What is Manchester United's strongest team?
Louis van Gaal has been the Manchester United manager for a total of 429 days, but he has yet to settle on a selection that he could confidently suggest would constitute his best starting eleven.
From starting out with a plan to play with a back three through to an evolution that has seen Van Gaal experiment with players in a variety of unconventional positions, the Dutchman still seems to trying to find the right balance in his line-up.
With games against Arsenal and Manchester City on Van Gaal’s horizon, as well as European matches that have taken on increased significance following Tuesday night’s Champions League defeat against PSV Eindhoven, the next few weeks are likely to mould the Van Gaal era at Unite and he has numerous questions to answer.
Should captain Wayne Rooney walk back into the United team when he is back to full fitness? Who is the best candidate to replace Luke Shaw after his horrific double leg break in Eindhoven? Do United lack the attacking pace to challenge for major honours?
They are all topics to stir a debate and here is your Independent.ie verdict on Van Gaal’s best starting line-up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with the absence of Luke Shaw following his horrific double leg break on Tuesday night forcing the United boss to shuffle his pack once again.
DAVID DE GEA – The undisputed first choice keeper looked back to somewhere near his best as he returned to the United side in their 3-1 win against Liverpool last weekend. It matters little who was to blame for the breakdown of his transfer deadline day move to Real Madrid at this stage, as United are the big winners here.
MATTEO DARMIAN – This Italian international has been one of the shining stars of United’s season to date and he has solved what was a problem position on the left side of Van Gaal’s side. His attacking bursts have also been a source of encouragement.
MARCOS ROJO – Van Gaal was infuriated with this Argentine international when he failed to make it on the club’s pre-season trip to America due to a problem with his passport. Sidelined since then, Rojo may have to come back into the team now following the injury to Luke Shaw.
CHRIS SMALLING – Rio Ferdinand told Indepdendent.ie earlier this week that United’s defenders lacked the staying power to last the pace over a demanding season, but Smalling appears to be beating his injury problems and emerging as the new leader of their back-line. He may be Wayne Rooney’s successor as United captain.
DALEY BLIND – Shaw’s injury is a hammer blow to Van Gaal as the 20-year-old full-back offered a vibrancy from the left-back role that was giving United a fresh attacking dimension this season. Blind is a good replacement, but he don’t expect him to be quite so dynamic bursting down the flank.
MORGAN SCHNEIDERLIN – Van Gaal needs to use the veteran Bastian Schweinsteiger wisely this season and his creaking legs may not allow him to play every game in United’s demanding schedule at the age of 31. Schneiderlin is a class act and he needs to be included in the United team.
BASTIAN SCHWEINSTEIGER – Switching between the elegant Michael Carrick and the more combative Schweinsteiger may the best policy for Van Gaal in the coming months, with the aging duo offering nuances that can be deployed depending on the opposition. Using 'Basti' against more feisty opponents and in high pressure games and deploying Carrick against more moderate opposition may be a policy that will get the best out of both.
MEMPHIS DEPAY – At the age of 21, consistency may not be this Dutch flier’s best suit this season, but he offers that X Factor United have been lacking too often under Van Gaal. Depay has a habit of going missing in games when he is not at his best and that flaw in his game should be ironed out as he matures.
JUAN MATA – The battle between Mata and Ander Herrera to fill the role behind the Van Gaal's striker in the United line-up could be pivotal to their hopes of success this season. Mata may just have an edge, but there could be a case to try young Anthony Martial in that role, as he could offer a potent scoring threat in a central role.
ANTHONY MARTIAL – United will be putting plenty of faith in their youthful performers this season and it may be asking too much of 19-year-old Martial to lead the United line alone. Deploying him in a wide midfield role may be a more sensible plan as he settles into life in the Premier League. As he showed against Liverpool last weekend, he can be a potent threat coming in off the flank.
WAYNE ROONEY – Is Rooney still up to the job of being United’s lead striker? Van Gaal and United fans will discover the answer to that poser in the coming months and they may not like the final outcome. For United to be successful this season, Rooney needs to contribute around 20 Premier League goals. He doesn’t look capable of delivering on that demand on recent evidence.
We canvased the views of United fans on which team Van Gaal should be picking each week and here is a selection of the Twitter responses we received:
@kpsundayworld de gea darmian smalling blind Shaw Schweinsteiger Schneiderling Mata Memphis Rooney martial— Lee Blythe (@leeblythe87) September 17, 2015
@kpsundayworld Rooney at No.9 is jarring. Think Martial deserves a run out at CF.— Subhash Pais (@Subhash_ati9) September 17, 2015
@kpsundayworld De Gea; Darmian,Smalling,Blind,Shaw; Schneiderlin,Basti; Mata,Herrera,Young; Rooney. Memphis & Martial certain in time— Jamie Smart (@JS_43) September 17, 2015