On the back of Manchester United’s drab draw with Burnley, Marcos Rojo can’t make his debut soon enough.
For the £16 million signing from Sporting Lisbon is exactly the type of defender Louis van Gaal needs in his team.
In the game at Turf Moor, the Red Devils were crying out for a player like Rojo. That is, they were desperate for a centre-back who could bring the ball out from the back.
Merely dribbling forward with the ball from defence may not seem like much, but it’s an important thing for a defender to do – and is not the easiest thing in the world.
When a centre-back comes forward with the ball, that allows the midfielders to get into spaces where they can influence play.
Dropping deep to pick up the ball well inside their own half makes it harder for a midfielder to envisage their next pass and draws the rest of the team backwards, helping the opposition shut off the spaces in the final third.
It’s why Juan Mata was so ineffective against Burnley. He couldn’t get into the right places to make the killer pass for Robin van Persie or Wayne Rooney because he had to come deeper for the ball, allowing Burnley to press higher and force the ball to ineffective areas on the wings.
Hence van Persie and Rooney also had poor games, as the service was mostly shut off and they had to try their luck for most of the game from crosses into the penalty area.
Angel di Maria was impressive and managed to give United’s play some flow with clever passes through the gaps in Burnley’s midfield line and great, accurate long balls to good areas on the wing, but there was only so much he could do from central midfield.
For a centre-back however, having the confidence to go forward with the ball isn’t the easiest thing in the world, especially in high stake Premier League games where one heavy touch could lead to being dispossessed, the goalkeeper being exposed and a goal being conceded.
And with the amount of money there is riding on each game – not to mention the defender’s clean sheet bonus and the potential for him to miss out on his appearance bonus the next game – it’s clear to see why Jonny Evans, Phil Jones or Tyler Blackett weren’t all too keen to take the ball forward in the last game.
Plus, they’re not the best at dribbling.
Marcos Rojo however does have that confidence. The amount of long range shots he had for Sporting Lisbon last season is testament to that – he’s a player who likes to get forward from central defence, and take the ball with him.
And while he played at left-back for Argentina at the World Cup, his two successful dribbles attacking the right side pairing of Granit Xhaka and Stephan Lichtsteiner against Switzerland show his dribbling ability when he is allowed to run with the ball.
Which is what Louis van Gaal wants, and what has been missing in his team – that centre-back with the confidence to take the ball forward.
It’s only a small thing, but it takes cajones to bring the ball forward and it also brings the rest of the team into play.
When a defender can do that however, it brings everyone else into play and forces gaps to open in the opponent’s defensive and midfield lines.
Di Maria was said to be the man who can help Juan Mata get his Manchester United career back on track. But it could well be Marcos Rojo who improves Mata’s game, and the rest of the team.
Radamel Falcao’s move from Monaco to Manchester United is the perfect transfer on all levels for the Red Devils.
The reported £6 million loan deal, which Guillem Balague insists will be a permanent £51.4 million transfer, has stunned their rivals.
It’s also shown how United, and in particular Ed Woodward, are finally thinking ahead, and why Louis van Gaal has more than a shade of Sir Alex Ferguson about him.
Falcao agents insist he’s been bought €65m for 4 years. Loan deal first for FFP reasons?
— Guillem Balague (@GuillemBalague) September 1, 2014
Falcao was the one elite striker who was available for transfer this summer.
With United already having four strikers in Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie, Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez, and with young James Wilson also set to be promoted to the first-team, it seemed that the striker position was one area the Red Devils wouldn’t look to strengthen.
The club has already spent over £150 million this window, and while Chicharito has gone to Real Madrid, even if Welbeck also left, signing a new striker still appeared a long shot. And it’s that suprise factor which might well have ruined the plans of United’s rivals.
There seemed to be a lot of truth in Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal pursuing Falcao recently. While Liverpool plumped for Mario Balotelli in the end (though they would have almost certainly preferred Radamel Falcao), it appeared City especially were planning for his arrival.
It was thought that Falcao would arrive after wantaway striker Alvaro Negredo left for Valencia (h/t Daily Mail). However, United’s swoop for the Colombian now means City could well have to keep the disgruntled Negredo. While the Gunners now appear set to continue without a new striker if Arsene Wenger’s comments (h/t SkySports.com) are to be believed – particularly damaging for his team after missing out on Loic Remy.
So in one fell swoop, Manchester United have boosted the optimism flying around their squad and their fans, while creating an air of disappointment at both Manchester City and Arsenal.
On top of that, Falcao’s transfer shows how United – and Ed Woodward – have learned the lessons of their midfield crisis, and are now investing to avoid a similar situation up-front.
While Falcao is the same age as Rooney and just three years younger than van Persie, with the latter’s injury concerns the Falcao move provides that security for the Red Devils in attack.
In a season where Manchester United need to get back into the Champions League if their hard work building a money-spinning empire is not to be all for nothing, Louis van Gaal needs to have two world-class forwards in his line-up.
With van Persie needing to go under the knife and thus be ruled out for a number of months, United would be short of the required quality should Welbeck or Hernandez be deputising in that time.
So to replace van Persie in the short-term with a truly world-class forward in Falcao is the ideal situation for United which is now a reality.Plus van Persie’s injury record and the reported concerns over his fitness means a top striker is more of a necessity than most would think.
Van Gaal thinks Van Persie will continue struggling with injuries and Falcao is more than an ideal replacement — Guillem Balague (@GuillemBalague) September 1, 2014
And in the long-term, yes Falcao is only three years younger than van Persie, but that’s potentially three more years with a world-class striker in the team.
Signing Falcao almost certainly means Welbeck will follow Chicharito out of Old Trafford, and will provide a further boost for United in terms of the progress of James Wilson.
Wilson was better than both Welbeck and Chicharito put together in his cameo appearance at MK Dons, and the 18-year-old has already shown great promise with his two-goal debut against Hull City.
His promotion to fourth choice this season will enhance his development – and give United a better option than Welbeck or Hernandez – but the real boost to his progress will be at Carrington.
Training and learning off Radamel Falcao, in addition to Rooney and van Persie, could improve Wilson’s game immeasurably – again keeping United strong up-front for the long-term.
And finally for Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal, his agreeing to the Falcao signing provides a good insight into how his team will play this season.
That is, we now know that United – in terms of how the team is set-up – will be one of the most unpredictable sides in the Premier League this season.
While van Persie is out of action, van Gaal could well stick to the 3-5-2 formation. But when the Dutchman returns, the manager has a plethora of options.
He could go 4-3-3 with a fearsome Falcao-Rooney-RvP trio up front, or he could play Angel di Maria on one side with Rooney playing deeper.
Or van Gaal could stick to 3-5-2 with Falcao and van Persie, with Rooney just behind and di Maria as a wing-back. Or have Juan Mata in the no.10 with Rooney in central midfield.
The possibilities are endless.
Falcao’s signing begs the question of where the likes of di Maria, Rooney and Mata will play, and simply makes United a much harder team to second-guess for managers and oppositon scouts across the Premier League.
It also makes competition for places even tougher in the forward positions – that will make Rooney, van Persie, Mata, even di Maria and Falcao himself work harder in training and become more focused.
Manchester United under Sir Alex Ferguson always had many different options in midfield and attack.
They could be impossible to second-guess, and with so many quality players to choose from, teams would face the Red Devils without much of a clue as to how they would line up and how they would play.
It’s part of the reason why United were so dominant under Sir Alex – opponents just didn’t know who would play, but they knew whoever did play was going to be a quality option that could tear their team apart.
After sanctioning this deal, Louis van Gaal appears to be following a similar route to Sir Alex.
The signing of Radamel Falcao looks set to bring the fear factor back to Manchester United.