After a poor start to the season by Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United—topped off by a crushing 4-0 defeat at the hands of League One side MK Dons in the Capital One Cup on Tuesday night—it is clear that an exhaustive list of injuries has been playing havoc with the Dutchman’s plans.
The arrival of Luke Shaw—and subsequently Ander Herrera—strengthened the squad decidedly, but bad news was just around the corner: The ex-Southampton youngster suffered a hamstring injury in training and was out for four weeks before he had even entered the fray—competitively, at any rate.
The news typified what has been some awfully bad luck for Van Gaal in his first month in charge. The Reds’ boss lamented his misfortune ahead of the Sunderland game last weekend: "In my career as a trainer-coach, we've never had seven injuries in my selection," he told the club’s official website.
With Michael Carrick out for the long haul and Marouane Fellaini absent with an ankle problem, injuries to new signing Herrera—and youngster Jesse Lingard—have left Van Gaal scrambling for central midfielders to play in his favoured 3-5-2 formation.
Forced to play the uninspiring and ineffective pairing of Darren Fletcher and Tom Cleverley, there have been plenty of pleas to revert to a 4-3-3—but Van Gaal has so far stuck to his guns.
With the £60 million arrival of Angel Di Maria, the system has become a hot topic, but the manager insists that the importance is on re-building a squad capable of challenging again, with the caveat that it will take some time.
He told Sky Sports: "They (the supporters) have to believe in our philosophy. We are building up a team, which you cannot do in one month or even one year".
That didn't mean he couldn't tease fans with the suggestion that they could, in fact, have a change in formation now that Di Maria has arrived at the club:
There is an overriding sense that Van Gaal knows exactly what formation will work best for his side, but before making any rash decisions he needs to gather about him the players to make it work. Whether that will be the 3-5-2 used by his Netherlands side in the World Cup—or a 4-3-3—remains to be seen, but his previous managerial successes suggest he has a firm plan in mind.
While the close of the transfer window promises to be a frantic one, Van Gaal must turn his attention to getting his first Premier League victory. Di Maria will, of course, be the main attraction as the Red Devils line up against Burnley this weekend, and the boss' fellow Dutchman Robin van Persie’s return to action against Sunderland in the side's last fixture has offered a much needed morale boost.
Shinji Kagawa has, however, added to Van Gaal’s selection woes after suffering mild concussion against MK Dons, and the United boss could still be without key midfielders Herrera and Fellaini.
Manchester United’s formation may be far from certain at present, but at least one thing is: Van Gaal has his work cut out ahead of the trip to Turf Moor on Saturday lunchtime, as he works to banish the whiff of a crisis that already seems to be permeating the air around Old Trafford.