Manchester United travel to Swansea in the Premier League this weekend, with visiting coach Louis van Gaal out for revenge after watching his new side go down 2-1 at home to Garry Monk’s men in the very first match on this season’s top-flight schedule.
With that in mind, now seems a fine time to focus on what the many-medalled former Ajax, Barcelona, FC Bayern and Netherlands gaffer has set out to achieve at Old Trafford, and where he is having success:
A settled formation
According to WhoScored.com, Van Gaal has used five different formations since setting up his side in a 3-4-1-2 in the opening day defeat to Garry Monk’s men, as per the below image:
United snagged arguably their two best away results so far under the Dutchman at Arsenal and Southampton, when they went three at the back, but Van Gaal seems to have gone off that tactic in recent outings.
In fact, 4-1-2-1-2 has been United’s most prevalent formation in the Premier League this term; WhoScored record it as being deployed in eight top-flight outings and for the past six all-competition fixtures in a row:
This is how the 20-time champions of England set up for their midweek FA Cup clash away to Preston, which finished 3-1 to Van Gaal’s side for the third game in five:
Incidentally, another 3-1 against Swansea is priced up at 14/1.
Robin van Persie and Phil Jones return from injury for the clash in south Wales, and the number ten role has been shared between Marouane Fellaini, Adnan Januzaj and Juan Mata of late, so there could be a few changes in personnel, but the system seems pretty set at present.
The Premier League’s most underrated defence
Considering United’s backline has been widely derided since the start of term, the fact that Van Gaal’s men are the third lowest conceders in the Premier League, behind Southampton and Chelsea, is quite an achievement.
Goalkeeper David de Gea has proved himself among the world’s finest, but all the credit can’t go to the Spanish number one elect.
Six Premier League stoppers have made more saves this season, including Spurs’ Hugo Lloris (a fellow ever present), and the Lilywhites have conceded ten more goals.
Van Gaal’s defence is causing hair-raising moments aplenty for the fans, but this is surely down to tactics; in the away wins over Arsenal and Southampton, United (seemingly) deliberately played the ball around the backline, patiently waiting for an opening.
The stats tend to speak for themselves, as the Red Devils last conceded more than once in a match 22 games ago, and haven’t done so at home since the opening day of the campaign.
It may leave the Stretford End faithful with their hearts in their mouths, but it’s working.
If needs be, go direct
Fellaini played every minute of United’s six-game winning run between the start of November and mid-December, which included the aforementioned away double at the Emirates and St Mary’s, plus a 3-0 home cruise against Liverpool.
Having looked the odd man out at the beginning of Van Gaal’s Old Trafford reign, Fellaini has become his manager’s lucky charm, with United winning eight, drawing two and losing once, 1-0 away to champions Manchester City, when the Belgian has been in from the off.
Sam Allardyce sparked a furore when describing Van Gaal’s tactics as ‘long-ball United’ after the 1-1 draw at West Ham recently, but what will have particularly irked ‘Big Sam’ is that the tactic worked, with the visitors’ late equaliser coming about thanks to Fellaini being a nuisance in the box.
United are 4/9 to finish in the top four this season. Until that is achieved, Van Gaal will use any means necessary to collect points.