A number of times this season Marouane Fellaini has been brought on – particularly when Manchester United have needed a goal. However, considering that Louis van Gaal’s philosophy revolves around control and domination of possession – the sight of United players pumping the ball aimlessly to Fellaini seems to be a direct contradiction to this. Van Gaal resorted to his ‘plan B’ as early as the 58th minute against PSV but he failed to have any real impact on the game. He has always lacked the technical ability of players such as Juan Mata or Bastian Schweinsteiger but what he does have is the ability to hold the ball up and win things in the air. The problem with this is that as soon as the Belgian comes on, the majority of United players swing diagonals passes in his direction. Either he wins the ball and lays it off or is beaten in the air and concedes possession. This sort of tactic suggests desperation.
United are one of the richest clubs in the world and have spent over £440m in the past five seasons. Despite this statistic, United have a long-standing tradition of giving young players a chance to make it – they have had a graduate from their youth system in every single match day squad since October 30th, 1937. That is an incredible 78 years that they have managed to keep that going and the record doesn’t look like changing under Van Gaal. Youngsters such as Sean Goss, Axel Tuanzebe, James Wilson, Marcus Rashford and Cameron Borthwick-Jackson have all been included in the squad at some point this season, while Andreas Pereira and Jesse Lingard have made a big impact on the first-team both scoring their first official goals for the club. For a manager whom is very conservative in nature – particularly over tactics and how passages of play are built – he has always been known for giving youth a chance. Only two sides in the league boast a younger average age of squad than United’s 25.7 years. The other promising sign for youngsters is that Van Gaal cares little for reputation and if a player is in form, he is happy to keep playing them which is the case for Lingard. He has replaced Memphis Depay on the wing and has played a pivotal role in the last few games setting up Wayne Rooney’s vital winner against CSKA Moscow in the Champions League, as well as scoring the opening goal against West Brom in a comfortable 2-0 win a few weeks ago.
Van Gaal has chosen to work with a small squad this season – just 22 players in total. Under normal circumstances, this would be a risk and an injury crisis could potentially derail their season. However, Van Gaal has brought a specific type of player in order to cope with such situations. Currently, United have six players unavailable to them including long-term absentees Luke Shaw and Antonio Valencia. This would cause problems for the majority of managers in terms of their selection but for Van Gaal, it is less complicated as he has a number of players in his squad who can play in a variety of different positions. Van Gaal spoke about this issue on the official Manchester United website where he said: “It is always the same; Shaw is injured and then Rojo is not there because he is also injured or he is not fit enough, then I have a problem. You can solve that problem because we have multi-functional players.” This concept of the “multi-functional player” has been highlighted in recent weeks by Daley Blind, who has played at left-back, left wing-back and central defence. With Matteo Darmian out-of-form, Ashley Young has been drafted in at right-back but he is also able to play anywhere in behind the striker. It is this sort of versatility that should serve United well throughout the rest of the season because Van Gaal knows that should a problem arise tactically or in terms of personnel – he has the players to adapt to those situations.
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