Five differences Louis van Gaal will make at Old Trafford
What clues did the soon-to-be Manchester United give when he took charge of Holland's friendly against Ecuador on Saturday?
Louis van Gaal took charge of Holland on Saturday for the first time since emerging as the man regarded as successor to David Moyes at Manchester United, with the Dutch facing Ecuador in a pre-World Cup friendly at the Amsterdam Arena.
What clues did the former Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich coach give to suggest life will be different under Van Gaal at Old Trafford?
Despite being without key players such as Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder, Nigel de Jong and Rafael van der Vaart due to club commitments, Van Gaal chose to experiment with a 3-5-2 formation against Ecuador.
With the Dutch traditionally operating a 4-3-3 system, Van Gaal was subjected to suggestions that he was overseeing the ‘death of Total Football’ by tinkering with a tried and tested formula.
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In reality, it was more like 3-4-1-2 line-up, with PSV Eindhoven’s Georginio Wijnaldum playing in the No 10 role and although the end result was a 1-1 draw, captain Robin van Persie voiced his support for Van Gaal’s approach after the game.
“I believe in the new system,” Van Persie said. “It provides a lot of opportunities.”
Van Gaal cut an interesting figure while assessing the game from the technical area on Saturday evening.
Whereas David Moyes would flit to and from the manager’s dug-out, often displaying his frustrations on the touchline, Van Gaal remained firmly in his seat.
Any tactical changes or instructions to players were left to Van Gaal’s assistant, Danny Blind, with the manager taking a back seat.
Things may obviously change during the World Cup, when the heat and pressure is on, but against Ecuador, Van Gaal could not have been more reserved.
The defensive mix-up which led to Jefferson Montero’s opener for Ecuador, following a defence-splitting pass from Felipe Caicedo, highlighted the problems Van Gaal is encountering with his Dutch defenders.
At United, with Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic having now left the club, Van Gaal will have to address similar issues when he arrives at Old Trafford.
Can he afford to experiment with three at the back when he is working with relatively young and inexperienced defenders in Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Jonny Evans?
Van Gaal will need to recruit a seasoned centre-half to make such a system work at United.
While Robin van Persie’s first-half goal – a perfectly-executed chest-trap and volley – was the highlight of the game, the pass from midfielder Jordy Clasie which created the strike was just as eye-catching.
Clasie, the Feyenoord youngster, dictating the tempo for the Dutch with an impressive performance as a deep-lying midfielder against Ecuador and offered a link between the defence and attacking players.
At United, Van Gaal could use Michael Carrick in this position, with leading target Toni Kroos perhaps being lined up to play in that role.
Clasie’s ability to make time and space for himself was notable and the 22-year-old will be one to watch at the World Cup.
A revitalised Valencia?
Antonio Valencia may have offered the first evidence on Saturday to prove that Van Gaal will deliver an instant improvement at Old Trafford and make players better.
Valencia, the Ecuador captain, has endured two unimpressive seasons at United, with his reluctance to go past his marker earning him the nickname ‘Turn back Tony.’
But he was impressive against the Dutch, showing pace, power and even an ability to dictate the game from a central position for his country.
Maybe it was the pride of leading his nation, but Valencia’s performance might just have been inspired by showing Van Gaal what he can do.