The sigh of relief coming at the end of United’s 4-0 win at Old Trafford was so palpable, it could be felt in London. It was an emphatic win over what was (admittedly) a mid-strength QPR but for the first time in over a year United played with something that could almost be called vision and flair, and that indefinable quality that differentiates a team, from 11 blokes kicking a ball about. It would be easy to relay this win to the many newcomers, who have recently joined the Red Devils, and undoubtedly they have had the desired effect (Di Maria was indefatigable, running circles around the QPR defense), but there is more to it then that. It finally looks like van Gaal has a plan.
United started the season with the much derided 3-4-3 line up, and van Gaal has continued to deploy it even though United have spent a fair bit bringing in new defenders. On Sunday, due to injuries, van Gaal was forced to switch back to 4 defenders, pushing Di Maria to the left and effectively using a 4-1-2-1-2 diamond formation. This allowed Di Maria to roam freely on the wings, opening up space in the centre for Rooney and Mata. Di Maria’s excellence in the left wing position poses some hard questions about whether van Gaal will revert back to the 3-4-3. Blind’s positioning in the central defensive midfield position (he’s normally a left back) gives the impression that van Gaal could go for an interchangeable 3-2-3-2 to 5-3-2, depending on the phase of the game (with Blind and Herrera playing in the double pivot position and shifting back to defenders). This gives the defensive layering that van Gaal enjoys so much, leaves Di Maria on the left wing and open ups the right wing for a player like Valencia, who van Gaal has played consistently so far.
Whether van Gaal chooses to play 3 or 4 defenders, it is clear that there is still much work left to do. Although Manchester United maintained a clean sheet on Sunday, the back line still looked a bit shaky, coming very close to conceding a number of times – and they will probably fare far worse against teams with sharper strikers. Van Gaal will need to make a quick job of ironing out any kinks and closing up any gaps. In any case, at least he, the Glazers and everyone else in between have finally gotten a small reprieve and an earned victory.
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