herald

Tuesday 18 December 2018

Time for Van Gaal to decide on his strongest eleven

Louis van Gaal is down to the bare bones at centre-back
Louis van Gaal is down to the bare bones at centre-back

Manchester United are in trouble. Their capitulation, from a seemingly unassailable winning position, against Leicester City last weekend was evidence enough of it.

For further proof, a close examination of the players used by Louis van Gaal in the Premier League this season reveals that a grand total of 26 individuals have featured for United so far - at least three more than any other team. Are these regular, sweeping changes made in desperation by their new manager or part of a necessary plan to introduce his many new signings and test out the squad he inherited? Either way it is a problem, as last season showed.

In 2013/14 the top two teams in the Premier League - Manchester City and Liverpool - used 23 and 25 players respectively over the course of the entire season; fewer than United have already deployed in their first five matches this term.

Meanwhile the Red Devils, whose then manager David Moyes was in a similar situation to Van Gaal, had used 20 players at this stage and 30 by the end of the season.

With summer signing Luke Shaw certain to feature at some point and Van Gaal potentially in need of some January recruits to reinforce his defence, more new faces are sure to feature before this campaign is over.

This time last year there was significantly more consistency in United's team selection and the players Moyes had stuck with were his veterans, who formed a solid, vocal, defensive group. Goalkeeper David de Gea was joined by Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand, Patrice Evra and Michael Carrick for every minute of their first five Premier League games last season. This time around, the again ever-present De Gea has only had Wayne Rooney as consistent company over the same period.

While last year the defence remained consistent, this season only two defenders - Tyler Blackett and Phil Jones - have played more than 50 per cent of United's league minutes so far.

With those two players being young and, in Blackett's case, inexperienced, is the collapse at the King Power Stadium - in which the Red Devils conceded four goals in half-an-hour against a newly-promoted side - really all that surprising?

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