After defeat, what next?



The matches against Crawley Town and Marseille were unbearable for most Manchester United fans. Old Trafford, famous for fans loudly urging the team to attack, has become a boring place of late – a sad thought for anyone who has witnessed classic matches at the stadium. Despite United scoring more goals than any other side in the Premier League, the Reds performances have also been sub-par this season.

The problem lies in the squad. United does not lack numbers but the quality is noticeably missing. Pundits, such as Didier Deschamps last week, have long pointed out the lack of “stardust” in midfield, with Michael Carrick and Anderson performing poorly and Paul Scholes no longer able to cope with pressure. The engine room is remarkably pedestrian.

Fans point to Mesut Özil and Rafael Van der Vaart as missed opportunities but neither of the two would have fitted in well at Old Trafford. Panic buys are not the answer either but, at the same time, it is hard not to blame Sir Alex Ferguson and his scouts when another outstanding midfielder, Shinji Kagawa, was purchased for almost nothing in the summer.

Just as the season before, Ferguson probably intended to funnel attacks through wide men this campaign. Ferguson’s tactical experiments this season – the new 4-4-2 and the gridiron style 4-5-1 – rely heavily on wingers. The plan has worked to a degree – after all, only Barcelona has scored more domestically than United in major European leagues.

It remains a doubt whether the anticipated return of Antonio Valencia will help United though – after all, there is no guarantee that the Ecuadorian will regain his pre-injury form. Even should the winger miraculously recover, the 25-year-old’s return to the first eleven will see Nani moved to the left. On the left, the Portuguese is predictable and easy to defend against. It is true that Nani has become much better decision maker this season but there is no guarantee that he will perform on the left as well as he has on the right.

Indeed, the most realistic scenario is playing Park Ji-Sung on the left, once he comes back from his knee injury. United will most probably persist with the 4-5-1 and rely on Nani and Rooney to come up with moments of magic. But as previously noted, the 4-5-1 system stifles United’s full-backs and John O’Shea will normally be preferred to Rafael da Silva in the formation. It remains to be seen whether Rio Ferdinand’s return will prompt Sir Alex to reinstate the Brazilian full-back – after all, the need to protect the “quarterback” trumps having an attacking right full-back.

United is in perilous position after the defeat at Stamford Bridge last night. Given the hamstrung morale of Arsenal after the Carling Cup final loss, the Red Devils still remain the favorite for the league. Most realistic challengers to the FA Cup have already been knocked out and United will be the main contender for the Cup should the Reds triumph against Leyton Orient or Arsenal.

It is harder to judge United’s prospect in Europe though – it isn’t bright but the semi-final remains a viable goal assuming a kind quarter-final draw.

There is a more interesting question is about the future though. How can United turn its fortunes around and fashion both an exciting and winning team? Fluidity is hard – the club cannot simply buy it’s way to becoming Barcelona overnight. Indeed, United has an effective set-up and Ferguson will probably invest in only a player or two to fit into the current system, rather than attempt a complete overhaul.

Moreover, the current 4-5-1 can be entertaining; theoretically, the emphasis is on width and tempo. The key is the deep-lying playmaker. He must be able to withstand pressure, in order to free both full-backs. A physically robust “quarterback” will allow Rafael to play, instead of O’Shea.

In this system, the “quarterback” starts all the attacks, mainly through balls out to flanks, so he can’t just be a defensive midfielder either. Candidates include Nuri Sahin of Dortmund, Ever Banega of Valencia, Luka Modric of Tottenham, Sergio Busquets of Barcelona and Bastian Schweinsteiger of Bayern Munchen.

Another feasible idea is to acquire a playmaker and deploy a 4-2-3-1 formation. With two defensive midfielders, the full-backs are freed. It has another benefit – with lots of players in the middle, possession maintenance is easy. Counter-attacking football, against sides that perhaps take the initiative, is also easier with two wingers placed high up the pitch. The system is also tailor-made for high-tempo, attacking game – the system was conceived in Spain to press.

Finding a playmaker to fit in such system is slightly more nuanced than it appears though – classic trequartisti are much harder to build a side around than their modern cousins who are more direct and busy. Candidates include Luka Modric of Tottenham, Kagawa of Dortmund and Javier Pastore of Palermo.

A left-winger also remains an issue. This column has extensively written on Park and specifically why playing a defensive winger is actually a bad idea. Ryan Giggs can’t play forever and Nani’s ability to play on the left is questionable. Juan Mata of Valencia, Ashley Young of Aston Villa and Stevan Jovetic of Fiorentina are possible targets.

Other options exist too. Mario Gotze of Dortmund, Kagawa and Modric are playmakers by trade but they have all played on the left. In fact, buying a playmaker who can play on the left will allow United to rotate players on the fringe – Dimitar Berbatov, Javier Hernández and Valencia – with ease.

United is still on course for a pretty good season – just a player or two away from becoming more entertaining. The dull games over the past two seasons have been painful but United fans must not forget that they been more blessed than most football fans in experiencing glory and good football. The very ability to soldier through bad times separates the real fans from the fair-weather ones – after all, the option to “fuck off and support Chelsea” or any other fashionable team always exists.

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  • bman

    Dude, you make good points, but please just let the American football and “quarterback” comparisons go. Just let it go…

  • han

    and “dude” is soooooooooooooooo anglo saxon? lol
    maybe he is using the yank comparisons to make the gimps feel at home……

  • Alfonso Bedoya

    After defeat, what next?

    A win.

  • bman

    It’s nothing to do with American vs. English, I just don’t think comparing two very different sports like this is useful. Is Scholes a “quarterback” because he makes long passes and tends to be in the middle of the pitch? Great, what next. I’m pretty sure Scholes receives plenty of passes too, don’t see quarterbacks doing that. How many one-twos do you see in NFL? Why do we often have two quarterbacks on the pitch? That seems odd. Why are the main defenders standing behind the quarterback, instead of in front of him as is the case in NFL? Or just maybe, it doesn’t make any sense to make these comparisons.

    • Jay Shon

      Just a term of convenience really. Deep-lying playmaker is a mouthful.

      • Victor

        Isn’t regista the term you’re looking for?

        • Jay Shon

          Isn’t regista just a general term for playmakers?

          • Victor

            Ehh, generally used more for deep lying.

  • redevil_83

    That’s good insight. I’m often left wondering some times (over the past few seasons) where the magic from united’s footy has gone to? I blamed the switch away from 442 more than lack of quality players in the middle. But we showed y’day we can still play some of the best attacking football around. We do need strenthening the middle but we should also appreciate the fond memories this club has given us. Its a temporary lull in playing style, the magnificent man united football will come back soon again I’m sure of it.

  • herbie simms

    This article is just what I have been saying. You have to blame the scouts and Fergie. I made these similar comments a week ago when I referred to how well Arsense Wenger can find quality youngsters of world class, yet our scouts can only find Bebe, Obertan and Diouff. How many super stars are there in the making in the academy team? I read a good article written by sports writer Keven McCarra and he summed it up by stating that Fergie just don’t have the funds thats why there were no signings in January. He has the numbers but he does not have the quality, so he has to make due with the players he has until he can get his hands on some real money to strenghten the squad. So with the players we have, you can say that Fergie is doing a good job. I read with amusement the comments now being made by Arsene Wenger and he is already saying that the league title belongs to Arsenal now. He is shouting off the mouth too early, his team is going to get a few more shocks along the way also.
    The Carling Cup final should be a reminder of that!

  • gabagool

    I don’t think we’re necessarily favourites for title now. If we go to Arsenal and play like we have the last few games we’ll be dicked, plus they have by far the easier run home. We’ve flattered to deceive this year, somehow winning games when we’ve been frankly woeful.
    We may scrape the title this year, but changes need to be made for next season or we’re fecked.

  • bman

    Rafael, Smalling, and Hernandez are three of the most impressive youngsters in the league this season, and Cleverly and Welbeck were doing well before they got crocked out on loan.

    We also never get enough credit for our injuries. This season alone: Hargreaves, Valencia, Rio, Park, Giggs, Rooney, Anderson, Evans.

    • mongoletsi

      Bang on. It genuinely looked like Hargreaves was coming back, hence no mad rush to buy a similar midfielder. In retrospect, that was a bad decision.

      You make good points about the youngsters. You miss Fabio off too; seems aaaalmost as good as his brother when he does get a game.

      Eikrem and Morrison are names we hear a lot too. I dunno much about them though.

    • Triggs

      This is in general my position too, we have some of the best youngsters in the game. We just need to add a little more quality. It would be a shame if the Dortmund team got broken up next season – as I really think they’re a joy to watch and they could do well in the CL. But if anyone of their midfielders become available we should bite their hand off.

      Swapping G-Bomb for Cleverley, signing a true box-to-box player and a left-footed creative midfielder who can play on the wing and behind a lone forward would solve most of our problems.

  • eddieTheRed

    For left winger look no further than Victor Obinna; he’s been a revelation in an otherwise poor West ham team and I reckon he’s got the guts and mental toughness to make it as a United player!

  • http://www.unitedrant.co.uk/members/danniitronix/ danniitronix

    fergie gets a ban etc

  • Bill

    Eikrem signed for OGS at Molde.

    For me 4-5-1 is the best use of our current playing staff. It might be boring at times but I wouldn’t complain as long as we won. Jose did the same kind of thing for Chelsea.

    4-4-2 in todays football is far too risky, the closest we should get to it is a 4-4-1-1 with Rooney in the hole.

  • http://none ian

    Jay, you make some bold claims. “Neither Ozil or van der Vaart would have fitted in well at OT”. Really? Kagawa is “outstanding”; very promising surely? Nani is “predictable” & “easy to defend against” on the left; he is never going to play exclusively on the left & he is rarely predictable. United will never follow the Barca model under SAF, or anyone apart from Guardiola: same system from 9 years upwards & mainly local (Catalan) players.
    I think the American Football analogies have no value.
    It is vital that SAF, this season, has clear priorities; that is EPL is far & away the priority. In some ways it would be better if were out of the FA Cup -less games, less injuries & suspensions. We have not got the class to win the CL; I know anything can happen in cup football. Let’s face it we need every bit of help we can to win the bloody thing. L/P & Arsenal,away, & Chelski, home, won’t be easy.
    As for signings, we need one top quality, not too old, central midfielder That means big money. Of those you mention: Sergio, Schweinsteiger & Modric fit the bill, up to £30m? It is extremely unlikely any of them are available. All the rest are gambles which might, or might not, come off. I have seen a lot of Banega & Mata & would say they seem well below Silva level. Now there is the man we should have broken the bank to buy.

    • Jay Shon

      How can the statement – “Fluidity is hard – the club cannot simply buy it’s way to becoming Barcelona overnight.” – be interpreted as a claim that United will never follow the Barcelona model?

      Read my Ozil piece for a detailed argument why assimilating him (or Van der Vaart) would have been hard.

      Nani is predictable and easy to defend against on the left – read my old Nani piece for a more complete treatment on that issue.

      The comparisons to the American football are just that – analogies. Analogies don’t have to make sense right down to the minor details.

      You make good points re: signings although I don’t agree with your assessment that Banega and Mata, especailly, are “well below Silva level.” Mata is having a relatively mundane season but he is a great player – great assist records in addition to his decent goal count.

      David Silva would have fitted in well at United. His price was fairly cheap at 25 mil too – although with Glazers around, it is questionable whether United could have afforded that. The financial argument re: Rooney situation that I made in the Ozil piece applies here too. Besides, it’s not like United, Glazers or not, can match City in terms of wages.

  • Bill

    I doubt that united will go for any player signings which involve a fee of over 20 mill.

    Even Rodwell, Young and Henderson could be deemed too pricey at 15-20 mill. Again they are more likely to go for somebody in the 7.5-12.5 bracket a la Hernandez and Smalling.

    You are looking at players who are in a mid range international side already or key u21 side of a major nation. Ninis and Eriksen could fit the bill. Oxlade-Chamberlain fits the profile but will probably go to Arsenal like Walcott.

    The likes of Pastore, Modric, Bale, Schweinstieger, Alexis Sanchez are very unlikely. Would love to know who SAF was after in the window and didn’t get!

  • SKW

    Seriously, Jay.

    Enough with the Ozil wouldn’t have worked malarky. He is a great player, and great managers find ways to make great players fit into their systems.

    Your continued attempts to just write off Fergie’s transfer blunder are just that — atempts. This is a team crying out for an Ozil, and we should have bought him.

  • http://none ian

    I’m afraid, at the end of the day, it only depends on who SAF really rates. If he rates them highly enough -Rio, Rooney, Ruud,Teddy,Cole,Berba,Keano,Berba etc he will probably get them. Once “rated” they seem to stay rated -VDS, ‘Larry White’ etc.
    There was probably a good chance of an exchaged of Rooney for Diarra & Benzema. Possibly less likely now as JM seems to be appreciating Diarra’s extra mobility over Khedira. He doesn’t seem to be able to make up his mind about Benzema. At heart he probably wants a ‘big striker’, another Drogba (or even the original version). Higuan is due back too.

  • uncleknobheadforfucksake

    no ozil or vdv types will ever player for us you benders, fergie dont like them sort, youre either a winger or a striker or a midfielder or you aint playing for us, sort it out ffs

  • herbie simms

    The bad news today is that Michael Carrick just signed a new contract that keeps him at United until 2014. That means United will have the same midfield next season. Giggs and Scholes were to retire but are now staying on and have been asked to stay on by SAF. That means only two things. Either SAF will will retire after this season and leave the new signings to the new manager coming in or he has no money to buy new players. So what do you all think about that? The only good news is that Hardgreeves will not be offered a new contract. Maybe there will be one replacement for Hardgreeves, thats why I keep hearing Jack Rodwell’s name being linked with a move to United.

  • http://www.sourceofgravity.com Bill

    SAF to retire in 2012 with Giggs and Scholes. By keeping the likes of Carrick at least the next manager has some midfielders to work with.

  • herbie simms

    Well yes, and I made my comment because all the targets that Fergie was interested in have now been bought by other clubs. Everytime a player is linked with a move to Man Utd, another club buys him before Fergie can get his checkbook out of his pocket. Alexis Sanchez has been linked to United for sometime now. Sanchez scored 4 goals in a game last week and yesterday Sanchez’s agent revealed that he had received a 35 million pound offer for the player. If Fergie would have bought this player in January, it would have cost him 15 million. Fergie always waits too long to buy players and therefore he loses out. Or maybe there just is no money for world class players, only for Bebes and Obertans.

  • http://www.unitedrant.co.uk/members/danniitronix/ danniitronix

    Taggart has just been charged by the FA

  • bman

    I thought it was pretty well established that we went for Ozil but he couldn’t see past Real, as well established as these rumours can be anyway. As for VDV, well he barely got a game in Madrid, and he’s a crock. A better shout for the same money than Bebe maybe, but I don’t really view him as one that got away.

  • http://www.sourceofgravity.com Bill

    Ozil wanted to go to Real, Fergie didn’t fancy VDV and his Beckham esque celebrity lifestyle. SAF wants players who will fall in line and don’t take over the dressing room. He had enough of those in the day of Ince, Keane and Beckham. The problem with that is you could end of with a dressing room lacking in character.

  • http://www.visual-intrusion.com Robbo

    danniitronix said:
    Taggart has just been charged by the FA

    Taggart needs to learn when to shut the fuck up he knows that he will get charged by the FA so why does he do it time after time or is the old bastard angling for a few free weekends with Lady Ginsoak.

  • http://www.sourceofgravity.com Bill

    Its probably another sign that he’s getting too old for it. Grumpy old man syndrome. Also with the increasing reliance on the yes men shows he is losing the energy to manage high maintenance big character players like he did earlier in his career.

    Jose is the younger man and has the energy and man management skills to cope with this element.

    If we win both the league and the CL this season I can see him retiring. That will not happen, but we should win the league, which will see us go past Liverpool. Next season will give him one last crack at the CL with the last of the class 92.

  • http://www.unitedrant.co.uk/members/danniitronix/ danniitronix

    Robbo said:
    Taggart needs to learn when to shut the fuck up he knows that he will get charged by the FA so why does he do it time after time or is the old bastard angling for a few free weekends with Lady Ginsoak.

    think it is all mind games – wants a seige mentality at OT and prepared to fuck it all up to get some psychological momentum

  • han

    they should charge martinez as well then the fucks at the fa
    he also said the ref was wrong albeit in a faffing round about way
    fuckers

  • ichiro

    Rodwell is a bit like Carrick with crappier passing.

  • herbie simms

    But after all is said and done, we have to give SAF a lot of credit for believing in these players that they are good enough to win trophies and titles and on top of that taking this same team to the top of the premier division. And if they go on to win the title,he will e crowned as the greatest manager of all times. I give him credit for having so much faith in this team, but his faith is going to run out if he does not put more quality in his midfield. Nani claims that Park is the big miss in the team. Park,he says always plays a vital role in these big games. I don’t think Liverpool will be using mainly defensive tactics against United. Dalglish was a striker so his tactics will be to attack and win the game especially with Vidic and Ferdinand out. This could turn out to e a nasty game because Liverpool does not want United to win a 19th title. Hope they send a decent referee. Could be a couple of red cards in this match.

    • mongoletsi

      // we have to give SAF a lot of credit for believing in these players that they are good enough //

      What a stupid thing to say.

      // I give him credit for having so much faith in this team //

      Why?

      // Dalglish was a striker so his tactics will be to attack and win the game //

      Erm. Okay Herbs! SAF was a striker too.

      Heh! All cats have two ears. I have two ears. I am a cat!

  • herbie simms

    But after all is said and done, we have to give SAF a lot of credit for believing in these players that they are good enough to win trophies and titles and on top of that taking this same team to the top of the premier division. And if they go on to win the title,he will e crowned as the greatest manager of all times. I give him credit for having so much faith in this team, but his faith is going to run out if he does not put more quality in his midfield. Nani claims that Park is the big miss in the team. Park,he says always plays a vital role in these big games. I don’t think Liverpool will be using mainly defensive tactics against United. Dalglish was a striker so his tactics will be to attack and win the game especially with Vidic and Ferdinand out. This could turn out to be a nasty game because Liverpool does not want United to win a 19th title. Hope they send a decent referee. Could be a couple of red cards in this match.

  • herbie simms

    Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic admitted today that his team should not have been awarded a penality against Man Utd. He says he found the penalty for Chelsea very dubious, it was too easily misjudged. He goes on to say that he has watched the replay over and over and Zhirkov just fell over Smalling’s outstretched leg. He claims also that United should have had a first half penalty after John Terry blocked a shot from Nani with his arm. Chelsea’s David Luiz should have been sent off after making three yellow worthy offences. No wonder Fergie is still so angry with this referee.

    • mongoletsi

      // He claims also that United should have had a first half penalty after John Terry blocked a shot from Nani with his arm. Chelsea’s David Luiz should have been sent off after making three yellow worthy offences. //

      Thanks to you Herbie, I’ve read about 20 – almost identical – articles and none of them mention anything other than the penalty.

      I’m hoping you can provide a link to Ivanovic basically saying they won because of the ref. I’m assuming you can’t.

    • mongoletsi

      Herbie, I’m still waiting for you to link to your source for the Ivanovic admission.

  • captainhormone

    ALL CUNTS HAVE…………

  • herbie simms

    This website is not allowing me to publish the link.
    I don’t know why.

    • http://www.unitedrant.co.uk/forum/profile/admin Ed

      Herbie – just copy & past as normal. In what way is it not allowing you?

  • Alfonso Bedoya

    Blog Commenter said:
    This website is not allowing me to publish the link.
    I don’t know why.

    Just copy and paste the link Herbie… even if it doesn’t redirect automatically, people can still copy and paste what you’ve posted.

  • herbie simms

    In your search, type in republikofmancunia.com
    There are many interesting articles there as well as comments from the United fans.

    • mongoletsi

      He’s not wrong, I can’t post the link either (google: republikofmancunia.com Ivanovic)

      Herbie… the bit in italics is the quote, the rest is editorial comment. Sorry for jumping on your back though.

  • http://www.visual-intrusion.com Robbo

    there is the link to the to the article at R.O.M

  • eddieTheRed

    Those of you who are calling for United to keep their heads down and their mouths shut; there’s a word for people like you – you’re called sheeple; creatures that look like people but act like sheep!
    The louder the FA dog barks, the more you want to hide away and avoid suspicion. SAF can see the writing on the wall and for all his faults, he is prepared to sacrifice himself for the good of Manchester United. If you don’t stand up to these so – called leaders you just just keep getting squashed, one piece at a time!
    The FA is stuffed with political rejects who have been given the job of debasing society by debasing English football; occasionally these “plants” get themselves sacked: Lord Triesman is a good example.
    Don’t for one minute think that Tuesday’s disgraceful refereeing was about Chelsea; it’s about destroying the entire English game by destroying the common man’s belief in it. If you try and turn your back on it and pretend it isn’t happening then we are finished;l but if you’re willing to stand up for your rights as a fan of United and a consumer of the football business by withdrawing your custom then we shall prevail!

    • Victor

      Very well said. This is quite honestly the worst match I’ve seen in 10 years of following football. I can say as a non-British guy that antics like these will not popularize your country’s football across the world.

      People outside England don’t have the patience to watch a soap opera when they’re following a football league. It’s unprofessional. The sooner your FA understands this the better.

  • bman

    Apparently this is the record for Chelsea games refereed by Atkinson: 15 Chelsea wins in 16 games, one draw, 38 goals scored, two allowed. That’s what Gabrielle Marcotti says anyway, article is behind their paywall, I’m on someone’s computer with access.

  • Alfonso Bedoya

    Blog Commenter said:
    Those of you who are calling for United to keep their heads down and their mouths shut; there’s a word for people like you – you’re called sheeple; creatures that look like people but act like sheep!

    The louder the FA dog barks, the more you want to hide away and avoid suspicion. SAF can see the writing on the wall and for all his faults, he is prepared to sacrifice himself for the good of Manchester United. If you don’t stand up to these so – called leaders you just just keep getting squashed, one piece at a time!

    The FA is stuffed with political rejects who have been given the job of debasing society by debasing English football; occasionally these “plants” get themselves sacked: Lord Triesman is a good example.

    Don’t for one minute think that Tuesday’s disgraceful refereeing was about Chelsea; it’s about destroying the entire English game by destroying the common man’s belief in it. If you try and turn your back on it and pretend it isn’t happening then we are finished;l but if you’re willing to stand up for your rights as a fan of United and a consumer of the football business by withdrawing your custom then we shall prevail!

    David Icke fan, by chance?

  • Spike

    Herbie = Baron von copy and paste to Copyberg…. loooooool

    yeah crappy comment (stolen of course)