Manchester United fullback Tyrell Malacia played in a surprising new position in the Netherlands’ match against Belgium yesterday.
The Dutch side won 1-0 via a Virgil van Dijk goal in the second half, but he had an unlikely partner in the backline.
Malacia came on at half time to replace Nathan Ake and played 45 minutes as a central defender.
“I put Malacia in the left centre-back role because Martins Indi is not going to make it to the World Cup squad in time due to injury.
“I have to look at other players who can play there and I wanted to see what Malacia could do, so Ake was substituted.”
It would be fair to wonder what Jamie Carragher might have thought of the experiment, given his polemic dismissal of 5’9” defender Lisandro Martinez’s ability to play in the heart of the defence.
Malacia stands at just 5’7”, but Van Gaal had no qualms about using the former Feyenoord man in his back line.
The former United boss also gave a word on the tactical benefits of playing Malacia there:
“I put him on the left of the central defence because De Bruyne played a lot on that side. It’s better to have a pit bull like that instead of someone like Blind who tries to solve it tactically.
“De Bruyne has more acceleration than Blind as well, so I put Malacia there. I had already discussed this with him the day before yesterday, that he could play as a left centre-back.”
With ‘Pitbulll’ Malacia able to offer the defence more energy and dynamism, the Netherlands managed to hold on to their clean sheet.
Van Gaal was certainly impressed with his defender’s ability to keep Kevin de Bruyne from affecting the game.
But, despite boasting a 95% passing accuracy, Van Gaal was less pleased with his work in possession in his new role:
“The defensive work he did very well, but the constructive work in the build-up could have been a lot better.”
He also appeared critical of Malacia’s constant forays forward during the game, having a heated conversation with the marauding defender from the touchline.
While Van Gaal didn’t seem to mind those bursts up the pitch in training, he was keen to see a more contained performance in the Nations League grudge match.
Should Manchester United ever opt for a back three under Erik ten Hag, it would be interesting to see if the 23-year-old would be considered for a similar role by the Old Trafford boss.