-back pairing is halfway complete.
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Chris Smalling represents the complete half of the pairing. Smalling has come leaps and bounds since the beginning of last season. His calm, assured play on the ball, coupled with the defensive stability that he provides, makes him the best option at centre-back.
As well as Smalling has been playing, the absence of a legitimate partner in defence against Tottenham rendered these good performances, useless.
Van Gaal elected to play Daley Blind, a midfielder, alongside Smalling last weekend and it is fair to say that this experiment failed. Blind was caught much too far up the pitch on multiple occasions. The Dutch midfielder’s small frame makes him a liability during aerial duels.
A more natural centre-back partner for Smalling would be Marcos Rojo. Rojo had trouble with his passport, preventing him from joining up with the team on tour. In turn, Van Gaal elected to leave the Argentine out of the side against Tottenham. With an extra week of training now under his belt, Rojo has most likely caught up to regular match sharpness.
Rojo needs to play if United are going to have any sort of solidity in the back line.
The Depay-Mata Conundrum
The next order of business that Van Gaal will need to tend to, involves new signing Memphis Depay.
Throughout preseason, Van Gaal experimented with Depay in a No.10 role. This did not work out as hoped but nevertheless, Van Gaal being Van Gaal pursued this endeavor with his typical stubbornness. The Manchester United boss, again, played Depay in behind forward Wayne Rooney.
Memphis was stifled in the middle of the park as his back was often to goal. He was unable to run at players or utilise his goalscoring attributes. It is out wide that the former PSV man is at his best and it is there that he should play for United. So how can this happen?
It’s quite an easy solution. While Depay is a winger playing the middle, Juan Mata is a central attacking midfielder playing out wide. More than anything, this is a common sense swap. Not only would Depay benefit from this, but Mata would to.
While the Spaniard has adapted to new wide berth admirably, there is no doubting that his best work is done in the center of the pitch. Mata’s precision passing and magical technical ability allow him to be the ultimate No.10.
At Stamford Bridge, Mata scooped two straight player of the season awards as well as a Champions League medal from a central position, showing just what he can do.