Saturday, August 01, 2009

Could wingbacks provide answer to Fergie's problems?

Fergie says he's going to have to try something different if United are going to hit his target of 100 goals this coming season. The United manager says he expects players like Park and Valencia to do something that they've not done before in their careers that it is to score goals frequently. As far as the South Korean is concerned the idea that he might contribute say ten goals would appear to be doomed to failure from the start.

After a somewhat disappointing first season Fergie says he will use Berbatov in a different way - as the main striker no less - the success or failure of this plan pretty much hinges on the Bulgarian himself and so far he's remained silent, and quite what the former Spurs striker thinks about this new role would be interesting to know.

Berbatov is something of an enigma, he can produce moments of brilliance, but then moments later he can appear to look disinterested and lazy, but during his time in England at Spurs and United he has never looked like an out and out striker. Fergie's solution looks to be a lazy one from the outside looking in, but given we have a manager who plays strikers as wingers (Rooney) and wingers as strikers (Giggs) then nothing should surprise us.

United needed to sign a quick all round centre-forward this summer to complement their existing strike-force, because Berbatov most definitely is not that man.

From a tactical perspective, the fact that most observers will rightly accept the manager does need to do something different, is it not disappointing that Fergie hasn't even tried to do something different in pre-season? It's easy to say "we will simply shove Berbatov up front..." the idea is different, but it isn't exactly radical and worse still it's unlikely to work.

So then what else could Fergie have tried this summer and what other options are there? Fergie could opt for 4:4:2; this formation hinges on having a very strong central midfield pairing - think Ince and Keane and or Robson and Moses. Another vital ingredient is the addition of two hard working flank players. Valencia or Park could be perfect on the right, but for the left flank, you wonder if Tosic or Nani are quite good enough. Tosic looks too small while Nani has flattered to deceive on too many occasions and he doesn't defend well.

As far as the central midfield pairing goes, Fletcher and Carrick do not score enough goals, neither does Anderson. Given the various options at Fergie's disposal it would seem 4:4:2 would only work in the bread and butter domestic games - it is unlikely to yield positive results in the major encounters.

Another option would be to use wingbacks. United have some really pacey attacking fullbacks in the Da Silva brothers and Evra, so providing the defensive trio of Rio Ferdinand, Vidic and Wes Brown could organise themselves then playing three at the back could be another avenue.

Three at the back. Possible line up:

++++++++++++++++++++++++++ Rio Vidic Brown ++++++++++++++

+++++++++++ Rafael ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ Evra +++

++++++++++++ Valencia ++ Fletcher ++ Carrick ++++

+++++++++++++++Rooney (or Owen) Berbatov (or Macheda)+++++++

Playing three at the back is the most difficult system of all to implement because it relies on the intelligence on five defenders to do the right thing at the right time. One of the issues centres on the third central defender who is in danger of becoming under-employed when facing a 4:5:1 formation (Chelsea - who often employ just Drogba as the main striker), to counter this, one of the three central defenders has the option of pushing further up the pitch into by the opposition's attacking third. Of equal importance is when and when not to attack from the wingback perspective.

The biggest problem with playing three at the back is the system takes time to adapt to and that Fergie freely admits he is no tactical genius. It would take a coach of who has total belief in different systems (Louis Van Gaal or Mourinho) and so in all probability the very idea would never get beyond the tactics board (assuming there actually is one)...

The United manager also has the option of deploying 4:5:1, but here again who would be the main striker? It would have to be Owen, because at least he has pace. Do not be surprised if Fergie opts for 4:5:1 in the not too distant future.

With all that said, we United fans love Fergie, we love his tactics - even if on paper they don't make a lot of sense because he's brought us a lot of success and joy down the years, but it wasn't for nothing that not so long ago the fans named him 'Tinkerbell' and you do wonder if that moniker will be used more frequently in the weeks ahead...


  1. The formation posted is beyond a joke.
    This isn't the style United should be playing, 5 at the back effectively.
    This is a defensive formation and United are about creativity and attacking tactics.
    Although I see the intention of the full backs pushing up but I don't like the idea of 5 defenders on the pitch at one time (unless they are playing a midfield role). I'd like to see a 4-3-2-1 or a 4-3-1-2 formation. These are attacking based plus they provide support for the strikers.

  2. MU will be just fine if the 3 senior players Giggs,Gary N and Scholes are not in the first team also include John Oshea. Fergi please give the youngsters their chance now and dont rely on those players mentioned above.

  3. Ben,

    I think you're missing the point about 3:5:2. Many people (like you) think it's a defensive formation but it can be the exact opposite.

    United have a big weakness in central midfield which Barcelona exposed. The attacking fullbacks can be both wingers and defenders - providing everyone understands the system.

    United's weak midfield would also be strengthened with the additional bodies, what's more I believe Fergie has the players to put this system in place.

    IF you look at the numbers Fergie is expecting Rooney (18) Berbatov (20) and Owen (15) to score 53 goals between them.

    Fergie has set a target of of 100 goals, that means for the rest of the squad they will have to score 47, which is a huge increase when compared to the number of goals from previous recent seasons - the only way this is going to happen is if the team creates a lot more goal scoring opportunities, because players like Park will need something like 10 chances to score one goal - god knows what Anderson's goals to chances ratio is - we don't have any regular goal-scorers beyond the main strikers apart from Macheda.

    Whatever formation the manager chooses if you absorb the above figures the only sensible conclusion is Fergie isn't going to get anywhere near 100 goals...

  4. My first post here

    The problem of Carrick alone being the creative mid-fielder is affecting us big time. Rest of the positions we have good quality players however the center of the park we lack quality a lot .

    Fergie is laying a lot of faith in Hargo`s return (becos of 17 Mill).

    If he returns we will be extremely dynamic because the likes of Carrick/Anderson can be freed up from defensive duties .

    If Hargo does not come back , i see us changing to 4-2-3-1 in the big matches ..

    In fact it will be like

    We have played this formation only once and that was the trashing of Arsenal in F.A Cup 4-0 ...

    With this formation we can totally hide our weakness , as our wingers and full backs will be very high up the field .

    Carrick will be freed from man marking and he can spray the long balls superbly .

    If we can sign one more central mid-fielder then we can challenged on all fronts !

    Or else just pray for Hargo`s Return :)

  5. Rick,

    Thanks for the contribution. I agree that Fergie is hoping Hargreaves will return but it's beginning to look doubtful isn't it?

    Your formation is essentially a 4:5:1 with Carrick being used as the defensive shield in front of the back four. I'm not sure I'd opt to play Rooney in the lone striker role as he's not really best suited to that job.

    As I mentioned in an earlier comment Fergie is expecting too much when asking for 47 goals from the remainder of the squad and it won't happen, not unless United can create and convert a lot more goal scoring opportunties and to do that I think we need two strikers up top, we also need to flood midfield to make up for that weakness that was exposed by Barca, to do all of those things we need a new radical approach and IMO variants of 4:5:1 will not do the trick.

    What we are forgetting is winning is the most important thing, and even if we concede more along the way as long as we are winning and playing THE UNITED WAY then everyone will be happy, what we don't want is to see the team losing and playing badly...

    I can see a lot of problems ahead though and to me at least anyway this summer's pre-season games have been wasted opportunities because the manager could have tried a different approach, but instead it appears he's going to do what he always has done in the past and that is to tinker.

    Fergie should have been bold, but he's no great tactician and we know that.

  6. James,
    Look you are talking abt flooding midfield & at the same time u want the formation 4-4-2 .. It aint possible ...

    The formation i wrote will surely be employed and this as far i can see can get the best of Rooney dynamism.

    Liverpool is also employing a variety of this formation 4-2-2-1-1
    This Formation alone gets the best of Torres add in another striker u cant see why he is the best .

    Any variety of 4-2-3-1 or 4-5-1 needs 2 specialist players for it to work . One Hargo/Mascherano type another Carrick/Alosno .

    If u don't have both type u can never employ that formation at all.

    Radical approach in the preseason was not at all possible becos we definitely had to raise spirits of Nani, Owen, Berba etc..

    The recent interview abt tactics is worrying becos i have never seen fergie talk abt it with the press.

    One more CM like Sneijder we are set for the season :)

  7. Rick,

    I think you may have misunderstood the point I was making. I can see Fergie using 4:4:2 but as I wrote in the piece, it will not work well in the biggest of games and that's why I'm advocating real change and not tinkering.

    You point to Liverpool using 4-2-2-1-1, but United do not have a Fernando Torres who can play the lone striker role perfectly as we found to our cost, nor do we have a Gerrard who supplies many of those over the top to feet passes.

    As I've clearly stated United have major problems up front and in central midfield - I think we might agree on this point.

    It's an interesting talking point and one that Fergie will need to revisit soon with reference to his plans about how he is going to deploy Berbatov - on that point I can see him eventually spending a fair bit of time on the bench this season.

    Football is a results business and it is not about raising spirits, but I'm thinking you are referring to the summer tour.. which is fine and I know what you mean, but come the season proper there will be no room for sentiment.

    I totally agree about the need for specialists, we have none in midfield. Carrick cannot tackle and isn't a great athelete like Keane or Ince, he doesn't score enough goals. Fletcher is so so in most departments, but yes United did miss his presence in the CL final.

    However, United can make up for some of the issues in midfield by flooding that area with bodies by implementing the system I've outlined, what's more the dynamism the Da Silva brothers could bring to the team would give us another attacking dimension.

    I'm not surprised many fans cannot grasp this concept and if the fans cannot see it then it only goes to add to weight to the theory that it would be difficult to implement because many players would also struggle, at least initially, but like I said it does not have to be a defensive move at all and in point of fact it can be a very positive / attacking strategy but only the very best coaches in the world would even comtemplate trying it - and that rules out Fergie.

    The biggest problem is time or the lack of it to refine a new system like the one I've proposed.

  8. Rick,

    I forgot to add that Fergie is clearly concerned about what might happen this season, but I say again he is being totally unrealistic about that target of 100 goals...

  9. Yeah i agree with the point u make about Torres being too good as a lone striker .

    The point i am trying to make is we will only know the true potential of Rooney and Berbatov if they spend at least 30 minutes every match just in and around the side , esp Berba.

    The problem we fans have is we want to see the best of Rooney more than Berba . Fergie is also playing some what to our interests.

    Berba should be the out and out striker at all costs , with Rooney playing behind him . Reminds me of first season of Tevez when Rooney/Tevez paired fantastically it was Tevez who was leading the line and Rooney behind him.

    The reason we will not deploy 3 Cb is purely becos of talent of Rio, Vidic. They are by far the best Cb pairing i have seen next to Nesta and Maldini.

    Our defense is way too strong for us to concede bucket of goals like Arsenal .

    I agree with ur point abt lack of time and fergie also realized that very much .

    That is why he gave maximum run outs to Anderson, Owen, Macheda etc. esp Anderson as CM showing he is going to pair with Carrick .

    Agree that our RWB\LWB is one of the best in EPL . The prob is if we have good wing backs crossing we also need players like Ronaldo, Lampard etc. scoring . From our CM Fletcher looks to be the one to be getting into best of positions .

    All our CM problems are down to 2 things
    1) Hargo (Still not in England !!)
    2) Fletcher`s current performing level and Anderson`s potential .

    If Anderson can step up this season then we will have a CM pairing like 06/07 season where both CM are creative and can pick out a killer pass (Scholes/Carrick).

    If not then the formations problem arises, if we bring in Fletcher opponents know that they have to just man mark Carrick to shut down United totally .

    Damn , winning a lot of times sure makes us worry a lot huh ?? ;)

  10. Would it be the answer to fergie's problems? The season has not even started to be claiming we have problems. No chance of this happening. Fergie has always preferred the 442/433/451 formations.

  11. Completely agree with James here. 100 goals?! no chance in hell with this team! I cant see 53 goals from Rooney/Berbatov/Owen and would be lucky to see half that 53 goals from our other players.

    I think it has been a mistake on Fergies part to not replace Hargo. When you look at the formations and ideas James talks about they focus greatly on plugging our poor centre midfield. Against Barca our 3 man midfield was completely outplayed so lets say next season we go back to a regular 4-4-2, if 3 of our midfielders got torn to shreds against a quality side like Barca imagine the fun they would have against just 2 of them.

    Part of me wonders if this is Fergies final season at United and he decided to keep a load of the Ronaldo money back so his replacement would have the funds to change the squad as he sees fit.

  12. Rick,

    I agree with you that IF Hargreaves returned to full fitness and it's a very big IF, then the some of the problems in central midfield might be solved. I don't see Hargreaves returning now, if it was going to happen then surely he'd be nearly ready for the beginning of the season, instead he's out until nearer the turn of the year and so yes perhaps Fergie should have replaced him.

    Regarding your point about crossing, and if we follow your scenario with one striker, then you're right we'd be light on bodies inside the box.

    Every single one of our strikers including Macheda needs to play alongside another striker so IMO we most definitely need two up front - but as I've stated repeatedly 4:4:2 will leave us short in the centre of midfield in the toughest of fixtures - but then we come back to Hargreaves...

  13. Tony,

    Let me summarise the issues regarding your question:

    United are going to struggle to hit anywhere near 100 goals.

    They have problems in central midfield as Barca exposed.

    WE don't have an out and out striker who can play as the lone striker (a Torres or Drogba)

    United need as many bodies in midfield and up front to create chances and to stop the opposition from dominating. The formation I've proposed could potentially give United five across the midfield and two up front no other formation can do that.

    IF you look at all those issues then IMO yes the manager has a bucket full of problems, but I say again United will do ok in the bread and butter fixtures, but they will really struggle in the tougher games.

    Fergie could have tried something different this summer in a bid to address some of those problems, but he hasn't even tried.

    The very fact that Fergie is talking about goal targets is confirmation he is concerned because it should be clear as daylight to everyone.

  14. Thanks, you can see what I'm driving at with reference to plugging midfield AND it would give us two strikers and not one.

    You are spot on about the 100 goals, they will get nowhere that target as things stand.

    Players make systems and not the other way around and that's why 4:4:2 used to work well with Keane and Ince in central midfield, but now it wouldn't without two absolute giants in the engine room.

    My frustration is with Fergie and his seemingly unwillingness to try something different even if it came at the possible expense of riddicule.

    Some fans do not understand the difference between a great coach and a great manager. Fergie is one of the best ever manager's but he's not one of the best coaches...

  15. An interesting suggestion Jamesy but I can't see that line up taking the field next this season.

    To replace Ronaldo like for like is impossible, therefore a juggling of the tactics was always going to happen.

    More than a striker I feel Utd need someone TOP class in the middle of the park. It is inarguable that Keane hasn't been replaced and someone of presence and subtance is needed. Someone with BOTH heart AND game intelligence.

    Something which some people are forgetting, the midfield was exposed in the Champions League final (yes Fletcher didn't play..), they didn't keep the ball well enough as the game went on. In my opinion the entire midfield isn't going to get better - they will only get older.

    Keeping it short and sweet, the (central) midfielders in your formation aren't good enough defensively or attacking-wise. Can they creat? Destroy? Keep the ball? I find it hard to believe they will get 20 goals between them. 100 goals is ambitious with the current squad.

  16. Gavin,

    You're right about the midfield everything you've stated is correct, but there's huge question marks about exactly who will play up and front and how to get the best out of the available strikers. IMO not one of them is capable of playing on their own as the lone striker.

    In in all there's a lot to consider and I wouldn't be proposing a radical change in system if that wasn't the case, like I posted earlier the players at your disposal will largely dictate the system and United could well have the players who could work well in a 3:5:2 - but I concede Fergie won't do it, his solution is a lazy one, but Berbatov on his own down the middle is doomed from the start in a 4:3:3.

  17. United should stick to 4-4-2, its the only formation where they play best football. I hope we bid for Ribery or Silva, would get a line up as

    GK: VDS (or Foster)
    RB: Brown
    CB: Rio
    CB: Vidic
    LB: Evra
    RW: Valencia
    MF: Carrick
    MF: Fletcher
    LW: Ribery(or Silva) / current: Nani
    CF: Rooney
    CF: Berbatov

  18. Rite$h

    I've covered 442 and I've given my opinion, you're entited to yours...

    What is the big deal with this Silva? I looked at his stats the other (see link below) day and he's only scored 21 goals in five seasons - if we were going purely off goals Diego Forlan would be a better option... (and how bad was he?)

  19. @James Ryddel

    Silva is a player who can play on the wing as well as in CAM, something which most players usually can't do. In CAM am pointing to more like a role Kakà plays

    + He is still young early twenties, so great development ahead and abiding to the U26 policy which exists at United

  20. Rite$h,

    Regarding Silva, what United need is someone who can be relied upon to score 20+ goals a season and not another "creator"...

  21. @James Ryddel

    I partially agree with you about "creator" for goals, but believe me, the more goal creators we'll have, the more chance Rooney and Owen can hit around 25 goals each, with Berbatov adding to the count as well. Ronaldo was a creator and scorer, that's y we didnt feel the need at that time to get a creator. If we have good cross and pass suppliers on the field, even I would be able to score some goals easily :) but it depends on the distribution of the ball around, and players like Silva and A.Valencia are exactly the ones who do this, with Carrick and Fletcher as well. For me Nani is just above average, he dribbles too much and want to show off like Ronaldo did, but the latter was and is still world class material

  22. Rite$h,

    What I will say is the club have come nowhere near replacing Scholes and I'll admit I know little about the way Silva plays, but his goal-scoring record is very poor and of course Scholes could be relied upon to score around 8+ season not that long ago.

    For me, it was absolutely essential that United signed a 20+goals a season striker this summer and they haven't. Owen will get injured, it's just a matter of time...and he has to be paired with another central striker so he was never the ideal choice - we signed him because he was cheap.

    I think United will struggle to finish in the top four, but on the plus side only City have really spent heavily, the rest of the accepted top four have been weakened to a lesser (liverpool) or greater degree...(utd, arsenal) only Chelsea have held on to their players, but of course with a new manager in charge anything could happen....


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