Manchester United’s stuttering start to the season has continued with a 1-1 draw away to Sunderland. In addition to the disappointing result, the performance will have given Louis van Gaal some questions to ponder. The biggest question he has to answer is, “is the 3-5-2 actually worth continuing with?” The players seemed to adapt well to it during preseason, but since the season kicked off they have looked completely foreign to it.
Before I continue to criticize the disappointing efforts of the United players, it is worth saying that a few of them performed well. Phil Jones and Juan Mata were the two standout players. Mata scored the opening goal of the game, while Jones put in a solid defensive performance. He was one of the few center-backs who brought the ball forward, and he made some fantastic tackles. Having said that, the rest of the team did not perform very well, the biggest culprit being Ashley Young.
Young has filled in as a wing-back due to Luke Shaw’s injury, but he does not belong in the starting 11. He was at fault for both of Swansea’s goals last weekend, and despite not being at fault for anything defensively, he failed to offer anything going forward, other than being booked for simulation. One of the most frustrating parts of the 3-5-2 formation is that neither of United’s wing-backs are willing to attack, particularly Young. Antonio Valencia set up Mata’s goal, but after that he barely pushed forward. I think that before the League Cup game against MK Dons van Gaal needs to evaluate whether or not the 3-5-2 is the right formation to persist with.
Van Gaal has said that he wants to pick the right formation for the players available, but unfortunately a lot of the players available have not looked too confident in the new formation. One of the biggest advantages about the 3-5-2 is that it allows wing-backs to push forward and create space for the midfield to exploit. In current practice it has not been successful because the wing-backs are not pushing forward, so there is a gap in midfield when the ball is played to the front three players. When this happens it slows down United’s offense, and they fail to create meaningful opportunities. Ultimately van Gaal is still strengthening his squad, and he has seven players injured, including wing-backs Rafael and Shaw, but I think that he needs to change formation to give his side more of an attacking threat.
Manchester United are close to sealing the transfer of Real Madrid winger, Angel Di Maria, which begs the question of how he will fit into the current formation. He is more versatile than Young, but it definitely makes sense to have him play higher up the field. Van Gaal’s conundrum is increased because fitting Mata, Robin van Persie, and Wayne Rooney into a formation is very difficult. Unfortunately in the current formation United do not take advantage of their offensive players anyway because they fail to create any opportunities.
One of the biggest things that this game has highlighted is the fact that van Gaal has a huge task in front of him. He has to completely revamp a side that look devoid of any inspiration. There are far too many players that looked poor against Sunderland, and I think that he will need to get creative in the coming weeks. This was supposed to be an easy start for Manchester United, but his squad look to be crumbling under the pressure already.