The Best Front Line in Europe
As an unprecedented transfer window that will be remembered with reverence by Manchester United fans draws to a close, Louis van Gaal will be left smirking by gazing at the glittering array of attacking talent at his disposal. A British record deal for the most tactically crucial player in the Champions League winning team of 2013. A loan deal -with an option to sign permanently- for one of the foremost hitmen in the world. A roster brimming with youth and experience that is now finally on par with the expensively assembled squads of Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, FC Bayern, Chelsea, Manchester City and other European heavyweights.
The Dutch tactician has all the components needed to challenge for at least the top 3 and if his tactics are rewarded with sustained success, United can challenge for the title without a doubt.
The Blind Pivot
The 3-5-2 is a system that is still not favored by the media, past players and fans alike. The reason is the lack of stability and confidence in the back three. However, the purchase of Daley Blind for a role that is custom made for talented, intelligent midfielders, – the defensive midfield pivot – could be the turning point in United’s season. Blind is excellent at distribution, bringing the ball out from the back and possesses a keen tactical reading of the game which enables him to have some impressive midfield stats.
|Daley Blind Stats 2013-14
|Tackles per game
|Interceptions per game
|Long Balls per game
Blind is adept at the wingback role as well, and his raking long balls from deep often set up many counter attacks for Holland at the World Cup, the immaculate lob to Robin van Persie and another to Arjen Robben against Spain spring to mind.
The role of wingbacks is a crucial part of van Gaal’s 3-5-2 because it offers the below advantages:
- The long from from deep: Such a ball from the wingback catches a high line off-guard since the center backs wont expect wingbacks to play such long balls with such precision. Blind is a master at this cross field pass.
- Tackling tricky wingers with help from CB: The WB can often outnumber his opposition winger by comibining with the CB closest to him. Blind effectively shackled Alexis Sanchez by working in tandem with Dirk Kuyt in the World Cup match against Chile. He is physical,quick and intelligent.
However, with Luke Shaw and Reece James fighting for the LWB spot, Blind could become the base of van Gaal’s 3-5-2 by slotting in between the two center backs. This enables him to see all options available and distribute the ball calmly as he did in numerous games for Ajax last season.
He can also slot in next to Ander Herrera, who is a confirmed starter when fit. The absence of Herrera due to injury has lessend United’s tempo and has been the primary reason for their poor form in the Premier League when compared to pre-season.
When Blind occupies that midfield berth next to Herrera, we can expect the mercurial Angel di Maria to start making his mazy dribbles into the final third, where he is most effective.
The Angel of the North-East
Di Maria’s strenghts are:
He is not the best tackler but his defensive work rate is unquestionable. When Cristiano Ronaldo moved inside to attack at Real Madrid, di Maria would shunt out left from the left center midfield position and offer cover for the Portugese attacker. When di Maria has the ball on the right, he cuts in with ease and shoots with precision, making him a major threat as an inverted winger.
Against Burnley, the most common chance creation that United employed was the long ball from di Maria to van Persie, mostly when the center backs were pushing up with a high line. It almost worked on one instance but the over-reliance on this tactic showcased United’s problem: the current system lacks a direct geunine attacking outlet on the wings. Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young did not contribute any cutting edge in attack until the last 10 mins but in that final few minutes, United looked threatening again.
Di Maria will most probably be used as the left sided center midfielder but van Gaal might switch to a 4-2-3-1 if he wants more width. In that case, di Maria’s prowess as an inverted winger will offer United the pace, power, swagger and goal-scoring threat that they have lacked on the flanks since Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure.
The 3-5-2 is very dependent on penetration down the flanks and without timed runs from the wingbacks, the central areas will become overcrowded with creative players like Juan Mata and Wayne Rooney who will have no choice but to try for a through ball against a deep line, which seldom works.
The link-up play between Rooney and van Persie has been a cause for concern last season as well. The pair are most effective when played one behind another and not beside each other. This might be where the most astounding transfer of this window might make a difference.
Top of the food chain
As an out and out number 9, Radamel ‘El Tigre’ Falcao is one of the (if not the) best strikers in the world. Robert Lewandowski, Diego Costa and other strikers of his mould come close but no one offers the complete package that Falcao does:
- Anticipation and awareness
Falcao has got the lot and he has scored goals throughout his career regardless of which team he plays for. When United signed him on deadline day, many observers questioned if they needed him more than they needed a center back. But Falcao is the best option that United could get as a world class striker that could help them challenge for the title.
|Falcao Career Stats
He is most effective as a number 9 inside the box. Where he will play and indeed if this means van Gaal will shift from the 3-5-2 is a question that only van Gaal himself can answer. But given his commanding nature and devotion to applying a philosophy, there is little chance that he will change from 3-5-2 to 4-2-3-1 which suits Falcao better.
But one thing is certain. United’s opponents, whoever they may be, will sense a shiver down their spine when they see Rooney, van Persie, Mata, Falcao, di Maria and Januzaj line up in the tunnel. These are immensely gifted footballers who can each change a game on their own at any instant. If the Iron Tulip can make them adhere to his principles and combine effectively, the results could be frighteningly unreal. United have laid down the marker and with world class alternatives in each of the front 5 positions, their squad is nearing perfection. It might only be a matter of time before Old Trafford becomes an intimidating fortress and United’s games are won in the tunnel before even a ball is kicked.