Defensive Coaching and the Question of Formations for Van Gaal

Louis_van_Gaal_2911698bNow that Louis Van Gaal has taken his first training sessions at Manchester United what will happen to the likes of Nicky Butt and Phil Neville?  The duo were brought in by Ryan Giggs when he had his brief four game stint as manager.

Previously, I have discussed the merit of Ryan Giggs being appointed assistant manager by Van Gaal, however, would more first team coaches from the class of ’98 be counterproductive? Certainly, their experience is second to none and the squad would benefit from their defensive know how. In fact, based upon last year’s performances, some steel in that defensive midfield role would be a huge benefit.

That said, that was last year’s squad and whilst this squad is not vastly changed from the one that flopped for David Moyes last year… van Gaal will have a few new additions to choose from.  Furthermore, the Van Gaal effect in training should have kicked in and hopefully given the squad some of that Dutch determination and creativity.

So, whilst the coaching duo of Butt and Neville could bring some much needed experience to United’s defense, I wonder what we can expect from the forward line up.

David Moyes was very reserved (in the attack) and was happy for the opposition to keep the ball and then look to counter attack, a tactic that was very successful at Everton. However, at Everton you needed to use tactics like that against the big clubs. On the other hand, when you come to Manchester United you don’t need to be defensive and patient you are expected go out and get them, from the off.

But what can we expect when Van Gaal’s United take to the pitch in their first game on 16th August.  Thankfully, we won’t see a dull and highly predictable 4-4-2 formation. When I say predictable I should say that the 4-4-2 is easy to play against and defeat these days.

As English football fans we have all had to sit through the boring flat back four formations of the eighties and nineties. This formation became synonymous with dull, long ball football and then one day we had mangers from Europe come to our backwater and show us how to play football.

If you look at the formations played in the World Cup I cannot recall one match where a 4-4-2 formation was played. Most teams either had one up front in a variation of the 4-5-1 or played with three up front in a 4-3-3 formation.

I am not an expert and cannot say which formation is better as they all have their merits, however, we can expect Van Gaal to throw only the one up front and pack the midfield with creative, attack minded players who love to get forward. That way you can over load and stretch the defense, with ease.  By pulling the fullbacks away you can isolate the central defensive pair and have two or three players against them in the attack.

If you watch the Dutch play football they are a very patience team. They build up play and counter attack when you are at your most vulnerable. However, they are not adverse to playing through opposition defenses in an offensive manner and overload the defense with four or more attackers. It may not be TOTAL football but it is as close as we will get in this country.

We can expect to see much more from Robin van Persie, expect this man to thrive under Louis van Gaal’s stewardship of the team. Under David Moyes van Persie was not given the same creative freedom that he was playing for the Dutch national team. But, during his last year in office, so to speak, Alex Furguson was able to bring the very best out of van Persie. So much so, that his playing style and skill have drawn many comparisons from the media to the Dutch footballing legend Marco van Basten.

High praise indeed for the Dutchman, but like so many of the United stars he will have to perform this season. It is no secret that collectively the team did not perform last season and it effectively cost David Moyes his job. Let’s not forget that Moyes is a capable manager, we know that from his time at Everton and Preston (his time at Manchester United is up for debate) but even he struggled to get the best out of this team.

I for one cannot wait for the first match on the 16th of August and am expecting a rabble rousing performance from this team. I fully expect them to burst out of the starting gates and put a hat full of goals past Swansea. That said, I have been disappointed in the past.

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