Monday 25 January 2016

Three tactical issues the cause of attacking impotency (Part 1)

Although branding Louis van Gaal's United as "boring" and "unwatchable" has progressively evolved into a media caricature, it is unarguable that the Reds style of football under the Dutchman has become increasingly impotent. 

His is a team characterised by pedestrian ball possession, lack of penetration in the final third and a drastic dearth of goals.
Although Van Gaal is often commended for his supreme intellect and tactical acumen, there are at least three glaring tactical deficiencies in his system that have facilitated not only an uninspiring brand of football but also, more worryingly, unprecedentedly poor results in recent weeks.

Van Gaal's United invariably features a midfield axis- generally formed by two of Bastian Schweinsteiger, Morgan Schneiderlin, Michael Carrick, Marouane Fellaini or Ander Herrera. Although a defensive midfield duo has proved extremely effective in a number of modern, counter-attacking 4-2-3-1 systems throughout Europe, this has not proved to be the case at United.

Principally, the majority of United's partnership permutations are too slow and inoffensive, often isolating the number nine and ten in favour of short, safe, square passing across the midfield.

Although this ensures United retain possession effectively,  Schweinsteiger, Schneiderlin and Carrick are neither adept at or willing to get ahead of the ball in attack, each preferring to dictate play from a deeper position.

The result is that United often find it difficult to move the ball quickly and efficiently enough in dangerous areas and this is particularly problematic when our opponents defend deep, narrow and in numbers.

Although the more dynamic Herrera is the perfect complement to one of Schweinsteiger, Schneiderlin or Carrick in the double-pivot system, the Spaniard is rarely given attacking licence by Van Gaal in this position and, although tenacious, lacks the defensive acumen of his colleagues to play as a deeper midfielder.

In addition to his lack of ball-laying ability, Fellaini is too ill-disciplined and tactically incompetent to play deep and central in a 4-2-3-1.
It is both puzzling and frustrating that Van Gaal has seldom opted for an inverted midfield three consisting of one defensive midfielder and an advanced "eight" and a "ten".

This midfield shape is synonymous with fluid, dynamic, attacking football in a possession-based 4-3-3 system and proved to be an important structural feature of United's attacking enterprise in the 2014/15 purple patch.

Although this system would only allow one of Schweinsteiger, Schneiderlin and Carrick at its base, it would provide United with central midfield numbers in more advanced positions, without detracting the emphasis of ball retention.
It would facilitate dynamic, effective and penetrative ball movement in the middle and attacking third.

This 4-3-3 would allow Van Gaal to play Fellaini in a more natural position, as in  contrast to his extremely limited utility as a defensive-minded player, Fellaini proved a surprisingly effective asset on the left of a midfield triangle last season. 

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