How Louis van Gaal's Proposed Manchester United 3-4-1-2 Might Look
Louis van Gaal has confirmed, via the Daily Mail, that he's set to persist with a three-man defence with Manchester United this season after using it with the Netherlands during the FIFA World Cup 2014.
The move will see them adopt what he calls a 3-4-3 formation, but in reality—or, based on what we saw in Brazil—looks a 3-4-1-2 with a No. 10 behind two strikers.
Here we take a look at how that lines up on the pitch using the best available players to the tactician at this moment in time.
GK: David de Gea
David de Gea is now one of the finest goalkeepers in the Premier League, far removed from his debut nightmares of flapping at crosses and being outmuscled by flies.
After watching how Louis van Gaal used Jasper Cillessen and his confident footwork at the FIFA World Cup 2014, it's easy to project a similar role onto this Spaniard, who would clearly excel if given the responsibility.
Unless signings are made, Manchester United's back three won't be the strongest on the ball, so De Gea as an outlet will be important to escaping pressure.
There's an argument for the inclusion of Antonio Valencia here, but Rafael needs to be given games now if he's to realise the potential we all know he possesses.
He's a very attacking right-back in general, so when given the wing-back responsibility he'll push on and penetrate even more often. That could cause balance issues in defence, given that Manchester United have signed Luke Shaw for the left, but that's a problem Van Gaal will attend to if it crops up.
RCB: Chris Smalling
Chris Smalling's seemingly pointless training at right-back under Sir Alex Ferguson and David Moyes could end up serving him well as a right-sided centre-back in a back three.
He's not the quickest but does have the requisite mobility to play in the channels, and he's smoother on the ball than Phil Jones at this moment in time.
He needs to be able to fan out and cover the space behind the right wing-back, while also boasting the height and strength to cover strikers in the central areas.
CB: Phil Jones
Phil Jones is by far the most aggressive of the three central defensive options, and his role is best served in the centre of the three.
Situated centrally, he can use his aerial strength and tight marking skills to his advantage, while he's also got license to step out of defence and pursue strikers receiving the ball with their back to goal.
Chris Smalling and Jonny Evans can sweep behind.
LCB: Jonny Evans
Jonny Evans is the logical choice at left centre-back due to the fact that he's had experience playing as a left-back.
He's mildly quick and has enough to drop off and track effectively, while he's also very good moving out to meet wingers. With Luke Shaw expected to bomb forward and play an aggressive, expansive game, Evans' studious nature will be key.
LWB: Luke Shaw
Luke Shaw hasn't played a single professional game as a left wing-back, so this will be a new experience for him, but the aggressive, impactful role he played in the final third for Southampton should stand him in rather good stead early on.
Saints would frequently look to free Shaw up in space last season to enable him to drive forward with the ball at his feet, and he’ll offer Louis van Gaal exceptional width high up, a strong cross and a physical body who can penetrate the box.
It's a really snug fit for the England international.
CM: Michael Carrick
Michael Carrick has been ruled out for up to 12 weeks with an ankle injury, per BBC Sport, likely leaving Louis van Gaal with a midfield duo of Ander Herrera and Marouane Fellaini until he comes back or a signing is made.
Carrick isn't exactly tailor-made for the system, but he's pliable enough to adapt and can receive help tracking runners from the spare man in the central defensive three.
Even if a new signing isn't made, there's every chance Carrick becomes a more rotational player under Van Gaal.
CM: Ander Herrera
Ander Herrera has an integral job in Louis van Gaal’s midfield two; if he can't effectively move the ball between the lines and carry it forward himself, Manchester United will be stuck in their own third for long portions of matches.
He's a bit weedy and could struggle early on, but as long as he adapts and takes the David Silva approach to Premier League challenges, he’ll quickly become the key conduit for the ball in the central zones—thus relieving the pressure on Luke Shaw as a carrier.
If he fails, it'll be a repeat of the Netherlands' struggles to move the ball forward neatly during the FIFA World Cup.
AMC: Juan Mata
Sorry Shinji Kagawa, but unless you show some serious shoots of recovery during preseason—and that's a tough feat given his extended leave due to the FIFA World Cup 2014—Juan Manuel Mata's name will occupy the No. 10 role in Louis van Gaal's formation early on.
The former Chelsea man already has several excellent Premier League seasons under his belt, as opposed to Kagawa's zero, and playing in this position could see him majorly bounce back this season.
He’ll be receiving passes from Ander Herrera and slicing defences open for his strike force.
ST: Wayne Rooney
In Louis van Gaal's typical 4-3-3 there is no place for Wayne Rooney, but the switch to a two-man system up top gives him a fighting chance of taking up a striker's role.
His ability to drop deep and receive the ball, then turn and influence play, makes him an ideal fit in a partnership where space will often appear in the wide areas and beside the No. 10.
It all looked so bleak at one stage, but this simple switch will see the England international become key once again.
ST: Robin van Persie
Robin van Persie stands to decimate defences under Louis van Gaal this coming season, with the Dutch connection seen at the FIFA World Cup 2014 expected to translate to Old Trafford.
He's a lethal finisher when fit and on form, and his admiration for his new boss is on record. If they can pull it together—and history suggests they will—to combine with Wayne Rooney, it could get very messy, very quickly.