Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal was greeted by chants of "attack, attack, attack" and "4-4-2" during his team's win over Queen Park Rangers at the weekend. The United boss has favoured a 3-5-2 formation for most of his first season in charge of the Old Trafford club, but even now that the injury crisis that initially led him to it has all but disappeared, he doesn't look like he wants to change.
The Dutchman has years of experience building and moulding teams in his own image and already confirmed he won't be swayed by such voices. "I have to look [only] at the players and I have to communicate with the players and observe the players," he said after the QPR game.
It means United supporters may have to get used to watching their team play 3-5-2, but it isn't all bad. Last week Angel di Maria warned that fans cannot expect to see the "Manchester United of old" after all the changes the club has been through over the last 18 months. This is a new team with a new philosophy growing week by week.
The 3-5-2 is a notoriously hard formation to get right. It requires very specific types of players who know their role inside out, but if done correctly it is arguably the best there is and with minor additions and alterations United would actually be incredibly well suited to it.
It provides more solidity at the heart of the defence and in central midfield, allowing teams to dominate possession. Having two bodies up front instead of just the one, which has become common in recent years, also asks more questions of opposition centre-backs.
The key to the formation is the ability of the wing-backs to be defenders and attackers more so than normal full-backs. The ability of the centre-backs to split and receive the ball comfortably is also crucial and these two areas are where van Gaal needs to address some issues if he is to continue with it.
In Ashley Young, van Gaal seems to have unearthed, or even just stumbled across, a gem in the left wing-back role. The player's pace and energy get him up and down the flank well, while his crossing is still among the most dangerous in the Premier League. Crucially, Young is learning the defensive side of the role surprisingly quickly as well.
The 29-year-old is still a few weeks away from regaining fitness, but given how he performed through November and December, would be expecting to return the starting XI. However, United have had less luck on the right-hand side, with Rafael often injured and Antonio Valencia not quite the same player he was once was, so a smart signing could make a world of difference.
An obvious solution would be to try and sign Dani Alves from Barcelona. The Brazilian may be approaching his 32nd birthday, but is still a master of the position. His contractual situation means he could be available on a free transfer in the summer, or possibly even before the end of the January window if a quick sale can be negotiated. Alves has expressed an interest in playing in the Premier League before and his skill set perfectly matches United's needs at this time.
The second signing required to make the 3-5-2 work for van Gaal is a ball-playing centre-back for the right-hand side of his trio. When the team is in possession, the outer defenders must take up wider positions, more akin to an orthodox full-back role, to receive the ball and when fit Marcos Rojo has been doing a good job in this sense on the left.
However, a combination of Phil Jones, Jonny Evans and Chris Smalling have done less well when deployed in similar positions on the opposite side. Neither is especially good at receiving and distributing the ball, with Jones in particular far better suited to the playing at the centre of a back three.
One potentially available player that could solve the problem is Raphael Varane. The French international is still only 21 years of age, but is immensely talented and calm in possession. He also has experience at right-back which helps give him a broader understanding of the overall role. He has struggled to command a regular place this season at the Bernabeu and reports have Real willing to sell for as little as £20million.
The attacking talent has already been assembled and controlling possession hasn't been an issue. The biggest criticism of van Gaal's formation in recent weeks has been a lack of tempo, but that is a problem which can be more easily addressed.
With just two additional players in the right positions United would suddenly look like a much stronger and more balanced team that is capable of playing 3-5-2 and reaping the excellent benefits.
For more fan views or to join the conversation, visit www.90min.comSuggest a correction