Updated: Saturday, 4th April 2020 @ 10:16am

Tuesday Team Talk: Van Gaal proves difference between Man Utd and ailing Man City

Tuesday Team Talk: Van Gaal proves difference between Man Utd and ailing Man City

| By Andy Donley

In the wake of Sunday’s dramatic Manchester derby, in which Manchester United romped to a 4-2 victory over their rivals, plenty of attention has been focused on Manuel Pellegrini’s misfiring Manchester City side – with good reason.

Fingers have been pointed at City’s naïve defending, Pellegrini’s own tactical obstinacy, and the seeming ambivalence in the face of a humbling defeat shown by the defending champion’s key figures.

However, credit needs to be given to the resurgent United, and especially to their manager, Louis van Gaal.

 

 

Questions were asked of Van Gaal’s reputation for tactical excellence in the early part of the season, when the Dutchman tinkered with several formations, none of which seemed to maximize the potential of a team laden with attacking superstars.

With Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao added to United’s existing attacking roster of Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie and Juan Mata over the summer, Van Gaal’s side was high on towering ego, and low on on-the-pitch cohesion.

But over the last two months, the ex-Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Holland manager has created a formation that has allowed his team to play with a fluency and potency not seen since the halcyon days of Sir Alex Ferguson’s 26-year reign at Old Trafford.

Most remarkably, this formation – which has coincided with a run of six straight victories in the league – has been created at the expense of three of those players dubbed the ‘Gaalacticos’ at the start of the season: Di Maria, Falcao and Van Persie.

Instead, players who had been made scapegoats during David Moyes’ disastrous one-year spell at the Manchester giants have now found themselves an integral part of a formation unlike any to have been seen in the Premier League.

Ashley Young and Marouane Fellaini – both of whom looked to have no future at United just three months ago – have helped to terrorise the defences of Tottenham, Liverpool and City, alongside the resurgent Juan Mata, the imperious Michael Carrick, and the timely settling in of summer-signings Daley Blind and Ander Herrera.

 

 

Van Gaal has set his team up in three units of three men on the pitch.

The two centre-backs are orthodox, with Michael Carrick shielding in front of them and controlling the tempo of the game in possession.

Then the full-back, winger and central midfielder on either side of the pitch are working as a pack to hunt down possession when the opposition have the ball, and to outnumber them when attacking.

Antonio Valencia, Mata and Herrera have developed an understanding on the right hand side of the pitch, but it is on the left hand side that United have been dominant, with Fellaini bullying opposition defences from an advanced central midfield role, and Blind and Young combining excellently to exploit the space created.

At the weekend, City stalwarts Pablo Zabaleta, Vincent Kompany and Yaya Toure completely failed to deal with this threat – all four goals came from crosses or passes from United’s left flank.

Wayne Rooney is left to link the two sides together from his newly-regained striking position, but it is testimony to the strength of Van Gaal’s innovative use of tactical discipline that the United and England captain has been peripheral in his side’s biggest performances.

 

 

Through no fault of his own, he is often being bypassed in favour of the cunning of Mata and Herrera on the right, and the improbable combination of strength and pace offered by Fellaini and Young on the left.

Despite this, Van Gaal hopefully now recognises that Rooney is the most deadly attacking focal point the club possesses, as evidenced by his four goals in those six victories.

Even when defending, United now look a different proposition to the past 18 months, with all five front players pressing the ball down energetically in the opposition half, before retreating to a more orthodox 4-3-3 in their own.

Problems still exist at Old Trafford. At centre-back both Chris Smalling and Phil Jones looked shaky again at the weekend, Marcos Rojo is poor when the ball is in the air – an almost terminal fault in the English game – and Jonny Evans has surely had more than enough chances to develop into a commanding leader.

Rumours surrounding a Matt Hummels move to Manchester refuse to go away and he would be widely welcomed through the Red Devils’ doors.

Also, Michael Carrick is more crucial than ever, and at 34 will surely need to be replaced soon, and Valencia will always be a right winger filling in at right-back, regardless of his encouraging form.

 

But for now, Manchester United fans will be forgiven for thinking that the good times are returning after an 18-month absence that has been made all the more painful by City’s success.

If Van Gaal can continue his club’s – for it is now becoming his club – momentum with a strong summer transfer showing, United could prove difficult to stop in the 2015/16 season.

Main image courtesy of Hayters Teamwork via YouTube, with thanks.