3 league games and just 2 points acquired. A lot has been blamed on the 5-3-2/3-5-2 formation being used by Louis Van Gaal. The back three has been constantly criticized; some fans going as far as to claim that some players don’t deserve to wear the United shirt. What we fail to see is that our troubles on the field are down to much more than problems in defense.
Don’t get me wrong, this is not me defending our back three or claiming that they are saints in my eyes. They definitely deserve a portion of the blame.We need to keep in mind that the whole team is adapting to a new formation and so far along with the back three the midfielders and the wingbacks who should be tracking back have not been doing a sufficient enough job in all three games. The main reasons as to why the 3-5-2 is yet to function as it should lies further up the field in midfield and attack.
Let’s start with the role Darren Fletcher is asked to carry out in the system. Shielding the back three when defending and linking the defense and attack when attacking. Darren Fletcher has started all three games and failed to do his job in each of the three games. I don’t hate the guy but he is no longer the player he used to be. He fails to provide the protection required for the back three and consistently lets the opponents have a free run at our back three with numbers. As far as linking the defense with attack goes he fails to make himself available to receive the pass from the back three. We can blame the defense for hoofing the ball as much as we want but the reality of the situation is that Fletcher should always be making himself available to get that pass from the back so that we can build from the back instead. The same applies to whoever partners him in the midfield. The midfielder should never be static and must always take up different positions to defend and also create attacks. We see Mata isolated far too often due to the fact that the two central midfielders fail to get him the ball after the defenders win back the ball. The Burnley game saw Di Maria partnering Fletcher in midfield, even Di Maria was doing a better job of coming deep and getting the ball than Fletcher.
I don’t know whether our midfielders are unable to play a forward pass or whether they just don’t want to do it. The few times that they actually receive the ball from the defense we see far too many sideways passes being played out wide to the wingbacks. Wouldn’t it be more effective to move the ball forward to Mata and allow the Wingbacks to make runs in behind the opponents defense? Instead we are seeing our wingbacks receive the ball at the half way line and trying to run with the ball far too often. The lack of pace and movement in the front three of Mata, Rooney and Van Persie is another reason for the lack of effectiveness of the system so far. Rooney and Van Persie seem to be getting in each other’s way. Both have offered no movement in forward areas and play too close to each other. Neither of them is able to stretch the game. Add to that the fact that Mata takes too much time on the ball and lacks the dribbling ability and pace to run at the opponent’s defense and we get a very rigid triangle in the front that does not move at all. Our attack is so predictable. Pass out wide from midfield and a useless cross from either Young or Valencia.
The New signings we have made could all possibly make the system work better. For things to improve we need to add some pace into the front three. I fail to see Rooney being benched and Van Persie seems to be unfit. A front two of Rooney and Falcao wouldn’t be the fastest but we would have players very different to each other. Falcao a player who plays off the shoulder of the defender and Rooney a player who likes to come deep to influence the game. Di Maria coming in for Mata would add much needed pace to the side and allow us to stretch the game. We could see Rooney and Di Maria interchanging positions and Rooney dropping into the hole with Di Maria playing further forward as a striker much like Robben in the World Cup. Blind and Herrera should start in midfield and should do a much better job of shielding the back four and recycling possession from the back. We need to stop relying on Valencia and Young and play Shaw and Rafael in the wing back positions. Both are undoubtedly much better equipped at tracking back and arguably better going forward. We have acquired players who will definitely improve the system and as the players adapt to the new formation things will only get better. We need to stop making judgments in haste and have some patience with the 3-5-2.
Heading into the game against QPR this Sunday, It is quite possible that Louis Van Gaal may ditch the 3-5-2 for his favored 4-3-3. I would personally love to see Louis Van Gaal stick with the formation just to prove the critics wrong. Just because no one has had success in the premier league yet with the 3-5-2 doesn’t mean it’s not possible. When it works the system is exciting and brilliant to watch. A thing of beauty!! Walter Mazzari’s Napoli, Conte’s Juventus and Van Gaal’s Holland come to mind and let’s not forget Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona sides who often switched to a 3-5-2 from a 4-3-3 during the game with Busquets dropping into defense.