LA Galaxy vs. Manchester United will see Louis van Gaal lead the Reds onto the pitch for the first time.
The truth is, no one yet knows how United will line up. Van Gaal's recent history makes it difficult to guess the formation he will use. We thought we knew that the starting XI would come from the 25-man squad taken on tour, but Javier Hernandez has been added to the party, so there are now 26 in contention.
A definitive prediction of Van Gaal's selection seems an impossible task. There are too many questions for which we do not yet have the answers.
The first question is that of formation. When Van Gaal was announced as United's next manager, fans began to consider who might fit into which position in the 4-3-3 he has played for much of his career. They wondered whether he might use the 4-2-3-1 he had implemented at Bayern Munich.
Following the success of the Dutch national team during the World Cup, the possibility of a radical shift to either a 5-3-2 or a 3-4-3 has been discussed. Van Gaal deployed the new formation following the injury to Kevin Strootman.
Missing Strootman's energy in midfield, Van Gaal wanted to allow Arjen Robben to provide closer support to Robin van Persie and so switched to a formation which would allow Robben a more central role.
There is a train of logic which suggests that should Van Gaal believe that the energetic Ander Herrera can play the Strootman role, he may operate with a midfield two.
A two-man midfield would see Herrera partnered with Darren Fletcher or Tom Cleverley. Where Fletcher is concerned, fans will be keen to see how complete his recovery from his health problems is. Cleverley has been written off by many fans, but some hold out hope that Van Gaal will revitalise Cleverley's career.
Whilst there is an outside chance that young left-back Reece James may get a run out in the middle of the park, Herrera, Fletcher and Cleverley are the only midfielders on the tour. Will we see them all feature in the first starting XI? If a central three is used, it seems possible.
If Van Gaal opts for a 4-3-3, then perhaps Juan Mata could be used as the most advanced of the midfield triumvirate.
Will we see three central defenders in the same starting XI? Jonny Evans, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Michael Keane would then compete for the three spots. It would certainly not be a surprise to see Keane given a chance to impress the new coach at some point during the tour.
Tyler Blackett, another young left-back, may be able to provide some cover in the middle should injuries affect the squad.
At left-back or left-wing-back, depending on the formation, new signing Luke Shaw seems likely to start, although James and Blackett will provide some competition.
Right-back has become something of a problem position. Rafael da Silva is a fine full-back, but none of the other options—Jones, Smalling or Antonio Valencia—are a natural replacement should Da Silva need a rest.
Whether Van Gaal opts for a front two or front three, he has plenty of options in the attacking positions, with the established squad ably complemented by younger players. A front three could be comprised of, say, Wayne Rooney at centre-forward, Danny Welbeck on the left and Juan Mata on the right.
A front two could potentially be made up of Will Keane at centre-forward with Rooney behind him or Rooney in front of Shinji Kagawa.
If I had to guess—and what better place to do so than this article—I'd say that Van Gaal will play something akin to a 4-3-3, with a line-up that looks something like the one below.
One of the most exciting things about the new era is that so much seems possible. It would be no surprise to see any of those senior players replaced with a youngster. It would be no surprise to see a completely different formation.
As the Van Gaal regime continues, it will be easier to make an educated guess. For now, nobody but the Dutchman is much the wiser.
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