An embarrassing defeat to minnows MK Dons and some poorly scraped results in the league had left Ed Woodward with an urgent memo on his desk from Louis van Gaal; 'Get me some quality players, quicksharp'.
With and sweaty and furrowed brow, Ed went on a Galacticos-esque rampage, making three astute signings in Angel Di Maria, Daley Blind and the wholly impressive Radamel Falcao. Well done Ed. Now, Mr Van Gaal, it's your turn. How will you use them? I would suggest a 4-2-2-2.
Team; De Gea (GK), Rafael (RB), Jones (CB), Rojo (CB), Shaw (LB), Herrera (RCM), Di Maria (LCM), Mata (RAM), Rooney (LAM), Falcao (RS), Van Persie (LS). Subs; Lindegaard, Evans, Januzaj, Fletcher, Blind, Fellaini, Smalling
The 4-2-2-2 is a variation on the classic 4-4-2, suiting fast, possession-based attacking football. The wingers, rather than playing a box-to-box range, remain slightly higher up the pitch. Interestingly, these attacking midfielders often use the opposite foot to the side they are on, making them more like inside forwards than traditional wingers. This would suit Van Gaal perfectly.
Fluidity, discipline and versatility is the key, which United have in abundance; Rooney, Di Maria, Blind, Rojo, Jones and Januzaj are all immediately obvious. Whilst the line up above may have a relatively weak defence on paper, it has some key attributes; pacey, overlapping full-backs, a blossoming leader in Phil Jones and most importantly, is recognised by all playing it.
Midfield at first appears to lack the physicality needed and indeed has only one recognised CM in Herrera. This is where fluidity comes in. Di Maria has played exceptionally well as the third CM for Real Madrid in recent times, but may not adapt immediately to the physicality the Premier League brings.
Using Herrera as a slick, disciplined pivot, Di Maria and Rooney would be free to play far more fluidly; when Di Maria attacks or provides width, Rooney would tuck into a central midfield position, dictating play.
Working from the right, Mata could cut in and provide the killer balls and attacking play that glittered his time at Chelsea. Falcao and Van Persie would be well provided for and would surely give a massive goal return. Shaw and Rafael can provide crossing to compensate for the lack of natural wingers, though sporadically so as not to leave an exposed defence.
Fletcher or Fellaini would provide a greater defensive presence for the central midfield and Blind's defensive awareness and passing ability may see him pushing Herrera out of of the first team.
Januzaj provides attacking depth and Evans and Smalling cover for the defence. The main weakness is that it would depend on the discipline of Mata, Di Maria and Rooney, three attackers, to maintain defensively discipline and be aware of each other's movements.
United may have the strongest front line in the league but Van Gaal will need to establish serious discipline within his players to mask the cracks in the makeshift midfield and defence.
Carrick's return will be welcome and will be an authoritative voice, but Van Gaal needs to start winning soon. I have no doubt the 3-5-2 formation will come good, but when? For me, 4-2-2-2 is far more recognisable, comfortable and potentially more effective.
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