After largely relying on Luke Shaw at left-back in the Premier League since the England teenager returned from injury late last year, Manchester United boss Louis van Gaal has yet another tactical rejig on his hands at home to Burnley.
Shaw is serving a one-game suspension following his sending off in the 1-1 draw at West Ham, where Van Gaal set his side up in a 4-1-2-1-2 for the second Premier League game in a row, according to WhoScored.com, having gone 3-1-4-2 in the previous two such fixtures.
The Iron Tulip has used one or the other of these two formations in United’s last five top-flight home fixtures, so it’s a good guess he’ll do so again against the Clarets.
Bringing in Ashley Young as a straight swap for his fellow England international is clearly an option, and this would allow Van Gaal to field ten of the XI that beat Leicester 3-1 last time out at Old Trafford.
One potential reason for eschewing this line-up is the fact that it didn’t work particularly well against the Irons, with the Red Devils needing another late Daley Blind equaliser on the road, after the versatile Dutchman pulled off the same trick in a similar situation at West Brom back in October.
Van Gaal has clearly sought to solve a problem of too much width by tucking Angel Di Maria into the middle, leaving Antonio Valencia and latterly Shaw to surge up the flanks, while Wayne Rooney picks up any excess slack in central midfield ahead of anchorman Blind.
Di Maria hasn’t exactly shone in this role, which clearly limits his ability to provide penetrating crosses from out wide, and the strategy places a lot of creative responsibility on the shoulders of Adnan Januzaj.
The young Belgian has started his side’s past couple of top-flight games, having only featured twice in the previous 11 and at that from the bench.
If Van Gaal is to play this formation for the third Premier League fixture on the spin, it may pay to rest Januzaj and draft in Juan Mata at number ten, while switching Di Maria to the left wing.
Moving centre-half Marcos Rojo to left-back, instead of bringing in Young for his first start since New Year’s Day, would allow Di Maria to boss the left-wing without worrying about leaving space in behind. Chris Smalling is the obvious choice to come in at centre-half at present.
However, reverting back to 3-1-4-2 against Burnley looks a better option given the personnel available.
Similarly to the 4-1-2-1-2 with Rojo at left-back, United would have plenty of impetus going forward, aided further by Antonio Valencia taking a more advanced position.
Rooney’s placement on the left-side of central-midfield could be crucial, as the skipper scored twice and assisted another from that spot in the 3-1 win at home to Newcastle on Boxing Day, and his withdrawn presence provides extra cover in the space Di Maria is sure to vacate.
The way Van Gaal sets up against Dyche and co will provide give further insight into how his tactical thoughts are coming together at Old Trafford, but the result doesn’t look in too much doubt regardless.
United have scored three times in each of their last four all-competition home matches, and have won two of their past three on their own patch in the top flight 3-1.
That correct score is available at 10/1, and you can have 5/4 about Van Gaal’s men grabbing three or more goals.