LA Galaxy 0 Manchester United 7: “I don’t have to restore a mentality because what I have seen in the first week shows they have a mentality,” Louis van Gaal declared in the early hours of this morning, after his team had scored seven goals and his first appointed captain had lifted silverware.
But it is more than mentality he has attended to in the 11 days since he signed off from the Netherlands.
He revealed after beginning so auspiciously that “when you want to change a system, you must start at once,” he said. “We don’t have time to prepare for other things.” That change is to allow Juan Mata to operate behind two strikers, maximising the attacking options he has, rather than leaving strikers kicking their heels on the bench.
It will not be the same rose garden for Manchester United that we witnessed in the Rose Bowl when August comes around, but he has replicated what he did with the Netherlands, where he introduced a similar system to capitalise on the assets of Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie, while also masking defensive weaknesses.
And beyond the new system, it was the slick speed of passing which impressed most in a game which took us a very long way from the desultory 1-0 defeat to a Singha select XI, in Bangkok, which initiated David Moyes reign as United manager.
The air of anticipation around this occasion was based on the clues it would provide about which of van Gaal’s players would flourish in the fast passing environment he wants to inculcate. Ander Herrera, Mata and Darren Fletcher, by the looks of things.
“The other system they can play is 4-3-3 and they have played it for many years,” Van Gaal reflected, brushing away the name ‘Sir Alex Ferguson’ as if it had never been there. “I can change back if the system doesn’t work. With the quality of the players we have, I can play 4-3-3 with three strikers on the bench, but I want to play with two strikers.”
There was also United’s first three-man defensive structure (Smalling-Jones-Evans) when United were in possession, with Luke Shaw immediately dropping to pick up the left back berth when the American side took up possession. That also created attacking options.
Van Gaal’s initial starting line-up was the strongest available to him; a sign that he has been left extremely short of time to assess who to send into the Premier League campaign. Herrera demonstrated with his clever, technical link play why Van Gaal was happy to sanction United’s move for him during the World Cup and there were also clues to how a Van Gaal defence might line up.
The goals were the icing on the cake. Danny Welbeck struck the first after nine minutes – a left-footed strike from just inside the area which flew in off the post. Rooney, who avoided severe punishment after unfathomably raising an elbow which left Tommy Meyer’s cheek cut, added a second from the penalty spot after Leonardo raised his hand to Antonio Valencia’s cross and a third on the stroke of half time, when Tommy Meyer slipped and allowed Welbeck’s cross between his legs, with the striker ready to pounce behind him.
Van Gaal’s first substitutions were as bold as his wild signature on the team sheet: nine of them in all after half time, with only Fletcher and Herrera remaining of the first half side and the youngsters given their opportunity were defenders Michael Keane, Tyler Blackett and Reece James, the latter of whom was not even among the list of bench members whom the new manager had signed off. So a chance for everyone bar Wilfried Zaha, a player looking for his career to lift since the disastrous year after leaving Crystal Palace. Again, the three man defence, but morphing to five when the Galaxy took up possession.
One of the youngsters, 20-year-old James, scored both second half goals, finishing clinically from Ashley Young, then pouncing when the same player’s shot had been parried out to him. Then Young scored twice himself. “If we lose, I can change back to another system,” Van Gal reflected. “I am never afraid.”