Reverse LVG Tactics

Manchester United manager, Louis Van Gaal, has been heavily criticised during this 15/16 season for his tactics, which are perceived by many as negative and not ‘the Manchester United way’ of playing football. In this tactical analysis I’ll be reviewing the typical style and ‘philosophy’ used by LVG, comparing it to the pre-LVG brand of football, and coming up with a suggested tactical solution that’s more in keeping with the club’s DNA.

The LVG Philosophy

‘Philosophy’ has been LVG’s favourite buzzword during his Man United tenure, but what does he mean by this? Well, it’s not entirely about tactics (though that’s the bit that I’ll be concentrating on), it’s also about the mentality and the approach of the players. For example, LVG likes his players to have ‘match rhythm’, so if a first team player is coming back from injury or hasn’t been involved recently then he’s likely to feature in the under 21’s to maintain match fitness, or rhythm. This is something I do myself on Football Manager. I prefer my players to be 100% conditioned before they return to the first team line-up, and a couple of games for the under 21’s is a good way to do this.

On the pitch the LVG philosophy can be summed up in a few words: He likes patient, possession-based football, a meticulous organisation of the defence, and slow, probing attacking play. He prefers to create one or two good chances over many.

LVG on his footballing philosophy:

Each player needs to know where he has to be, and that is why there needs to be mutual understanding because you need absolute discipline.

LVG Formations

  1. His choice of formation this season (15/16) has predominantly been 4-2-3-1 (or 4-3-3) – one striker assisted by two attack-minded inverted wingers and a number 10. With a few tweaks this set-up could suit a fast-paced attacking or counter-attacking approach, but neither mentality is adopted.
  2. Other formations have featured too but more out of necessity due to injuries. He’s flirted with a 3-4-1-2 (or 3-5-2) formation at times, which he enjoyed using with the Dutch national side, but has failed to replicate it’s success at United.

LVG’s preferred formations at Man United (lineups courtesy of Sky Sports): A 4-2-3-1 (or 4-3-3) formation and a 3-4-1-2 (or 3-5-2) formation

The United Way

During almost four decades of unprecedented success under the stewardship of Sir Alex Ferguson (49 trophies), Man United developed a hugely successful style of football that was adored by the fans and entertained, enthralled and enraptured viewers around the world. This was a style built around speed with direct running, counter-attacking pace, proper wingers (not inverted), marauding full-backs and striking partnerships. This is precisely the style I aim to replicate.

My Proposed 4-4-1-1 Formation

In this set up United are sitting slightly deeper so they can play on the counter-attack, with a high tempo and a more expressive and direct approach. Attacking play is focussed down the wings and the support striker has freedom to roam the pitch, get on the ball, and partner the lead striker in attacks.

I’m sure that many people would disagree on the personnel, and that’s fine, but I’d imagine that most United fans would prefer this tactical approach over the current one.

Proposed 4-4-1-1 formation

For this to work properly left-sided players should be left-footed and right-sided players should be right footed, so it does feel a little bit like putting square pegs in round holes. A player like Mata doesn’t really fit in, he’s better suited in the number 10 role but United no longer have any left-footed wingers. Controversially I’d drop Rooney for him if there was another option on the left wing.

So just image if United still had Di Maria or signed someone like Antoine Griezmann, imagine if United still had or re-signed Paul Pogba. With better choices, better use of the £300 million spent and just a few personnel changes, United could have looked something like this (a starting 11 capable of competing at the top level, playing the United way):

What do you think of United’s current style of play? What do you think of my suggested changes? Would you prefer to see United get back to a more direct style of football?

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

Comments (3)

  • You are almost there. However I think you are too attack heavy. You will be destroyed on the counter as your center backs will be left alone too often as your holding midfield player will go walkabout hunting the ball instead of covering the defense.

    On attack you will have both W and WB pushing on on both flanks meaning that you will have no layers on attack with no one to recycle the ball to if you get closed down.

    I would look at changing the BWM to a CM(D) or DLP(D) and then change the WB’s to support role. That way if the wing ends up in a dead end he has a support option to pass the ball to to recycle possession.

    Alternatively you could have a WB(A)/W(S) pair on one flank so the winger holds up the ball and then feeds the overlapping runner while offering a recycle option. I would put the CM(D) on the same side as the WB(A) as he will then fill the hole that the WB is leaving.

    The final comment is you probably only want exploit flanks and maybe only one side? Clear to flanks encourages kicking long into the corners, and will result in turning the ball over.

    Comment by MrBadDragon (16/03/2016)
  • Thinking about it, I would favour a WM(S)/WB(A) option as you could have player instructions on the WM to allow him to play wide or narrow depending on how your opposition react to your tactics.

    Comment by MrBadDragon (16/03/2016)
  • In this tactic I’m not that interested in recycling the ball, I want to get away from all the sidewise and backward passing you see under LVG. I’d accept that possession will suffer as a result but I’d rather players took risks, looked to run at the full backs, looked to get in behind the defence. I’ll forgive a winger for losing the ball because he’s tried to attack the byline. I agree that the wing backs are possibly too attack minded and that’s where opposition managers would target. In my mind the ball winning midfielder would drop back to make a defensive trio – like Gilberto used to for Arsenal. Some refinement is probably needed like you say and I like your suggestions for roles and duty changes. I’m tempted to test it out for real in a new Man United save!

    Comment by Manager Diary (20/03/2016)