Louis van Gaal has been in place at Manchester United for just a week, but already he may have solved one of the club's biggest riddles. His era began almost perfectly with this 7-0 thrashing of LA Galaxy in the Rose Bowl Arena on Wednesday night. United's assured victory over the MLS team was full of positives and, for the first time in a long time, United dominated the midfield.
United's problem in the centre of the pitch may finally have a solution. Instead of finding the new Roy Keane, Van Gaal has simply opted for a shift in formation. The 3-5-2 that served him so well for Holland at the World Cup formed the template for his maiden United team, and it worked a treat.
The setup allowed United's back three to control the ball from the back and gave the rest of the team the chance to swamp over the rest of the pitch. They kept possession with ease, and it bodes well for future endeavours.
This was inevitably a match of firsts for United. Only two players survived from David Moyes' first game 12 months ago: Danny Welbeck and Jonny Evans. The formation was new, and Ander Herrera impressed on his debut. Not to mention the new Chevrolet shirts.
The former Athletic Bilbao midfielder had a terrific strike turned over the bar early in the game, but the scoring was opened after just 13 minutes by an ambitious Welbeck. The Mancunian struck from 25 yards and saw his shot bounce in off the post, out of reach of the keeper. It was a peach of a goal, and is hopefully indicative of what the Van Gaal era will bring.
LA Galaxy have won MLS twice in recent years and feature former Liverpool and Spurs man Robbie Keane in their lineup. Keane has been their top scorer for the past two years, but last season the Galaxy lost 11 of their 34 games and finished third in the Western Conference.
Despite the efforts of their excellent veteran coach, Bruce Arena, they have the feel of a team in transition. Former MLS superstar Landon Donovan was relegated to the bench and looked suitably sulky throughout. Half an hour elapsed before the Galaxy fashioned any decent chances, and by then United were comfortably dominating.
A short time later, Antonio Valencia won a penalty in the right channel after crossing the ball into a defender's arm and Wayne Rooney side-footed the resulting spot kick into the side netting with decisive force. The goalkeeper stood no chance.
The friendly nature of the fixture was confirmed when the Galaxy's covering man, Tommy Meyer, tripped over the ball from Welbeck's weak cross on the stroke of half-time. Rooney apologetically slid the ball in the back of the net.
United had been quick to win the ball back and looked enthused and confident. With regards to captaincy, Van Gaal played things safe by handing the armband to Darren Fletcher, but alas, the Scot was the one United player who looked off the pace. Without World Cup exertions to use as an excuse, one wonders whether he will be sharp enough to compete for the first team this year.
Fletcher and Herrera were the only players who survived half-time as Van Gaal made nine changes at the break. The formation remained the same, and it is apparent the new manager may want to stick with this. He is not a man to hide his intentions.
Youth-teamer Reece James made it four, placing home Ashley Young's cut-back early in the second half. Shortly after scoring his first United goal, James notched his second. Young added two more, with Herrera prominently involved in the build-up. On the field, it was the perfect start.
Behind the scenes, there may be tension building around the scope of United's commercial activity. There can be no doubt that United have begun to overextend themselves and Paul Scholes said over the summer, Ed Woodward "has a lot to prove" as United's corporate man. <[>With pictures emerging during the week of a glum-looking Fletcher and Rooney driving around Beverly Hills in full club kit and Chevrolet cars, no one was left with any doubt -- the circus is in town. As a commercial director, Woodward has proven his mettle. But Manchester United is a football club. They had better not forget that.