Is 3-5-2 really going to work for Louis van Gaal?


At Loftus Road last weekend, this is what fans chanted. This is what they wanted. They are sick of 3-5-2. Or 5-3-2. Whatever you might want to call it, fans are sick of it. It was fine when we were screwed up with injuries. But not anymore. In last 3-4 games, we were toothless and it can be attributed to that formation. Every punk and his dog can see that. Well, everyone except Louis Van Gaal. But why does he like it so much? Why is he so obsessed with that bloody thing?

Maybe he isn’t. Van Gaal has made it clear in the past that his favourite style of play is 4-3-3. Initially with Holland, he started with 3 man midfield and back 4 in World Cup qualifiers. Kevin Strootman’s injury forced him to put another defender at the back. To be honest, it turned out really well for Holland. They almost reached the final only to get knocked out by Argentines on penalties. It wasn’t typical flashy and pretty Dutch gameplay but it was bloody effective. Most effective they have been in recent times. But 3-5-2 wasn’t Van Gaal’s first choice.

Stootman's injury forced Van Gaal to play 3-52
Stootman’s injury forced Van Gaal to play 3-52

Things became even worse when Van Gaal arrived in Manchester. It was agony. At one point, more than 10 players were injured. Maybe, he didn’t have any option but to deploy 3-5-2 and to his credit, we did alright against quality teams in preseason. Before Southampton’s defeat, we enjoyed unbeaten run of 12 games. But something wasn’t right. It wasn’t usually fluid United attack that helped us sustain that run. In some of the games, we couldn’t even string 5 passes at a time. It was forgiven because team was hit with injuries. But what now when most of the team is pretty much alive and kicking?

Jones and Smalling are not great with ball at their feet
Jones and Smalling are not yet great with ball at their feet

I personally feel there are couple of flaws in the system or in Van Gaal’s implementation of the system at United. Firstly, one extra defender means we have to sacrifice a midfielder. That means one player short in the build up. If passing transition between attack and defence is to be smooth, defenders should be capable of playing the ball well. Like Rio was. (IMO ideal would be Pique from 2010 World Cup because he was outpassing most of the players from the opposition) Jones and Smalling aren’t best of ball players. Evans is decent in that aspect but his form hasn’t been great. Out of all, Rojo looks most suitable but injuries have restricted his role in the team. Not to forget he is new in England and needs some time to adjust. Valencia despite improving his form can be a defensive liability and when not in form, finds difficult to even beat his man which also reduces one more passing option. Secondly, with Wayne and Mata dropping deep, space between middle 3 and front 2 is just too fucking large. Even if team wants to start a counter attack, most of them results in someone hoffing the ball to the strikers and opposition defenders intercepting it. Strikers get impatient, frustrated and it feels as if there is something lacking in the gameplan as far as linkup play between middle 3 and front 2.

Robben single handedly dragged Holland in the World Cup
Robben single handedly dragged Holland in the World Cup

Van Gaal tried to play Di Maria upfront in the role similar to Robben’s in World Cup. But there is a huge difference between 2 players. Di Maria is more than just a luxury signing. His work-ethic is incredible, his energy boundless and he works his socks off for the team. Adding to that with his quality to run at defenders with ball at his feet, he will be wasted if played anywhere except midfield. Especially at United when we have been craving for world class midfielder for years now.

More than just a 'luxury player'
More than just a ‘luxury player’

Against QPR, the minute we switched back to 4-4-2 from 3-5-2, we scored and then on were quite ruthless. Fans are certain about need of playing with 4 at the back and 4 in the middle. Van Gaal’s thoughts after the game

“I know when we play with four midfielders in a diamond we create more chances. But the balance of the team is weak.”

Had it been Moyes, I would have laughed it off. But after stamping his authority all over the Europe, it is safe to say Louis Van Gaal knows his stuff. Next few weeks are going to be really interesting. Watch this space.