Manchester United

Sunderland vs. Manchester United: How the Red Devils Will Line Up in EPL Game

Manchester United's new manager Louis van Gaal  waves to supporters before his team's English Premier League soccer match against Swansea City at Old Trafford Stadium, Manchester, England, Saturday Aug. 16, 2014. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
Jon Super/Associated Press
Paul AnsorgeFeatured ColumnistAugust 22, 2014

Sunderland vs. Manchester United offers Louis van Gaal a chance to bounce back from the opening day defeat to Swansea. Given United's poor start to the season, it is all the more important for them to record a win here.

Having switched to a back-four for the second half against Swansea, will United revert to a back three for this game?

It seems likely that they will. After all, the entirety of pre-season was spent practising that formation. It would be a remarkable volte-face to abandon it after one poor half of football.

Assuming Van Gaal uses the 3-4-1-2 formation, how will they line up?

David de Gea remains an automatic selection in goal.

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - JULY 13: Marcos Rojo of Argentina challenges Thomas Mueller of Germany during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Final match between Germany and Argentina at Maracana on July 13, 2014 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Julian Finne
Julian Finney/Getty Images

In defence, United have added some much needed strength to the squad with the acquisition of Marcos Rojo. Rojo can play both as part of the back three, or at wing-back. If he is deployed in the centre it seems reasonable to assume that will be in place of Tyler Blackett.

The youngster made his league debut on Saturday and did not do much wrong, with his excellent distribution a notable plus point. However, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones are the more established centre-halves, and a back three of Smalling, Jones and Rojo is a possibility.

Alternatively, Rojo may play at left wing-back, in Luke Shaw's continued absence. If he does not, then Ashley Young will reprise the role.

The most sensible arrangement of available resources, assuming Antonio Valencia is not fit to resume duties, would be to play Young at right wing-back, with Rojo on the left and Jones, Smalling and Blackett in the centre. Neither Jesse Lingard or Adnan Januzaj looked comfortable at wing-back against the Swans.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 16:  Marouane Fellaini of Manchester United replaces Ander Herrera (R) during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Swansea City at Old Trafford on August 16, 2014 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by A
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

In midfield, with Marouane Fellaini reportedly suffering from damaged ankle ligaments, per Jamie Jackson in the Guardian, Van Gaal's options are very limited.

Darren Fletcher or Tom Cleverley will partner Ander Herrera. Fletcher did not have a brilliant game against Swansea, but given his repeated selection so far, he seems first choice. United's lack of both quality and options in the centre of midfield remains the most pressing issue to be addressed in the remaining two weeks of the transfer window.

Juan Mata should retain his place between the midfield and the forwards, although there are genuine alternatives for Van Gaal to consider. One would be to play Januzaj there for an addition of pace. Another would be to use Shinji Kagawa, although there is no sign of that being on Van Gaal's agenda.

One of the reasons for considering Januzaj in particular is the imminent return of Robin van Persie. A front three of Mata, Van Persie and Wayne Rooney has more than enough talent, but it would certainly not be the quickest attacking unit on display in the Premier League this weekend.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 01: Wayne Rooney (R) and Robin van Persie of Manchester United talk during a training session ahead of their Champions League Group A match against Shakhtar Donetsk at their Carrington Training Complex on October 01, 2013 in
Paul Thomas/Getty Images

This is the first time Van Gaal has had his two superstar strikers available for selection. Van Persie is apparently likely to start, if there have been no set backs in training—see Guardian link above.

Back in February, Van Persie complained to Dutch television channel NOS (h/t the Guardian) that his fellow forwards were "often playing in my zones."

The attacking personnel have not changed much since then, although the coaching staff, of course, have. However, that staff have not yet had much time to work with Rooney and Van Persie together.

Given his make up, Van Gaal will no doubt be confident he can address some of those issues, but it would be no surprise for United to once again lack fluidity in attack.

Much better is to come under the Dutchman. United are clearly a work-in-progress. My predicted starting XI is below. As always, feel free to share yours in the comments!

De Gea; Jones, Smalling, Blackett; Young, Rojo, Fletcher, Herrera; Mata; Rooney, Van Persie.

Manchester United - Football tactics and formations

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