1) Tactical change pays off… again!
There has been a lot of debate over why Van Gaal continues to use a 3-5-2, Van Gaal has given a few explanations as to why he’s sticking with it. One of those is that it provides a better balance but I’m not sure if that actually adds up, certainly not in the last 2 games. Defensively I don’t think we conceded more chances with the 4-4-2 diamond than we did with the 3-5-2 and in attack we certainly seemed to be more of a threat and created more chances (including 2 goals) after the switch to the diamond than we did previously. Surely that is a better balance, I don’t think it’s great but to me it certainly seems to work better and suit our players better. The stats also seem to back that up as our win percentage is a lot higher when we use the diamond than when we use the 3-5-2.
Van Gaal’s post-match comments suggest he will continue with the 3-5-2 for now but how many more times will he have to make tactical changes during a match to his initial selection before he decides enough is enough. I think the real reason for 3-5-2 is that he’s not happy with his squad and we’ll probably see him make further changes during the summer so that he can implement his favoured 4-3-3 formation.
2) Rojo shines, Evans continues to struggle
The signing of Rojo in the summer was met with more of a mixed response by fans compared to other signings but he’s turned out to be the better of the 7 so far in my opinion. Others have underwhelmed due to them being played out of position, being injured or just not playing. Rojo was my choice for man of the match against QPR, had the mistake between he and Carrick been capitalised on that may not have been the case though. The mistake between the 2 perhaps shows that Rojo is still struggling to grasp the English language; I seem to recall a similar mistake involving Rojo earlier in the season, so it is something that needs to be improved. He was excellent in everything else he did though, he absolutely bossed our penalty area in a way that Vidic would have been proud of and I think there’s a lot more to come from the Argentine defender.
Evans, who alongside Rio Ferdinand was instrumental in winning the league title in Fergie’s final season, has been below par for the best part of 18 months now and was very poor against QPR. It’s a shame to see as he was looking like he could step up and become a first choice defender in Fergie’s last season but he seems to have gone backwards and at 27 now, time is running out for him.
3) Square pegs in round holes
Along with the defenders being out of their comfort zone in a back 3, there are other players being played in positions that they aren’t completely comfortable in or aren’t their best positions. Di Maria seemed to be the most out of his comfort zone, playing as the further forward of the 2 strikers most of the time, while Falcao seemed to be the one coming deep. In his final season at Real Madrid, Di Maria transformed from being a very good winger to being a great midfielder. He excelled on the left of a midfield 3 and has performed best on the left of a midfield diamond for us. His ability to pick the ball up from deep and drive forward past defenders towards goal made him one of the best players in world football last year and after a promising start playing on the left of a diamond for United he has since been moved wide and upfront where he has been less effective. The need for pace upfront is clear but Di Maria is not a striker, we need him back in his most effective role. Rooney and Mata are other examples, neither are central midfielders, both have done good jobs in there (Rooney more so) but both are more effective in the final third of the pitch. The three of them are brilliant players but none of them are performing to their potential probably because they’re playing out of position.
4) Falcao running out of time
He did everything but score against QPR, his movement was excellent and he worked his socks off. He had 2 great chances in the first half, he really needs to start putting those chances away if he wants a permanent deal, maybe that’s half his problem though, he’s putting himself under a lot of pressure to get that permanent deal, his work rate certainly suggests he wants to stay but he’ll need to do better in front of goal. He’ll also need the game time and I’m not sure he’ll get it with Van Persie likely to be back for the next league game. It seems as though Van Gaal wants pace upfront too so while we’re using 2 strikers, he’s maybe fighting it out with Van Persie for one place while one of the scorer’s here, Wilson fights for the other striker role with Di Maria and this is maybe why Falcao wasn’t on the bench against Southampton, but we’ll see when Van Persie returns whether it is a case of Van Persie or Falcao now.
5) Fellaini return makes a difference
Just as he did at West Brom earlier in the season; Fellaini came on at half time and made a big impact on the game. Not only did he score the first goal here but he added a bit more physicality to our midfield, winning 50-50s and generally being a pain in the backside to the opposition. He was ever present in our 6 game winning run, he has since been ill or injured where we have struggled to just 1 win in 5 until the QPR game. He might not be the best footballer and if we are to progress as a football team again, he won’t be first choice and we’ll need a better footballer in his place but until then he deserves his place in the side and we’re doing much better with him than without.