Louis van Gaal has spent more than £250 million since becoming Manchester United’s manager last year and many would say that he is still unsure of his best starting XI.
This article constructs United’s best starting lineup based on some key statistics from Premier League matches collated from August 2014 - the beginning of Van Gaal’s tenure - onwards, with centre-backs judged on attributes including blocks and tackles whilst the number of assists and key passes determines who takes the coveted no.10 role.
Only players who are currently at Old Trafford are eligible to be in the team, though, therefore the likes of Angel di Maria and Robin van Persie won’t feature, but who does make Van Gaal’s best starting XI based on the numbers?
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GOALKEEPER – DAVID DE GEA
Only one man was going to be the goalkeeper for this unique United lineup.
De Gea has been the club’s best player for the past two seasons and under Van Gaal he has made over 100 saves in the Premier League. The 24-year-old Spaniard kept ten clean sheets last season and his ability with his feet have seen him make over 20 clearances.
After a dramatic transfer saga with Real Madrid this summer, De Gea proved that he is focused and at his world-class best with a quite incredible one-handed save from a Jose Fonte header at the weekend.
RIGHT BACK – MATTEO DARMIAN
Darmian has become the Red Devils' first-choice right-back this season and was statistically better in Serie A last year than Antonio Valencia was in the Premier League.
Valencia crosses the ball more but on average, Darmian makes more tackles and interceptions per game.
CENTRE-BACK – CHRIS SMALLING
So far this season, Smalling has already made over 40 clearances in the league - more than any other United player - and only Phil Jones made more clearances than him last season.
The England international has developed into the leader of Van Gaal’s back four so it’s no surprise that he has made more blocks than any of his fellow defenders.
CENTRE-BACK – PHIL JONES
Phil Jones’ inclusion in this team may come as a surprise to many people, but statistics show that the 23-year-old Englishman is one of United’s most effective defenders.
Under Van Gaal, not only has Jones made as many blocks and tackles as Argentine Marcos Rojo, but he has made more clearances and interceptions than any other player.
LEFT-BACK – LUKE SHAW
In spite of numerous injury setbacks, 20-year-old Shaw makes the team based on his high work-rate (distance covered), the number of clearances he’s made and the amount of times he’s dribbled.
Shaw’s stats would indicate that he can both attack and defend and if you’ve seen him play you will know just how exciting a full-back he is to watch.
Before suffering his horrific injury against PSV Eindhoven, the former Southampton starlet had started the season in superb fashion and had produced more crosses than any other United defender.
DEFENSIVE MIDFIELD – MORGAN SCHNEIDERLIN
Statistics will tell you that summer-signing Schneiderlin is the best defensive midfielder at the club and most fans would agree with that.
He might not create as many goalscoring opportunities as Michael Carrick or Ander Herrera, but he’s made more tackles and interceptions than any other United player since August 2014 and he’s not afraid to put his foot in.
His pass completion rate this season has been just over 91% which is quite remarkable.
CENTRE MIDFIELD – BASTIAN SCHWEINSTEIGER
Germany captain Schweinsteiger really is the complete central midfielder.
He can protect the back four, dictate the pace of a game with his technical quality and create chances. He managed a goal every four games in the Bundesliga for Bayern Munich last season and on average, during 2014-15, he made double the amount of key passes that Schneiderlin made and four times as much as Carrick.
He has also made more passes per match than any other United player since Van Gaal took over and the 31-year-old has been successful with the overwhelming majority of those passes.
NO.10 – WAYNE ROONEY
Not only does Rooney wear the no.10 jersey for both club and country, but the stats show that he excels in the position just off the main striker.
Despite failing to score a 2015-16 league goal thus far, Rooney was United’s top Premier League goalscorer last season with 12. The 29-year-old also provided five assists and takes more shots and crosses more than any other attacking player currently in Van Gaal’s squad.
RIGHT-WING – JUAN MATA
Only Rooney scored more league goals for Van Gaal's last season than Mata (nine) and he already has two this season.
Since Van Gaal took charge, no current United player has provided more key passes in that time than the 27-year-old playmaker, and there’s no doubt that Mata has the quality to make things happen when he gets on the ball.
LEFT-WING – MEMPHIS DEPAY
Memphis provided as many league assists last season in the Eredivisie as Ashley Young did in the Premier League, but Memphis scored 22 times for PSV compared to Young’s two league goals for United last term.
On average, Depay has made more key passes and dribbles than any other United winger and has even been fouled the most times as well.
CENTRE FORWARD – ANTHONY MARTIAL
Has anyone ever made a better start to life in the Premier League than Anthony Martial?
Well yes, of course, but he's been excellent. Ever since moving to Old Trafford on transfer deadline day for an initial fee of £36 million, the 19-year-old has had to deal with the immense pressure of being the most expensive teenager in football history.
However, his price tag doesn’t seem to bother him and he backed up his incredible debut goal against Liverpool with a brace at St Mary’s last weekend.
Having scored nine goals in Ligue 1 for Monaco last term, Martial scored with his first ever shot in the Premier League. He now has three league goals from less than 120 minutes on the pitch, meaning both his minutes-per-goal ratio and his shot conversion rate are rather outrageous.
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