Manchester United's new formation - how will it work?

Published Add your comment

Football News

In the short time since Louis van Gaal has taken over as Manchester United boss, he has made it clear that he wants to play the same formation he used to guide Holland to a 3rd placed World Cup finish.

The 3-5-2/3-4-1-2/5-3-2 hybrid formation that the Dutchman has introduced has been a hit in pre-season, especially in United's 7-0 mauling of LA Galaxy, but what does this new structure entail?

The changes

The major difference that United fans will be intrigued by is the defense, which consists of three centre backs, an idea that is rarely executed in the Premier League, mainly because its very difficult. Of the three defenders, the most central player is similar to a traditional centre half.

He will sit back, put in the last ditch tackles, and marshal the defenders. At the World Cup, Ron Vlaar played this role and was exceptional at it, compensating for his lack of pace by being strong, accurate and commanding in his tackling and overall play.

The centre halves at either side of the sweeper are usually the same foot as the side they play on, because they switch between full back and centre back consistently. When the team attack, the three spread across the width of the pitch to the on-paper narrowness of their positioning isn't exploited by counter-attacking wingers.

They then contract again when the wing-backs come back to act as fullbacks and the three in the centre cover the centre of the pitch. 

The wing-backs

Arguably one of the hardest roles to play in football, wingback, is used in the new formation the Red Devils will play. As the team attacks, the wing-backs are wide midfielder-come-wingers and provide the width the team lacks anywhere else. They will make runs forward behind the opposing full backs and attempt to stretch the opposition to give the forwards more space.

These players have to be very fit, as the majority of their time is spent running the entire length of the pitch, as well as being very good crossers and passers. For Holland, Daley Bind played this role fantastically well, he played quality long balls like the one for Van Persie's wonder header against Spain.

Blind also was reliably covering the defense and looked shattered at the end of every match from the continuous running of the left flank, the attributes a wing back has to have. When defending, these wide players track back and form a back five, becoming fast pressing full backs and tracking wingers.

With the back five in action at these points, it means the defense can't be stretched as easily as a back four as there are more bodies, meaning less space for the opposing forwards to operate in. 

The midfield

The midfield will fluctuate between a two or three man setup depending on how the usual two are coping and if they are being overrun. The two will usually consist of a strong defensive midfielder and a more creative box-to-box player.

The box to box man will press the opposing midfield, make late runs into the box whilst also helping the defense if needed. Georgino Wijnaldum did this for Oranje at the World Cup, acting as a complete midfielder, controlling the centre by breaking up some attacks but carrying the ball forward when in possession.

A defensive midfielder, such as Nigel de Jong, will break up play slightly deeper and do the majority of the tackling. He rarely, if ever, pushes up to attack, and will look to stop play getting to the forward players before it can test the defenders behind. This allows the forwards on his team to have some more freedom as they have a specialist at covering and a second player who can defend in the middle too. 

Related articles

- United favourites for Premier League glory next season?
Robin van Persie odds on to become Manchester United captain

The Juan Mata role?

The attacking midfielder, a role occupied by Juan Mata in the preseason games so far, is the main creative force of the whole team. Van Gaal wants his playmaker to play forward, quick, defense splitting passes for the forwards, and not sideways or backwards ones. The playmaker is always an intelligent player and has to be able to spot the passes that other may not, very much like a modern attacking midfielder in the 4-2-3-1 formation that has taken Europe by storm recently.

If the midfielders are being outnumbered though, this player can move into the centre forming a trio, meaning he becomes the pressing central midfielder whilst the box-to-box man acts as a second defensive midfielder. 


Finally, as shown by the seven-goal duo of Arjen Robben and United's very own Robin van Persie in Rio de Janeiro, the forwards in the team are very important.

Both are instructed to press the full backs high up the field, meaning a lot of running. It usually consists of a fast striker (Robben) and a more elegant, all round forward (Van Persie), but in United's case it should be Van Persie and the powerhouse/deeper forward Wayne Rooney.

In either case, one of the forwards will make a run behind the defence, whilst the other runs at the defence (or both make runs if the playmaker is carrying play forward). The forwards must be very technically gifted, be able to take and control difficult balls, play in and support the team, hold onto the ball and most of all; score goals.

Van Gaal has said on many occasions he wants his striker to be just that - strikers. The Dutchman believes play should be focussed into these two players and most the goals and the play will be orientated around or scored by his forwards. 


So there we have it, the 3-5-2. The new shape Louis van Gaal will hope his United team can use to take the Premier League by storm next season and can utilise the best of what he has.

What do you think, how do you see United lining up next term? Will the formation be a masterclass or a failure? Leave your comments in the section below.

Do YOU want to write for GiveMeSport? Get started today by signing-up and submitting an article HERE:

Manchester United
World Cup

Article Comments

Read more

Report author of article

Please let us know if you believe this article is in violation of our editorial policy, please only report articles for one of the following reasons.

Report author


This article has been written by a member of the GiveMeSport Writing Academy and does not represent the views of or SportsNewMedia. The views and opinions expressed are solely that of the author credited at the top of this article. and SportsNewMedia do not take any responsibility for the content of its contributors.

Want more content like this?

Like our GiveMeSport Facebook Page and you will get this directly to you.

Already Subscribed to Facebook, don't ask me again

Follow GiveMeSport on Twitter and you will get this directly to you.

Already Following, don't ask me again

Like our GiveMeSport Page and you will get this directly to you.

Already Subscribed to G+, don't ask me again