The arrival of Angel Di Maria and Falcao has lit up Old Trafford yet again just as fans had started to sulk. No wins from three matches is a strange position to be in for Manchester United and the fans now hope that the arrival of the heavy hitters will turn around the fortunes. But even though the signings of Di Maria and Falcao are a huge statement, it causes an even bigger dilemma for Louis Van Gaal. With the glaring issues in central defense still unsolved, United have strengthened in areas they were already strong. Thus accommodating all five of United’s attacking jewels- Juan Mata, Wayne Rooney, Robin Van Persie, Radamel Falcao and Angel Di Maria- would be a major concern. The lack of versatility of Mata, Van Persie and Falcao would mean one or two among the five would likely have to play out of position or remain on the bench. But with all being world class players dropping one or two is going to be a Herculean task.
Surprisingly one formation that can accommodate all 5 in comfortable positions yet has never been tried by United nor been discussed a lot is the 4-2-2-2. Incidentally, it is the formation that Manchester City has deployed since the arrival of Manuel Pellegrini. At City, the formation had one of Dzeko, Jovetic or Negredo partnering Sergio Aguero, and two of Silva, Nasri or Navas behind the strikers. These attacking midfielders were given the license to move around with the responsibility to cover the wings as well. Yaya Toure and Fernandinho positioned in front of the back four with the former given the responsibility to orchestrate the moves upfront while the later played a more holding role. Last season, the arrival of Fernandinho was decisive as his presence in the centre of the park to support the defence usually allowed Yaya Toure to blast forward and create havoc with his physicality and pace.
At United, the formation looks tailored for them with the sort of players that have come in this season. Van Persie and Falcao could lead the line, with Mata and Rooney behind them. Neither Rooney nor Mata have looked good enough when played on the sides of the conventional 4-4-2, and this formation would allow them enough space to exploit. Even though they will have the duty of covering up the wings, they would always have the license to cut inside, which is the reason why they could excel in this role.
Further behind, Di Maria could be installed in the role played by Yaya Toure. One reason that United could not really use this formation was the lack of someone in the mould of Fernandinho and the arrival of Daley Blind sorts out that dilemma. A proven defensive midfielder, Blind could even convert himself as a fifth defender during counters and that would give Di Maria enough license to pull the strings for the attack and be a part of it himself as well. Van Gaal also has the option of playing Di Maria alongside Mata and Rooney behind if he needs more speed upfront.
The formation also provides flexibility with players like Ander Herrera, Marouane Fellaini and Adnan Januzaj all providing different dimensions, which Van Gaal could utilize to his advantage according to the situation. At the same time, he could even shift to the conventional 4-4-2 during the course of the game by introducing his wingers.
Given the sort of spending they have made, Louis Van Gaal has a lot of options but little excuses as United host QPR on Sunday. In spite of Van Gaal’s statement that almost 3 months are needed for things to fall in place, fans are in no mood to wait. With no wins in three matches, Van Gaal would really have to sort things out, get all his new players settled and target nothing short of a win against QPR, and carry the momentum into the later fixtures as well.