I remember watching Barcelona’s “best team ever” embarrass Manchester United in 2009 and 2011 Champions League finals.
I wondered with anguish why my team couldn’t keep the ball so well, why we ran about like desperate headless chickens, in a fruitless attempt to stifle such a confident team.
I knew Barca didn’t become this over night but my only question of Sir Alex Ferguson’s philosophy was why was he taking so long to evolve United’s play style?
On June 5, 2012, I thought we were finally making steps towards a new style of playing. We signed a diminutive Iniesta-like playmaker from Borussia Dortmund, Shinji Kagawa.
Clearly, Sir Alex wasn’t ready to move on from the 4-4-2/ 4-4-1-1 that had served him so well and brought unequalled success though, because he soon signed Robin van Persie on August 17, 2012, just two and a half months after Kagawa arrived.
Van Persie has proved to be a brilliant signing. He played a huge part in winning United the 2012/13 Premier League trophy.
With Wayne Rooney also at the club Sir Alex must have felt there was no way he could play with one striker so the 4-4-2 formation remained the club’s go-to plan.
Although United’s tactics looked dated, ironically, Manchester City were the next club to win the league using a more evolved-looking 4-4-2 formation.
With City’s spending power over the last six years they have had the quality in all positions to make any formation look good. Clearly, there was more to City’s success last season than their formation, though.
Manuel Pellegrini has impressed a lot of us since he arrived and deserves a lot of credit for their latest league win.
It might make us feel better to ignore Moyes was ever in charge at Manchester United but we can’t. Moyes didn’t appear to have the guts to try anything different and he seemed to take United’s play style further backwards. It was cross, cross, cross instead of Fergie’s attack, attack, attack.
Now Louis van Gaal is Manchester United manager, there has been a tactical revolution involving a shift to a three-at-the-back formation with two wing backs. It is a revolution because a change has been so long coming.
United’s defenders have looked uncomfortable with the new shape but Van Gaal insists it will take time for his players to come to terms with how he wants them to play but it will succeed.
On Sunday, September 14, we saw a new-look United not just because of the way the team was organised but several players made their debuts. The new personnel made the team a more threatening proposition from the word go. And due to injuries to centre backs Van Gaal moved to a 4-4-2 diamond formation leading to a resounding 4-0 win and an excellent outing by Angel Di Maria.
Although the 3-5-2 only seemed to last one game I think it will be tested again. Regardless, Van Gaal is still utilizing ideas new to us at Old Trafford.
Angel Di Maria is a winger, surely? But Van Gaal is playing him in centre midfield and he has been brilliant there. Those with La Liga knowledge will know he played in a similar position last season for Real Madrid. It’s another sign LvG is comfortable with trying things.
Since I started writing this, United lost 5-3 against Leicester City after being 3-1 up.
It might have made a few United fans question if LvG knows how to defend.
We must remember he is making do with a makeshift back line with what we are finding are mainly below-par players though. Rafael can be great going forward but he’s very rash and dives in to tackles. Smalling seems to be out of position much too often. Evans is slow of feet and mind. Jones is made of Plasticine. The jury’s still out on Rojo.
Nobody said it was easy, no-one ever said it would be this hard. But if we give LvG time I honestly believe we will end up with a fantastic team playing football that wins, better football than Barcelona even.