LA Galaxy v Manchester United: What Louis van Gaal Learned from Pre-Season Match
LA Galaxy v Manchester United finished with a result few would have predicted.
United's most optimistic supporters would not have expected Louis van Gaal's men to demolish the Galaxy 7-0.
After all, whilst there is still a significant disparity in quality between the Premier League and Major League Soccer, Galaxy had the advantage of having their season in full swing.
This time last year, David Moyes' United lost to a team called "Singha All Star XI." What a difference a year makes.
In the end it was beyond comfortable for United. At half-time—and 3-0 up—Van Gaal made wholesale changes. Only the sublime Ander Herrera and the clearly fit Darren Fletcher lasted the 90 minutes, but even they were asked to make a positional shift during the break.
Fletcher dropped to centre-back—a bit of a surprise, if that is not too much of an understatement—and Herrera moved further up the pitch.
It is dangerous to read too much into friendlies, but here are some things Van Gaal may have learned from the game.
Of course, given his attention to detail, he probably knew them already...
Ander Herrera Looks Every Inch the United Player
Ander Herrera gave an exceptional showing during his first run out in United red.
He played in two different positions. In the first half he played alongside Fletcher in the centre of midfield, with Juan Mata operating in a free role ahead of them. In the second, Herrera moved into Mata's No. 10 role ahead of Shinji Kagawa and Tom Cleverley in midfield.
His range of passing was superb, long-range balls to find Antonio Valencia on the right wing, incisive through balls for Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck, Nani and Ashley Young, and simple give-and-go touches with his midfield colleagues.
He unleashed a fierce shot early on, something which United fans are no longer used to seeing from their midfielders.
Sterner tests surely await, but Herrera's first United outing was mightily impressive. Long may it continue.
United Can Play 3 at the Back
Well, it has happened. There was a good deal of speculation over whether Van Gaal would import his three-man defensive strategy from the Dutch World Cup run. This game showed that United can indeed play with a back three.
In the first half, centre-back duties fell to Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Jonny Evans. In the second half they were replaced by Tyler Blackett, Michael Keane and, um, Darren Fletcher.
Assuming the former trio are likely to be first choice, there is absolutely sound logic in playing them together.
There are tactical benefits further up the field (more on that in a moment), but it also makes a good deal of sense defensively. After all, whilst all three now have significant experience at United, none of them has much experience in playing the role of senior man.
With the departure of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, United have lost vast experience of the very highest quality. Playing together in a three will afford greater security to the pretenders to Vidic and Ferdinand's throne.
The second-half version of the back three gave glimpses of the back-up that may be available should injuries once again befall United's defenders. As well as the players coming through the ranks, Van Gaal is clearly prepared to gamble on players less familiar with the role to help cover.
Michael Carrick's previous showings at centre-half have almost always been something of a concern. With the additional support available as part of a back three, he may be better equipped for an emergency defensive berth.
Given the comfortable nature of the win, it is too soon to make grand statements about the stability of the new-look defensive platform. However, a clean sheet, excellent ball retention and an apparent comfort with the tactic is as good a start as Van Gaal could have hoped for.
3-4-1-2 might fit Rooney, Van Persie and Mata
United's attacking play was as good as the scoreline suggests. Seven goals were scored, four of them in the second half, when United did not have a recognised striker on the pitch.
Playing three at the back allowed United to be more adventurous in midfield. Although Luke Shaw and Antonio Valencia will face much sterner tests as wing-backs, they both covered their flanks well.
Van Gaal's formation was distinctly a 3-4-1-2, as opposed to a 3-4-3 or 5-3-2. The wing-backs played a very advanced role, and in the first half Mata played in the pocket behind the strikers. He was afforded the freedom to drop deep to provide support to the midfield, but his main role was as a No. 10.
Welbeck and Rooney combined excellently, but it seems unlikely that the system is built with that combination in mind. Rather, Van Gaal is setting up a system which can accommodate Mata, Rooney and Robin Van Persie.
Whilst it worked superbly well today, the change in personnel when Van Persie returns may unsettle the balance. Welbeck is prepared to sacrifice himself for the cause, providing superb running, and an aerial presence allowing for longer ball forward when necessary.
It is unclear whether Rooney will be prepared to do the same.
The 3-4-1-2 may solve the problem of accommodating United's three best forward players, but it is as yet far from certain.
There Are Plenty of Talented Youngsters at United
The starting XI was a slight surprise, in that it was entirely composed of first-team players. It is not unusual to see members of the younger sides given a run out in these fixtures.
In the second half the youngsters did get their chance, and took it superbly. Coming on at 3-0 up, Keane and Blackett held firm at the back. At left wing-back, Reece James was outstanding, scoring a brace. Both goals were superbly taken and James will be delighted with his showing.
There are likely to be first-team minutes available for all three of the youngsters this season. Given United's lack of cover at both centre-back and left-back or left wing-back, Van Gaal will be delighted his young players did not look overawed. He may well need them to step up.