Ask any United fan to discuss the positives from last year’s horrendous title defence and, after a brief pause during which they may start to cry, they’ll almost certainly mention Adnan Januzaj.
In his twenty-seven appearances last year, Januzaj contributed four goals and three assists. Not bad for a player plucked from the youth team. He also created 31 chances for a misfiring United attack. Despite his mazy dribbling skills, Januzaj also demomstrated his vision by successfully completing nearly five-hundred passes.
Amidst all the talk of new signings at Old Trafford, and United’s pre-season success without him, it’s fair to say that Januzaj has slipped out of the limelight in recent weeks. He has been handed the number eleven shirt, taking over from club legend Ryan Giggs, but questions will remain as to how he will fit in the Van Gaal’s 3-4-1-2 formation.
Van Gaal has stated that while this is his preferred formation – he has used it in United’s opening three league matches – he also has the option to revert to 4-3-3. This could even be done during matches by utilising the adaptability of Daley Blind, and dropping one, or both of the wing-backs into the full-back positions.
Rumour has it that, like Danny Welbeck before his move to Arsenal, Januzaj is concerned about the amount of first team football he’ll be involved in. Angel Di Maria was purchased for just short of sixty million pounds from Real Madrid, and spent a successful season last year terrorising defenders from the left hand side of the pitch. If Van Gaal sticks to his wing-back system, Blind, Shaw and Rojo are all capable of operating in Januzaj’s preferred area of the pitch. He could of course be switched to the right hand side, cutting in to use his wand of a left foot, but United aren’t short of options there either. You would think that Rafael and Valencia have the right side nailed down, but Januzaj has the talent to displace them both.
Januzaj is of course much more accustomed to playing wide in an attacking sense than as a wing-back with more defensive duties, but that’s not to say that he couldn’t succeed here. Nobody would have predicted the purple patch that Ashley Young hit in the wing-back position, highlighted by strong pre-season performances from the former England man, so who’s to say that the Belgian couldn’t also adapt to this position?
Januzaj has been working on his upper body strength during the summer as he strives to emulate a certain number seven from days gone by, and I don’t mean Michael Owen.
Interestingly, Van Gaal may have other ideas as to where Januzaj will best prosper. Against Valencia in a recent friendly, he was deployed in the ‘number ten’ position just off the strikers. Indeed, King Louis has been quoted as saying that he has far too many number tens, but with Rooney playing as a striker, this would only leave Mata and Di Maria. Could it be that Januzaj too is viewed by the new manager as a natural playmaker in that position?
Traditionally, United fans love to see wingers flying down the touchline with the ball at their feet. Kanchelskis, Giggs and Ronaldo all had the ability to get supporters off their seats. Januzaj at times last year demonstrated the magical ability that could light up Old Trafford, and looked destined to next in line to the title of ‘Wing Wizard’.
It may be that we don’t see Adnan Januzaj nailing down just one position for a good few years yet, but one thing is for sure; United fans are certainly looking forward to seeing him try.