There used to be a time when no-one paid much to attention to pre-season. Apart from catching a glimpse of a new signing or sating that football fix before late August it barely mattered results-wise. Apparently that has changed this season with United winning football matches and an actual trophy, remember those things?
Granted, with a new manager introducing a new footballing philosophy we should all be a tad more excited than the nervous anticipation suffered twelve months ago. United have swept aside all comers for a perfect record stateside, scoring 16 and conceding only four. Compare that to pre-season under David Moyes twelve months ago and there is cause for optimism but let’s not get carried away, it is still pre-season.
No points have been put on the board and no-one will really know how well these players have attuned themselves until the season opener against Swansea but the signs are good. Having only seen snippets of action (seriously, I won’t be watching with any real intent until it actually matters) and the International Champions Cup final against Liverpool there seems to be a burgeoning sense of confidence throughout the team.
Louis van Gaal has only had a few weeks with his players yet, unlike last season, the players already seem comfortable. A lot has been said about introducing the 3-5-2 system and how wholly revolutionary it is but change can be good too and in this case it is working. It may only be a stopgap as Van Gaal has gone on record as saying that this is the system he feels works best with the players at his disposal which is an important point.
Systems do matter in football yet they are not the be-all and end-all, they have to suit the players available. In his seminal book, ‘Inverting The Pyramid’, Jonathan Wilson is clear about how tactics works on a football field. He said, “Football is not about players, or at least not just about players; it is about shape and about space, about the intelligent deployment of players, and their movement within that deployment.” Certainly, until any new signings this is a system that the players already look comfortable with in the sense that they look like they know they are doing and where they are supposed to be on the pitch. For the timebeing it looks like 4-4-2 has been swept aside which may not be a bad thing.
After a season to forget the squad seems to have got its mojo back with some adventurous, one-touch moves and confident cross-field passes finding players in space. Transitions are quick yet unhurried with holding midfielders and wingbacks proving crucial to the movement of the ball. The likes of Wayne Rooney and Juan Mata are playing in their favoured positions and without much surprise they have an influence on the game.
Like moving on after the most constrictive of relationships the players seem free and enjoying themselves which makes you wonder quite how detrimental the coaching of David Moyes was. While there are still worries about the depth of the squad, particularly in midfield and across the backline, and how challenging the system may prove on wingbacks there is cause for optimism. Then again, it is only pre-season.