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Jul 24, 2014

Van Gaal's first match: What we learned

Louis van Gaal enjoyed a fine introduction as Manchester United manager with a commanding friendly victory.

Louis van Gaal's Manchester United era got off to a flying start with a fine performance and 7-0 win over the Los Angeles Galaxy. Ander Herrera starred while all seven goals were scored by Englishmen -- but what else did we learn?

Five into 10 does not go

United's squad currently contains five players who play in the No.10 role: Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata, Adnan Januzaj, Marouane Fellaini and Shinji Kagawa. Van Gaal has declared the squad is overequipped in this area, saying: "We have four No. 10s, so the selection is not balanced in my eyes.

"I have decided to play this system because of the quality of the players. But if we lose, I can change back to another system."

With the new manager clear that he wants to give everyone a chance before reshuffling his pack, it would be a surprise if Fellaini and Kagawa both survived the summer. With two goals against the Galaxy, Rooney already has marked his territory as the main man in the pack.

Formation shift solves many issues

United lined up in a 3-5-2 formation, switching to 5-3-2 in attack that seemed fluid from the outset. The layout requires great energy from the full-backs (Luke Shaw and Antonio Valencia at kickoff) but solves many problems United have had for a while. Namely, a strong presence in midfield.

The visitors dominated possession and restricted old foe Robbie Keane to one lively break towards the end of the first half. Phil Jones was the equal to Keane's sprint and seems assured as the central man in the three centre-backs. However, Jones, Chris Smalling and Jonny Evans all have history with the treatment table. United will need another defender or two if they are to persist with this formation.

Herrera quality

Since the retirement of Paul Scholes, United have lacked a schemer who plays at the front of the midfield. On the strength of this showing, Herrera is the next heir apparent. The new signing was central to United's best moves and was granted the full 90 minutes to state his case for the first team.

His passing was crisp and inventive and he displayed an intelligent energy those used to Tom Cleverley found refreshing. United fans will be pleased with what they saw. Clearly, though, the slick Spaniard cannot cure all United's ills on his own and a combative midfield anchor remains a necessity. One optimistic fan implored van Gaal to sign Arturo Vidal, displaying the message on a homemade flag of Chile, and executive vice chairman Ed Woodward says United can smash transfer records this summer.

For now, though, Herrera's start is promising -- his graft and guile making United's neglect of midfield in recent years all the more baffling.

Ander Herrera was sublime in midfield for United, with fans excited at the prospect of the Spaniard improving a problem area.

Captaincy remains up in the air

The choice of Darren Fletcher as captain seemed a pragmatic one but the Scot has never had the commanding presence United's armband demands and is unlikely to get the job full time. Van Gaal is not one to shirk the big decisions and this may have been a play on politics from him.

It still seems likely that Robin van Persie will be given leadership duties when he returns and sharing responsibility in the meantime could be just playing to the gallery. Giving it to Rooney straight out would have been facile -- despite their warm embrace in training, Rooney and van Gaal are still figuring each other out.

Victories build momentum

Although the Galaxy are not the force of a couple of years ago, this was a full-strength side in the middle of their season and United swept them away. This time last year, United lost 1-0 to the Singha All-Star Eleven and the response was muted.

Several elements of this game gave it the feel of a friendly, not least the huge personnel overhaul at halftime, but United were 3-0 up by then and in cruise control.

In their coming games, United will take on European champions Real Madrid and could potentially meet Liverpool if results lead them to the extra fixture on offer. Victories against those sides would surely see them hit the ground running in the Premier League.