Robbie Savage: Man Utd boss Van Gaal must find right balance

Robbie Savage

In his regular BBC Sport column, Robbie Savage looks at how Manchester United's expensive new faces might fit into Louis van Gaal's system and why Swansea will head to Chelsea in confident mood.

The big signings that Manchester United have made means that they look unbalanced in defence and attack.

But having to work out how to fit Radamel Falcao and Angel Di Maria into his team is a good problem for United boss Louis van Gaal to have.

And it is going to be just as interesting to see how Van Gaal organises his defence as well as fitting all his star players into his attack.

I think he will stick with his 3-4-1-2 formation and Michael Carrick and Danny Blind will play a big part in that. Either of them could play in central midfield alongside Ander Herrera, or in the back three. They are both versatile but also good on the ball, which will be important in both of those positions the way United will be set up.

This is what I consider to be United's best XI, when everybody is fit and available.

Savage's best Manchester United XI
Manchester United XI

One thing that jumps out at me straight away is that there is not a single product of United's youth team in there.

Bringing players through is something United have always prided themselves on but seeing Welbeck, Tom Cleverley and Tom Lawrence all leave the club on transfer deadline day shows how difficult it will be for young players to get into this team.

It also does not include United's big buys from the last two transfer windows, Marouane Fellaini and Juan Mata. They just don't fit into Van Gaal's system.

Radamel Falcao (left) and Daley Blind (right) with boss Louis van Gaal
Falcao and Blind are two players with key roles to play at Man Utd

Now it is down to Van Gaal to turn his big star-name individuals into a unit.

I look at what he has spent and think that, if he does not get them in the top four and back in the Champions League now, then he does not have much of an excuse for failure.

His job should not be on the line over that, because every manager needs time. But David Moyes did not get any, and he did not get the same backing in the transfer market either.

It could be Champions League or bust for Van Gaal, but I don't see United making it. I am sticking with my top four of Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool - I have got United down to finish fifth.

Sigurdsson suits fresh Swansea style

While United have struggled to get going in the first few weeks of the season, the team who beat them on the opening day have gone from strength to strength.

Nobody - including myself - gave Swansea a chance at Old Trafford, but after what I've seen of them so far, it will be far less of a shock if they get something out of their visit to Stamford Bridge on Saturday.

Along with Chelsea, the Welsh side are the only other Premier League side to have won all three of their games so far.

They are strong enough in attack to pose Jose Mourinho's side some problems, as well as being solid enough in defence to make it difficult for the Blues to break them down.

That is testimony to the work done by Swansea manager Garry Monk and his coaches on the training ground and also how he has shaped their squad since taking charge at the beginning of the year. This is his team now, and they are playing his style of football.

Swansea in the Premier League
555.7 (Rank: 2)Average passes per game504.66 (Rank: 8)
291.5 (4)Average passes in opposition half per game202 (16)
85.2% (3)Passing accuracy overall85.6% (4)
79.1% (4)Passing accuracy in opposition half73.6% (11)
57.4% (3)Average possession50.9% (9)
Data: Opta

It is very early to study team stats because they have only played three times, but Monk seems to be playing to the strengths of the attacking players he has by putting less importance on possession and keeping the ball in the opposition half, and more on trying to hurt teams in those areas.

Wilfried Bon
Wilfried Bony has not scored yet this season but provides a platform for Swansea's attacks

Swansea sold a lot of players over the summer, which is why I thought they might struggle, but they have kept the spine of their team in Ashley Williams, Jonjo Shelvey and Wilfried Bony.

In Bony, they have a striker who can hold the ball up and run in behind defences too. Shelvey can spray passes around the middle of the park and, with Williams, they have a centre-half who can play out from the back.

What they have got on top of that is pace in wide areas in Nathan Dyer and Wayne Routledge and a creative, goal-scoring link between midfield and attack in Gylfi Sigurdsson, who signed in the summer and has had a hand in all six of Swansea's goals this season.

After a successful loan spell at Swansea when he first came to the Premier League, Sigurdsson never really established himself in two years at Tottenham.

But at Swansea he fits into the style Monk wants to play - he does not waste possession but he always looks to hurt teams when he has the ball rather than just try to keep it.

Sigurdsson in the Premier League
SeasonTeamAppearancesAverage mins per appGoalsAssistsMins per chance created
2011-12Swansea City18 (17 starts)83.37330
2012-13Tottenham Hotspur33 (12 starts)36.93449
2013-14Tottenham Hotspur25 (14 starts)515085
2014-15Swansea City3 (3 starts)901434
Data: Opta

The Iceland international is flourishing now he is playing regularly again, and in a pivotal role. He has got four assists this season, the joint highest so far in the Premier League with Chelsea's Cesc Fabregas, and as many as he managed in total from his two seasons at Spurs.

He has shown he can score goals too, arriving late in the box like he did to get the winner against United.

People have put that result down to how poor United were, and Chelsea will undoubtedly be a tougher test. But whatever happens there, Monk deserves credit for the way Swansea have started the season.

Arsenal must sacrifice flair

Danny Welbeck was an inspired signing for Arsenal on deadline day because he will offer them something they have not had for years at centre-forward, which is pace.

If you look at his record at Manchester United, Welbeck did not score enough goals for a striker. He has never hit double figures for league goals in a season and, despite having an average of two shots a game, his average return is a goal every three games.

But this is a big chance for him to play in his favoured position down the middle, which he did not get to do much for United, and he will be playing for a team that will create a lot of chances for him.

Danny Welbeck
Danny Welbeck's best return in a Premier League season is nine goals (2013-14 and 2011-12)
Danny Welbeck's Premier League record since 2008
Apps:118 (74 starts)
Minutes played:6,830
Goals scored:26
Minutes per goal:262.69
Shots on target:84
Shooting accuracy:51.22%
Shots per goal:15.85
Data: Opta

Playing him will mean a change of approach by Arsenal. Welbeck will stretch teams in a way Olivier Giroud can never do, and that will give the Gunners' creative players more space to work in.

Arsenal use Giroud to build off and to feed their fast runners, but Welbeck will make more runs behind opposing defences and look to get in the box more than, say, Alexis Sanchez, when he leads the line.

They have got so many options going forward and, against most opposition in the Premier League, I would expect Arsene Wenger to pick three attack-minded players in his midfield to feed Welbeck and thread balls through to him to run on to.

But, against Manchester City on Saturday, Wenger has to resist that urge to use too many attacking players.

His team are at home but he must remember what happened when he went to Etihad Stadium in December last year - Arsenal took City on and got battered 6-3.

Gunners need to find balance in midfield

Mesut Ozil
Savage thinks £40m signing Mesut Ozil is the man who should be left out against Manchester City

I watched Arsenal's 1-1 draw with Leicester last time out and it was completely obvious that they were missing a defensive midfielder. They looked unbalanced, with too much emphasis on attack.

They should have signed a player to solve that problem before the transfer window closed - Wenger chose not to, but he has still got to find a way to tighten things up in his midfield.

Against Leicester, too much defensive responsibility was given to Mathieu Flamini. In a midfield along with Jack Wilshere, Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey and Alexis Sanchez, Flamini was getting pulled out of position all the time and Leicester created so many chances on the counter attack.

That was another warning for Wenger ahead of this weekend, because Manchester City are particularly dangerous when they break forward with pace.

So, Wenger has a big decision, because he cannot afford to play that same midfield against City. Flamini cannot be his only defensive-minded player because, if he is, Arsenal will be overwhelmed again.

One way of competing with City in that area would be to play three men in the centre of midfield, with Wilshere and Ramsey - if fit - playing alongside Flamini and told, like him, to stay deep and protect their defence.

Savage's Arsenal team to face Man City
Manchester United XI

Arsenal do not have a midfield enforcer, so they need to pick athletic players to do those defensive jobs. Yes, Mikel Arteta is a more defensively disciplined player than both Wilshere and Ramsey but he is not as mobile as either of them.

The Gunners' attacking threat can come from their fast men down the flanks - Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the left and Alexis Sanchez on the right.

That means no place for Ozil, but that is the sort of sacrifice Wenger will have to make. Oxlade-Chamberlain has pace and will work hard defensively too - Ozil does not really offer either.

The crucial thing to remember is that, whatever shape and team Wenger goes for, he really has to leave out one of his flair players even if he doesn't want to.

In a game like this one, the decision over who to play comes down to what they do for the team when Arsenal do not have the ball and, for me, Ozil does not do enough.

Robbie Savage was speaking to BBC Sport's Chris Bevan

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