Needing a boost after an insipid start to the season, Manchester United are set to receive one on Sunday when four new signings could make their debuts. The optimism that surrounded the start of Louis van Gaal’s reign this summer quickly diminished as United took just two points from its first three Premier League games against Swansea City, Burnley and Sunderland, while also being embarrassed 4-0 by League One side Milton Keynes Dons in the Capital One Cup.
A new 3-4-1-2 formation has looked a work in progress to put it mildly, while the club’s under and misguided investment in the transfer market over recent years has been all too evident in many of the players Van Gaal has been compelled to call upon. The forecasted drop in revenues and profit made in the club’s annual financial report this week only sought to highlight the need for Manchester United to return to the Champions League at the earliest opportunity. After so many dropped points already against what should have been eminently beatable opposition, United need to start putting some results together.
It is good news then that against Queens Park Rangers on Sunday there will likely be a fresh buzz around Old Trafford, quite out of keeping with the flat performances the team’s supporters have witnessed so far this season. There is set to be a first sighting at home of record signing Ángel di María, while Luke Shaw and Marcos Rojo could make their long-awaited bows after being held up by injury and work-permit issues, respectively. Daley Blind should be involved, too, after completing his transfer from Ajax, and, perhaps most exciting of all, there should be a debut for the most surprising arrival at Old Trafford in recent times, Radamel Falcao.
After returning from a serious knee injury suffered in January, the striker has made three appearances for Monaco this season, although just one from the start, and scored two goals, while he also came on as a substitute in Colombia’s friendly with Brazil last month. “I feel well, I started to play two months ago with Monaco and I've improved in the last month a lot,” he said at his unveiling on Thursday, reports Manchester United’s official website. “I have scored goals and that's important to a striker. I am confident with my physical form and I am comfortable with my knee.”
Understandably questions have been raised about whether the money has been spent in the right areas. Although clearly world-class operators, Di María and Falcao do not address needs that were seen as pressing by many at the start of the summer. It is difficult to see how Falcao, Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie, Juan Mata and Di María can really be fit into the same lineup. A major question is whether the new players have been signed with Van Gaal’s current formation in mind or with a view to changing it. The decision not to sign another central defender might hint that he is set to revert to four at the back, but Rojo appears tailor-made to occupy the role on the left of three center-backs. Sitting alongside his most recent acquisitions, Van Gaal offered his belief that this summer’s transfer business has left a squad more in his own image.
“I hope so because they have to perform our philosophy and that is not so easy to perform, we have seen that already. But I think the players we have selected will do that better. Otherwise we don’t need to buy those players I think.”
Of course Van Gaal is far from beholden to a three-at-the-back system, indeed, before implementing it to much success during this summer’s World Cup with the Netherlands, he was associated far more as being adherent to the traditional Dutch style of 4-3-3. A variation on that formation would appear to make most sense for the current United squad. A four-man defense, which could on Sunday include the fit again Rafael but may see Phil Jones miss out due to an injury picked up with England, would surely enable Manchester United to fit in more of its better players. It would allow for a midfield trio of Blind as the holder, surrounded on either side by Di María and Ander Herrera, who could also be available on Sunday after recovering from an injury picked up in the opening day of the season. Rooney could then be deployed behind Falcao and Van Persie. If everyone is fit, Mata looks the most obvious candidate to miss out.
Intriguingly, Manchester United will be taking on a QPR team on Sunday that began the season, like United, by introducing a three-center-backs system. After a 4-0 humbling by Tottenham in their second game of the season, they, though, dispensed with the formation and went back to four at the back to earn a 1-0 win over Sunderland. Whether Van Gaal goes the same way in order to harness the potential of his excitingly and hastily bolstered squad will be revealed in one of the most eagerly awaited team sheets at Old Trafford in some time.
Manchester United Probable Lineup Vs. QPR
G: De Gea
D: Rafael, Smalling, Evans, Rojo
M: Herrera, Blind, Di María
F: Falcao, Van Persie