Manchester United: Picking a side for Saturday 1

So complete has been the analysis of their pre-season, it almost feels as if Manchester United’s campaign has been up and running since the middle of July.

The tour to America wasn’t an irrelevance, though, because it did provide an intriguing glimpse into how he wants to brand his new side and the style which he will be encouraging.  In with the Dutchman has come a 3-5-2 system, Ander Herrera, and Luke Shaw, and United’s time across the Atlantic was notable for some wonderfully quick possession play and some refreshing inter-positional fluidity.    Pre-season or not, we’ve already seen enough to know that these players will have far more freedom under Van Gaal than they did during David Moyes’ unhappy tenure.  The restricting structure has gone and something far more modern has been installed in its place.

Here’s a projection of how the side will look on Saturday:

Screen Shot 2014-08-14 at 13.01.52

- Michael Carrick is still recovering from his ankle operation, Luke Shaw is out for at least a month, and Robin Van Persie is still some way from match-fitness.

- Although the graphic above doesn’t include some notable absentees, it really does convey how weak this United side is in certain areas.  Both Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young will likely start in roles that they’re not properly equipped to play, and the back-three is as weak as anything within the likely top-half of the Premier League.  Marcos Rojo is involved in an acrimonious transfer-saga between United and Sporting Lisbon, but even if the Argentine does eventually arrive in England he cannot be the only defensive signing made this month.

- Ashley Young has had a very encouraging pre-season, but his deployment as a left wing-back will inevitably cause some problems.  In a 3-5-2 structure, the wing-backs are ultimately responsible for providing their side with width and Young, with his tendency to cut-inside from his wing, isn’t really suited to doing that.  He has value with the ball and his delivery from shallow crossing positions can be very good, but right-footed players in left-sided positions almost always make the pitch narrower.  Swansea won’t play expansively at Old Trafford and they wont create numerical disadvantages for themselves by over-committing; it’s imperative, then, that Young doesn’t drift in-field too much and that the visitors aren’t just able to clog up the middle of the pitch.

- A 3-5-2 will inevitably create spaces behind the wing-backs and it will be interesting to see how two players who are not naturals in the positions - Valencia and Young - cope with that.  Swansea, as mentioned, are not likely to be overly-ambitious on Saturday and so that detail might not be overly-relevant, but Garry Monk’s side do have some creativity in midfield and theoretically possess the ability to work their forwards into those vacant channels.

- Ander Herrera’s ability on the ball should have become blindingly obvious to everyone during United’s time in America, and his use of possession and awareness of the game around him will, over time, make him worth every penny of his transfer-fee.  A more subtle detail to his game, however, is his pressing: watch how often he hassles opponents high up the pitch and make a note of how many times United retrieve the ball or Swansea make a mistake because of it.

-  With Robin van Persie unavailable and Danny Welbeck apparently injured, Javier Hernandez will start at the tip of the formation with Wayne Rooney playing as the slightly deeper forward.  Rooney - missed penalty against Valencia during the week aside - has looked very sharp since returning from the World Cup and how Van Gaal uses him in conjunction with the side’s nominal number ten, Juan Mata, is an obvious point of interest.

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