Louis van Gaal’s reign at Manchester United got off to a spectacular start with a 7-0 win against Major League Soccer’s LA Galaxy in Pasadena, California, on Wednesday. Yet the new manager claimed afterward that there is plenty of room for improvement in the makeup of his squad, suggesting more transfer activity is on the way.
Van Gaal immediately made his influence felt in his first match in charge of United by fielding a 3-4-1-2 formation, similar to the one he utilized to much success through much of the 2014 World Cup with the Netherlands. The former Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich coach explained that the desire to get his players immediately orientated to the new system was down to the skewed options currently at his disposal.
“When you want to change a system, you must start at once,” he said after the win at the Rose Bowl, according to Manchester United’s official website. “We don’t have time to prepare for other things.
“The other system they can play is 4-3-3 and they have played it for many years. I can change it back if it doesn’t work. With the quality of the players we have, I can play 4-3-3 with three strikers on the bench, but I want to play with two strikers.
“We have four number 10s, so the selection is not balanced in my eyes. I have decided to play this system because of the quality of the players. But if we lose, I can change back to another system.”
The formation chosen and Van Gaal’s comments suggest that there could be more opportunities for Danny Welbeck and perhaps even Javier Hernández, if two strikers are played on a regular basis. Hernández has been strongly linked in recent transfer news with a move away from the club .
The news may not be so positive for Shinji Kagawa. Van Gaal’s lamenting about having so many No. 10s suggests he could attempt to offload one and the Japanese playmaker appears the likeliest candidate. While Juan Mata only became Manchester United’s record signing 6 months ago and Adnan Januzaj has the potential to be a star of the future, Kagawa has struggled to establish himself since joining from Borussia Dortmund two years ago. Much of that can be put down to the failure of either Sir Alex Ferguson or David Moyes to field him in his favored position for an extended spell. Yet he must know that his time is running out to impress.
The win over LA Galaxy, which was highlighted by a fine performance by summer signing Ander Herrera and two goals from youngster Reece James, also gave a strong hint as to where he will look to strengthen his squad in the remaining weeks of the transfer window. Having started with a back three of Phil Jones, Jonny Evans and Chris Smalling, Van Gaal was compelled to field Darren Fletcher in the back line after making changes at half time. Following the departure of experienced duo Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand, United are short of center-back options, particularly if a back three is utilized.
“I have no more defenders,” he told MUTV afterward. “So I have to pick a player [Fletcher] who can do the job but he is not so suitable for this position.”
Manchester United have been linked to several center-backs in this transfer window, most notably Arsenal captain Thomas Vermaelen. Having lost his place in the Gunners side, the Belgium international could be available, yet Arsenal are thought to be intent on securing a replacement before allowing him to depart. It has even be widely reported that Arsenal want to take either Jones or Smalling in exchange, but that now looks unlikely given United’s defensive shortage.
While a deal for Vermaelen remains tricky, the chances of it coming to fruition appear greater than those of Mats Hummels moving to Old Trafford this summer. The German World Cup winner has frequently been linked to United, but Borussia Dortmund have no intention of letting him leave in the same window as another of their stars, Robert Lewandowski, departed.
It could be that Van Gaal turns instead to those he knows well from his time in charge of the Netherlands. Two of his impressive performers in Brazil, Daley Blind and Stefan de Vrij, have been linked with Manchester United in recent weeks. Blind showed his versatility at the World Cup, operating as a left back, left wing back, center-back and defensive midfielder. While arguably most suited to a midfield role, his versatility and the fact that he is naturally left-sided may well appeal to Van Gaal. News reports in Spain have suggested that both United and Barcelona are chasing his signature.
Feyenoord’s De Vij operated as a right-sided center-back in the Netherlands’ run to third place but, while repeatedly said to be on United’s radar, appears closer to a move to Italian side Lazio.