Manchester United: Has LVG Finally Found Out His Best Side?

The 2-1 victory over Everton on Sunday meant that Manchester United recorded back-to-back victories for the first time under Louis Van Gaal. While that is no doubt great news for the club and its supporters, the even better news is that they managed the win playing a system and style that the Dutchman seems to have settled on.

The opening few games of the season saw the Red Devils experiment with a 3-4-1-2 formation to disastrous consequences. The simple fact was that not only did United not have the players to play that particular formation, it was also a case of something that nobody at the club were used to. Getting to know the manager and how he wants the side to play is difficult enough but to do so while playing in a formation that is completely alien to most of the squad is even harder. But at the start of the campaign, the Dutch manager was adamant in his ways, but over the past few weeks that seems to have changed.

In the side’s last four League games, Van Gaal has set his side out to play a 4-1-2-1-2. In simple terms, the Red Devils have employed a narrow diamond in midfield with the full backs bombing to provide the width and with two strikers up front. One look at the table would tell you that United have accumulated three wins in this period and only lost the other on the back of a red card for one of their few remaining fit centre backs. Just on the basis of results alone, this formation seems to be working a lot better than the one employed earlier in the season.

So how has Van Gaal been able to achieve this? What has he done with the side? Will the form continue? And if so, is this the best formation that gets the best out of the current squad? All of these questions need answering and hopefully by the end of this piece, you would have all the answers that you need.

First and foremost, the narrow diamond in midfield works, only because of the personnel that the 63-year-old has used. At the base of the diamond is Daley Blind, the reigning Dutch Player of the Year and arguably the player who is most crucial to the current system. For a diamond formation to work what you need is someone at the base to not just break up the play but also keep it moving forward at all times. In Blind, the Red Devils have not only one of the best recyclers of possession in the Premier League, but also someone who has the tactical nous to do the right thing, whether is going back to his keeper or up to his centre forward.

In a narrow diamond formation, what you need is two highly hardworking players who can hassle and harry in central midfield. In Ander Herrera and Angel Di Maria, the Red Devils the perfect mix of brawn and brain. Both players are not only enterprising while going forward, but are also renowned for their ability to track back and help out in defence. Also in Di Maria United have a player who can break open defences on his own and not only beat a man but also provide a telling through ball that can carve open defences. As a result, you can certainly see why the loss of Herrera is bad news, but the imminent return of several key first-team players, including Michael Carrick means that the news isn’t as bad as it would have been otherwise.

At the tip of the diamond is the playmaker. Juan Mata donned this role in the game against QPR, but was subsequently dropped for the next two games while Wayne Rooney played in that role. Against Everton, Rooney’s suspension meant that Mata was back in his preferred role. While it is difficult to keep both players happy, the fact that Van Gaal has two world-class playmakers to choose from is a happy problem to have.

Up front Falcao and Van Persie have so far only shown glimpses of what they are capable of. While the Dutch striker is coming on the back of a solid showing in the World Cup, the Colombian is only just returning from a lengthy injury layoff. Both players aren’t really at their best at the moment and yet have already managed 3 goals and two assists between them.

But the main reason why United’s current formation has been highly successful is the return of their first-choice full backs. In Rafael and Shaw, United have two full backs who love to go forward and thus give the side the width that they would otherwise be lacking in, while playing a narrow diamond in midfield. Rafael in particular has shown remarkable maturity and has provided the side not just impetus down the right flank but also a solid presence at right back.

All things considered, the current line up is one that makes the best use of the options that United have at the moment. For not only does it make them a threat going forward, but it also means that they have cover for if someone gets injured or suspended. With big games coming up against Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal, Van Gaal seems to have finally found his starting XI and that is good news indeed.

Written by Dinesh V

Co-founder of Soccersouls. Living a start-up life 24/7
Follow @dineshintwit

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