Saturday 25 January 2020

Analysis: Louis van Gaal's Man United need major surgery to have any chance this season

Reds don't have the squad to compete for the title just yet

Louis Van Gaal
Louis Van Gaal

Dave Lyons

MANCHESTER UNITED fans — excited by the club’s hugely impressive pre-season results — may want to hold fire on predicting any sort of immediate success under Louis van Gaal.

While things are starting to look rosy at Old Trafford once again, it must be noted that despite beating Roma, Liverpool and Real Madrid in the past fortnight, Van Gaal’s United look far from the finished article.

The Red Devils’ squad is so imbalanced that minor surgery is required over the next three weeks in order to give the club any chance of striving for the top table in English football once again.

We have learned two major things during United’s tour of America. Firstly, the swagger and belief is back. The United players’ mentality has shifted yet again. They are fully behind their new manager and believe in his methods. That is in total contrast to this time last year. But, secondly, we have learned that Van Gaal has a certain system he wants to tackle the Premier League with at Old Trafford. It consists of a 3-5-2 formation that looks, for the most part, a strict balance between defence and attack.

But the truth is, despite very positive results on their tour, where they suffered no major injuries, United don’t have the squad to carry through that approach over a whole campaign. Especially not defensively.

Chief executive Ed Woodward must get some signatures on paper if Van Gaal’s team are to have any chance of staying consistent throughout his debut season.

If Van Gaal wants to play three central defenders this season, then his current choices to play in this positions are minimal. Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Johnny Evans are his only senior options. While Tyler Blackett and Michael Keane also featured in pre-season, they have yet to make competitive debuts for the club and are vastly inexperienced. Van Gaal needs to add numbers to this specific area of the pitch.

Links with Thomas Vermaelen and Matts Hummels make sense, and it is likely Van Gaal will sign one or maybe two centre-halves in the next week. But if they don’t, one injury to any of their senior defenders (and they all have a poor history of illnesses and injuries) and United are in crisis mode once again at the back.

It is a similar situation in midfield where Van Gaal wants to apply two anchor men and one attacking midfielder. The acquisition of Ander Herrera may turn out to be a brilliant signing, but the injury to Michael Carrick is a huge blow. Darren Fletcher and Tom Cleverley are options to partner Herrera in one of the anchor roles, while Juan Mata, Shinji Kagawa and Adnan Januzaj will battle it out to start as the attacking middle man.

The defensive midfield area looks week. Again, one injury means United are stretched. There have been links with the superb Arturo Vidal but nothing concrete has come of that story. Nigel de Jong is another option and would fit in perfectly.

United may have looked confident and competent during their pre-season tour of the States, but this squad is not solid enough to carry them through a Premier League campaign unscaved.

Injuries are inevitable in the hustle and bustle of the Premier League, especially to defensive-minded players.

United fans may be upbeat and feeling positive at the moment, but unless additions are made to the squad within the next few weeks, the Red Devils are in serious trouble of being wafer thin in certain areas of the pitch.

And all of the positivity that spread through the past three weeks could evaporate with an injury to just one defensive-minded player.




Borussia Dortmund are very reluctant to sell their talismanic centre-half, so a big money bid would be required to wrestle him away from Germany.

United have been linked with the World Cup-winning defender, but there has been no movement whatsoever.

Would be the perfect player for Jones and Smalling to learn from.



A lot of fans are wondering why United are chasing a player who can’t make the Arsenal first-team. The answer is simple. The way Van Gaal lines United up means he requires a left-footed centre-half to play on one side of a central defender. Left-footed centre-halves are few and far between.

Vermaelen was highly-rated up until a recent injury and Van Gaal seems to be a big fan. This is the most likely signing United will make, but it is believed Arsene Wenger is making life hard for Ed Woodward to get his man, with the Gunners boss keen to offload him to Barcelona instead of a top domestic rival.



One of the best box-to-box midfielders in world football, it is no surprise that United are linked with Vidal.

He looks suited to the Premier League too, but it would take a mountain of cash, somewhere in the £40-£50m region, to prise him away from Juventus.

A knee injury is also reported to be a stumbling block for Van Gaal who will only sanction the purchase should he get assurances that the injury won’t have long-term affects.

United fans seem desperate to land Vidal, but it is a long way off happening as things stand.



The Dutch defensive midfielder is well known to Van Gaal and could be a very realistic target.

While Vidal is more of a box-to-box middle man, De Jong is super disciplined and sits in a role that solely protects the back four. This is more akin to how Van Gaal lined up in pre-season, with a player tasked with a certain defensive responsibility.

De Jong knows the Premier League inside-out too, having played with United’s neighbours Manchester City for three years. Would only cost around £8m and is likely to be in Van Gaal’s thoughts.



Another Dutch star of the World Cup, the Blind rumours ring through.

The reason Blind would be a welcome addition to United’s squad is because he can play in the two positions that United look stretched in.

He can adapt to play anywhere along the back line or midfield line and could be used as a utility player at Old Trafford.

Van Gaal is obviously a big fan as Blind’s discipline is his best attribute, and discipline is clearly the manager’s most favoured requirement in any player.

Though reports have gone quite on a Blind link, don’t be surprised if he ends up at Old Trafford before the end of August.

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