Why Man United's forward line isn't working this season
Louis van Gaal's turbulent tenure as Manchester United manager has already involved more mystifying decisions, and produced more bizarre performances, than the David Moyes era ever did. Reverting back to 3-5-2 in recent weeks seems to be another inexplicable move; United have won just once in their last six in all competitions, failing to score on three occasions.
The main tactical inadequacy exhibited by United in a 3-5-2 is the immobility of their strikers, who fail to drop into the channels to support isolated wing-backs. Robin van Persie and Radamel Falcao, averaging 18 passes each per game, do not offer the required support.
Neither striker makes regular runs into the channels (though Falcao does more so), leaving the wing-backs – without a second wide player to support with an overlapping run – isolated and unable to build an attack.
What is particularly surprising is that Van Persie, looking out of sorts this season, used to perform this role superbly in an Arsenal shirt, regularly providing support to the wingers with his runs into the channel.
It is this style of play that United crave up front; Van Gaal needs to find a way to get his fellow Dutchman firing.
Angel Di Maria's move into this role has been (so far) unsuccessful, his inexperience making him an inadequate stand-in. However, including Di Maria does help to overcome the second of United's major attacking problems; with Wayne Rooney moved into a deeper position, they no longer possess a striker capable of linking the midfield with attack. Again, neither Van Persie nor Falcao are capable of performing this task.
Comparing Rooney and Van Persie's contributions as part of a front two, it is not too difficult to see why United look so sluggish and creatively inept this season.
With Van Gaal unlikely to move Rooney higher up the pitch, and unwilling to move to a “twitchy ass” 4-4-2, this problem will not be addressed anytime soon.
Given the slow tempo of their attacks and desperate lack of movement up front, Leicester will be optimistic that their increasingly-organised defence can form a decent shape and hold United at bay. They did, of course, go much better than that in the reverse fixture at the King Power Stadium back in September.
The key battle in this game will be for a place in United's starting line-up. Fielding Di Maria should help link the midfield and attack together, but in terms of providing much-needed support to the wing-backs, it's Van Persie who should be able to help end another sticky spell for his manager.
Di Maria makes more of an effort to link play than United's main strikers, but his talents are suited elsewhere.
For more tactical analysis, follow Alex Keble on Twitter.