One of the main reasons behind Manchester United boasting the best defensive record in the League, since November 2014, is the fact that Van Gaal has a settled back four.
Any team looking to build strong defensive foundations need to select their best defensive partnerships and then stick with it. Despite the early hiccups, Van Gaal stuck to his settled back four and has been rewarded accordingly.
However, their defeat away to Eindhoven, not only upset the mood at Old Trafford, but also dealt a damaging blow as far as United’s defense is considered. England international, Luke Shaw has been sidelined for around six months with a double fracture, following a wild lunge from PSV centre back, Hector Moreno.
Shaw’s injury is more than just an unfortunate incident for Van Gaal. The Dutchman will be forced to alter is back four now and more importantly, he will need to plug the gap with players, who aren’t specialist full backs.
The injury to Luke Shaw has forced United to consider their options and Van Gaal will have to find a solution. Here are three ways Van Gaal can solve their crisis.
Switch to a back three
Manchester United have the midfield and the attack to play a three defender formation. The likes of Schweinsteiger, Carrick and Schneiderlin are disciplined enough to form a midfield pivot. Herrera and Mata can easily operate as the advanced playmaker in behind the two strikers – Martial and Wayne Rooney.
Furthermore, the likes of Rojo, who aren’t specialist full backs, will be much more solid and comfortable playing as a left sided centre back in a three. Matteo Darmian’s ability on the ball means he can operate as a right sided wing back.
Bring back the wing play
If Van Gaal decides to stick with his four at the back, the likes of Blind will have to play left back. In that case, Manchester United will miss out on the width provided by Luke Shaw.
Van Gaal will need to bring back the likes of Ashley Young into the side to compensate for the lack of width. Regardless of playing wide, Memphis Depay tends to come inside and doesn’t quite provide the natural width for his side.
Sign a defender in January
With Jones and Shaw out of the picture, one more injury could force Manchester United to promote their academy prospects to the first team.
Manchester United are left with four starting defenders in Smalling, Darmian, Blind and Rojo, just enough to field a back four. Another injury could be catastrophic for the Dutchman.
Van Gaal needs to sign a defender when the window re-opens in January. It is evident that Manchester United are looking at a centre back (considering their interest in Ramos/Otamendi).
The likes of Adriano have been linked with a January move to Manchester United. The Barcelona full back has a close relationship with Van Gaal and the Dutchman is looking to use his connection to bring the Brazilian to Old Trafford as a substitute for Luke Shaw.