Manchester United’s tour of America is underway after they beat LA Galaxy 7-0 in their first friendly. Louis van Gaal’s side decimated the four-time MLS Cup winners and showed several reasons to be optimistic for the upcoming season. Obviously it is their first friendly, and against weaker opposition than they will face in the Premiership, but the performance was great and there are five important takeaways from this game.
1. A new formation When Louis van Gaal was announced as Manchester United manager, many people noted that one of his main strengths was selecting formations that maximized the squad’s potential. Traditionally United have played a 4-4-2, relying on quick wingers and playing attacking football. Under David Moyes the build-up play was often slow and labored, meaning that quick wingers were often under-utilized. Van Gaal began with a 3-5-2 formation to maximize United’s attacking threat, and had Antonio Valencia and Luke Shaw operating as wing-backs. A new formation often takes time for a squad to adapt to, yet United looked very comfortable, despite only having used the formation a couple times in training.
2. Giving youth a chance Another of van Gaal’s strengths at previous clubs was his willingness to give young players a chance, and he did the same against LA Galaxy. Some of the players, like Reece James, shone, whereas others, like Tyler Blackett, put in anonymous performances. Playing at left wing-back, James capped his performance with two goals, and he is likely to feature again on Saturday against A.S. Roma. Again, one performance is not enough to judge a player on, but if he performs well during preseason, it is likely that James will feature again throughout the season because there is no declared backup for Shaw.
3. Javier Hernandez Although a lot of focus has been on the people who played, it is worth focusing on one man who didn’t, Javier Hernandez. Hernandez is used to not starting games for United, he has been used as a super-sub since his arrival in 2010, but he would have expected to feature against LA Galaxy. In fact, many of the 80 thousand+ fans that were at the game bought tickets because they expected him to play. Instead, van Gaal opted to play the second-half without a recognized striker, employing Nani and Ashley Young as his two forward players. Hernandez has been constantly linked away because of his limited playing time, and this snub might hint van Gaal is ready to let him go.
4. Darren Fletcher as captain Many questions have been asked about who will be van Gaal’s first Manchester United captain. With many experienced players leaving, such as former captain, Nemanja Vidic, many expect that his decision will boil down to either Robin van Persie or Wayne Rooney. Van Persie was captain during van Gaal’s time as Netherlands manager, while Rooney is getting to the age where he wants to take on the responsibility for club and country. Instead, van Gaal chose Darren Fletcher, a Manchester United youth product who has suffered with a bowel syndrome over the past few seasons. Fletcher embodies all of the traits that van Gaal values, so it appears that another competitor for the armband has risen.
5. Ander Herrera dominates One of van Gaal’s first United signings, Ander Herrera will be delighted with his first performance under his new manager. He dominated the LA Galaxy midfielders, and looks to be the signing that United have lacked in their midfield for years. He constantly found space and was able to play passes that United have lacked without Paul Scholes. He also linked well with fellow Spaniard, Juan Mata, which bodes well for United this season. If they can continue on the same wavelength then United will have a frightening offense. He also made sure that the ball went forward quickly, something that United lacked under Moyes. Instead of slow build-up play, Herrera made sure that the ball was sprayed out to the wings quickly, and, more importantly, dangerously.
Manchester United’s next preseason game is against A.S. Roma on Saturday. The Italian side are going to be a more difficult test for United, but van Gaal will be confident that his side can win. If United are going to continue with the 3-5-2 formation then Roma will be a good test because of the fact they have a quick offense to challenge United’s back-line. Equally interesting will be whether or not van Gaal gives Hernandez playing time, or continues to persist with him on the bench.