Paul Scholes: Manchester United's 3-5-2 is great for possession but not so great for scoring goals

EXCLUSIVE: As part of his weekly column for The Independent, the former United midfielder looks at the formation being used by Louis van Gaal

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The Independent Online

Southampton’s win over Manchester United on Sunday reinforced my thoughts on the 3-5-2 system Louis van Gaal has implemented. My issue with it has always been that it gives a team the security of having possession without offering them the opportunities from which they might score the goals that win the game.

You might remember that Liverpool played a similar system in the mid-1990s and we went into the 1996 FA Cup final worrying whether we would get a kick against them. They may well have had more possession than us but we always believed that playing with two wingers, and one striker off a centre-forward, would give us the opportunity to create the chances we needed to score goals. And so it proved.

Ronald Koeman was clever in his approach to United. James Ward-Prowse kept close to Michael Carrick and made sure Michael did not control the game. Victor Wanyama and Morgan Schneiderlin did the same to Juan Mata and Wayne Rooney. Because United lack pace in attack the two centre-halves could push up on Robin van Persie and suddenly the lack of options going forward was telling. Van Persie has a great touch but defenders can afford to get tight to him because they don’t have to worry about him spinning off for the ball dropped in behind them.

Angel Di Maria has the pace but is not a centre-forward. As a player, when I was trying to open up opposing teams, a ball dropped in behind the full-back to a wide player often had the desired effect of pulling a defence out of shape. It dragged the full-back across to cover, then the centre-back was often drawn to the space left behind, which created room for the strikers to score goals.

 

In a 3-5-2 formation, that width is just not there for United. Luke Shaw is an orthodox left-back being asked to play wing-back. Antonio Valencia has lost some of that great pace he once had, and it is more difficult for him to get past players when his starting position is so deep.

There is no doubt that 3-5-2 helps you keep the ball. The three centre-halves and the three central midfielders can pass it around to their heart’s content. The problem comes when you try to hurt teams in attacking areas. You can have all the possession you like, but if you are not creating “2 v 1” situations where you outnumber your opposition and get behind them, then you are not going to score enough goals.

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