Fergie’s deployment of O’Shea proves masterstroke



With Rafael da Silva in fine form, few expected John O’Shea to start yesterday’s Manchester derby. The Irishman, who is known more for his versatility than virtuosity, has been in poor form this season but his deployment was crucial to Manchester United’s 2-1 victory at Old Trafford.

There is no doubting Rio Ferdinand’s importance to United’s defence; a leader on the pitch, the English defender provides composure to the back line. United’s defence is much more prone to jittery moments without Ferdinand. With inexperienced Chris Smalling playing alongside Nemanja Vidic yesterday, it would have been too risky to play two attacking full-backs in Rafael and Patrice Evra. O’Shea limited his forward forages and helped stabilise the defence by providing extra cover.

It was a brilliant decision by Sir Alex Ferguson.

This column has previously argued that United’s deployment of two attacking defenders in a 4-4-2 based system has been responsible for United central midfielders’ collective poor form this season. Even against teams playing a lone forward, the Reds’ two at the back are exposed to too much pressure without support from central midfield. United’s central midfielders need to combat opposition midfielders, provide ammunition to forward players and defend as well; they end up trying to do everything and failing all.

With O’Shea, Smalling and Vidic staying back yesterday, Manchester City’s forwards were completely neutralised. United midfielders and forwards were freed by the extra defensive player at the back.

This freedom was particularly appreciated by Paul Scholes. As brilliant as he is, the English midfielder has performed noticeably worse in games where he is exposed to great pressure. Ferguson deployed Scholes deep to afford the midfield maestro extra time but even in this role, the midfielder was pressured as City played pressing game as a response to United’s deep line. With three behind him – instead of the usual two – Scholes always had an easy option to recycle possession.

In addition, Darren Fletcher and Anderson could play box-to-box roles because of the defensive stability brought on by O’Shea. O’Shea allowed Scholes to dictate the play and Fletcher and Anderson could make runs from deep, instead of helping out at the back.

Fletcher and Anderson’s running had two effects. Firstly, Scholes was afforded even more protection as United’s midfield runners pinned back City’s midfield players. Secondly, City’s defensive midfielders could not double up on Giggs and Nani.

City introduced Edin Džeko in the second half and switched to a 4-4-2. O’Shea’s presence allowed United to introduce Berbatov and match City’s system without Vidic and Smalling being overwhelmed by Džeko and Carlos Tevez.

O’Shea didn’t have a particularly spectacular game but he did what Ferguson had in mind. The game was won by a spectacular Wayne Rooney strike but the scene was very aptly set up by the Scot and his Irish defender.

John O'Shea Tactics Board

Credit: Guardian Chalkboards

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  • Shivam

    in addition to this, we didn’t start with berbatov… so o’shea was needed for defending from set pieces!!! without him we would have had only vidic and smalling against kompany, lescott, toure and richards!!!

  • uncleknobheadforfucksake

    scholes playing as the deepest mid is why silva ran the first half, it weren’t sorted out till carrick came on

  • Anthony

    O’Shea is fucking shite he was poor yesterday as usual.

    • http://newsnow Smith

      Thats what a tactical approach means. City didn,t expect O’shea. Study what he did not what he didn’t cause thats what he was told and it won the game.

  • sheesh

    Anthony said:
    O’Shea is fucking shite he was poor yesterday as usual.

    No he wasn’t. He had one of his best games in a United shirt yesterday.

  • Anthony

    No he didn’t.

    • mongoletsi

      Oh shut up. One of O’Shite’s finest performances to be fair.

  • sheesh

    He did – and I’m normally a huge critic of the guy.

  • Bill

    O’Shea = an average Premier League footballer = fact

  • Triggs

    That is a headline I thought I’d never see!

    It worked yesterday though, O’Shea was solid and definitely helped Smalling.

    As they highlighted on MOTD, United left Rooney far too isolated yesterday. If we’re going to get results at the Emirates and Stamford Bridge, the midfield has to get closer and get in the box

  • uncleknobheadforfucksake

    thats what happens when youre furthest forward midfielders are them anderson and fletcher shitehouses

  • sidney

    Fair enough

    I prefer the shit O’Shea though, it’s more entertaining

  • eddieTheRed

    If this system was able to beat one of the Premier League’s form teams then why can’t we use it away from home? Our away form is ridiculous and the 4-4-2 we are using away is causing us to leak silly goals all over the place.

    If we can raise our game away from home then we will surely win the league!

  • http://stretfordenders.net/ Stretford Enders

    Was probably one of the best displays from O’Shea I’ve ever seen. Really laying down a marker for a regular starting roll.

    Good read!

  • http://prestonredandblack.blogspot.com/ Stephen Turner

    As someone who shudders whenever O’Shea is named on the team-sheet I must admit he impressed me in the derby. I think City would have tried to wind Rafael up to get him booked and/or sent off. O’Shea has a lot more experience and he showed it.

  • http://www.sourceofgravity.com Bill

    I’d still prefer Rafael over O’Shea and Ferdy back in for Smalling, but aside from that this side in a 4-5-1 formation should be able to navigate us through the games vs. Chelsea/Arsenal/Lpool and to the title.

  • http://www.newhallmedialtd.com Calvino

    O’shea played reasonably well while Scholes was poor as Silva ran him ragged. Am sure the blinkered will say otherwise but the man HAS to quit this season. The top of the PL is getting too quick for him and just like Neville he can’t catch the opposition when we are defending. He made some fantastic passes when he had a bit of possession but they are not many or dangerous enough for his continual involvement. Many times in the 2nd half I was willing him to shoot but even that seems to have gone from his game. Carrick’s introduction stymied Tevez in the new position behind Dzeko. Anderson is now proven useless and honestly, Gibson would have done much better in that position. Surely.

  • chicharizee

    o shea just did a good job. where can we find someone who can come out and perform even he did not play every week. we need this type of player. glory glory man u!

  • Alfonso Bedoya

    Calvino said:
    O’shea played reasonably well while Scholes was poor as Silva ran him ragged. Am sure the blinkered will say otherwise but the man HAS to quit this season. The top of the PL is getting too quick for him and just like Neville he can’t catch the opposition when we are defending. He made some fantastic passes when he had a bit of possession but they are not many or dangerous enough for his continual involvement. Many times in the 2nd half I was willing him to shoot but even that seems to have gone from his game. Carrick’s introduction stymied Tevez in the new position behind Dzeko. Anderson is now proven useless and honestly, Gibson would have done much better in that position. Surely.

    FUCK OFF…

    Scholes needs to quit, when, and only when we’ve got a good enough player to replace him… until then we NEED Scholes… and your ridiculous arguments to contrary won’t change the simple truth… HE’S THE BEST WE’VE GOT AT WHAT HE DOES!

    • mongoletsi

      Then that’s really fucking depressing.

      He’s not exactly “mobile” anymore, is he?

      What a retarded argument. With that logic you’ll have him 1st choice until he’s 50!

  • uncleknobheadforfucksake

    in 433 the bollockless one should always play, there’s no point playing three in the middle to protect the defence if none of em know how to do it

  • uncleknobheadforfucksake

    in 433 the bollockless one should always play, there’s no point playing three in the middle to protect the defence if none of em know how to do it

  • http://www.footballfarrago.com FootballFarrago

    O’Shea’s a brilliant player, very underrated. It’s amazing how many United players are apparently ‘crap’ – O’Shea, Park, Fletcher and Anderson are all constantly slated but with three of them in the team yesterday we played pretty well I’d say.

    • mongoletsi

      Well you clearly haven’t got a fucking clue have you sunshine?

      Why are you here? Go away.

  • Alfonso Bedoya

    “A brilliant player? Very underated?”

    Fuckin hell…

    Do you actually watch United?

  • Anthony

    Blog Commenter said:
    O’Shea’s a brilliant player, very underrated. It’s amazing how many United players are apparently ‘crap’ – O’Shea, Park, Fletcher and Anderson are all constantly slated but with three of them in the team yesterday we played pretty well I’d say.

    Are you on fucking drugs? O’Shea is absolute fucking wank, by far the worst player at the club, Gibson is young so has more of an excuse but O’Shite has been there 12 years now and has never been more than mediocre.

  • http://www.newhallmedialtd.com Calvino

    Alf,
    have fun!! If you did not notice how the wee man was blowing just a few minutes into the 2nd half then feel free. When he has time and space he will pick out a pass. But in the PL these days he does NOT get space and is a liability defensively. You CAN never see it.

  • Anthony

    Giving away needless free kicks is not good defending.

  • sheesh

    Blog Commenter said:
    Was probably one of the best displays from O’Shea I’ve ever seen. Really laying down a marker for a regular starting roll.
    Good read!

    Yeah, he actually looked pretty solid on Saturday. He got stuck into challenges and there was even a moment in the first half when he embarrassed Silva. I’ve criticised the guy in the past but, fair play to him, he played well against City. As for giving away fouls, Marriner gave a lot of decisions in City’s favour and was quite lenient with some of the challenges they committed, less so with ours.

  • SPARKY

    ANYONE THAT HAS REMOTELY SUGGESTED DARRON GIBSON FOR ANYTHING OTHER THAN MAKING THE REST OF ANY FOOTBALL TEAM LOOK BETTER IN COMPARISON, IS QUITE SIMPLY WRONG IN THE BONCE.

    • mongoletsi

      WORD

  • Alfonso Bedoya

    Calvino said:
    Alf,
    have fun!! If you did not notice how the wee man was blowing just a few minutes into the 2nd half then feel free. When he has time and space he will pick out a pass. But in the PL these days he does NOT get space and is a liability defensively. You CAN never see it.

    “You CAN never see it.”

    Go piss up a rope Cal… I see it… everyone bloody well sees it… and I’ll tell you what else we all see that obviously YOU can’t… our midfield is shit…

    Fletcher is great at running about, but can’t pass from here to there… Park is great at running about, and falling over… Carrick is great at hiding from the game, Anderson is great at doing just enough, once in a while, to make you think he’s got potential… and Gibson is great at fuck all… and YOU would have us get rid of the only midfielder we’ve got that has any bloody talent…

    Scholes could be 40 years old, playing blind and barefott… he’d still be a better option than any of that lot above.

  • Alfonso Bedoya

    Blog Commenter said:
    Was probably one of the best displays from O’Shea I’ve ever seen. Really laying down a marker for a regular starting roll.

    Good read!

    I wouldn’t go that far… he was given a defensive job… and he didn’t fuck it up… that’s as far as I’d go… and for O’Shea that’s high praise.

  • sheesh

    Alfonso Bedoya said:
    I wouldn’t go that far… he was given a defensive job… and he didn’t fuck it up… that’s as far as I’d go… and for O’Shea that’s high praise.

    Think you’re being a tad harsh on O’Shea – or maybe our expectations of him really are so low that we’re surprised when he does anything well. I don’t know.

    As for Scholes, he succesfully completed 53 out of 62 passes and he was on the pitch for 78 mins. If that’s not a sign that he had a decent game, I don’t know what is. Check out the Guardian Chalkboards for the types of passes he was making as well.

  • Alfonso Bedoya

    To be honest Sheeshy, 53 out of 62 is low for Scholes… in past seasons, whenever I’ve checked the pass completion stats, while all the top players were consistantly high at 80/85%… Scholes was allways in a class of his own at 90% or higher.

  • Geno

    I am not a fan of O’Pies but he did well on Saturday and I do agree with the analysis that him playing instead of Rafael, who I’m normally a huge fan of, was tactically brilliant.

    This is hardly a blinding insight, as even Mancini has conceded this, but the winning mentality of United was apparent during the derby. Take Fletch – technically he is not as good as Silva, Milner or even Yaya but he played like his life depended on it whereas Silva, Milner and Yaya were just 3 blokes doing a job.

    The title’s hardly a foregone conclusion but not only are we in the driver’s seat, I think the derby win will push the boys on and give them the belief to win the away games now…Arse at the Emirates and Chelsea at the Bridge may be tricky but we can afford to draw both and we’ll still win the title.

  • http://www.sourceofgravity.com Bill

    If we win the title then the dressing room chemistry and spirit has to be the key element. City, Chelsea and Arsenal’s squads are a mix of big money signings or players from lots of different cultures. On paper those 3 squads/teams might be better than ours.

    United have a core of players who have been there and done it and control the mindset of the locker room. Giggs, Scholes, Ferdinand, Neville, VDS and Vida are key components of this.

  • odbpowell

    When the teams were announced as we approached the stadium on Saturday there were some grumblings in our group about the inclusion of O’Shea. But I agree, he had a very strong game. He even ‘megged someone at one stage which drew appreciative applause from the crowd. No one thought he was capable of such nonchalance! Aside from the stuff you wouldn’t normally expect him to do, though, he was super solid. Great performance.

  • Anthony

    I think some of you have been on mind bending drugs this weekend.

    • mongoletsi

      I have. A shitload actually. Doesn’t change the facts!!

  • Alfonso Bedoya

    I agree… I don’t know what all the fuss is about… O’Shea didn’t do anthing wrong… but I don’t recall him doing anything that deserves all this applause either.

    O’Shea plays a whole game without embarrassing himself or United… let’s give him a trophy.

    ffs…

  • Alfonso Bedoya

    I don’t have a problem admitting that O’Shea did a job… but that’s what he’s paid for… but fuck sake, let’s put it into perspective… he did fuck all exceptional… he just didn’t do anything wrong… and the only reason anyone is making a big dea about it, is because it’s John O’Shea… and that usually means we’re pissing and moaning about what a rubbish player he is… so for once he didn’t play shit… that’s hardly worthy of all this praise.

    Is it?

  • sheesh

    Alfonso Bedoya said:
    I agree… I don’t know what all the fuss is about… O’Shea didn’t do anthing wrong… but I don’t recall him doing anything that deserves all this applause either.
    O’Shea plays a whole game without embarrassing himself or United… let’s give him a trophy.
    ffs…

    Stop chatting shite Alf. Nobody’s talking about him playing regularly and replacing Rafael. Is there some rule that says that we are not allowed to comment when someone, who normally plays laughably shite football (which btw never fails to get a mention on here), actually does alright for a change?
    It’s not as if we’re making him out to be the next Ballon D’or winner FFS.

  • sheesh

    Anthony said:
    I think some of you have been on mind bending drugs this weekend.

    I think you need to get out more.

  • Alfonso Bedoya

    sheesh said:
    Stop chatting shite Alf. Nobody’s talking about him playing regularly and replacing Rafael. Is there some rule that says that we are not allowed to comment when someone, who normally plays laughably shite football (which btw never fails to get a mention on here), actually does alright for a change?

    It’s not as if we’re making him out to be the next Ballon D’or winner FFS.

    Who’s talkin Shite Sheesh… or are you taking this personally?

    Your point is fair enough… but some are going way too far…

    “O’Shea’s a brilliant player, very underrated. It’s amazing how many United players are apparently ‘crap’ – O’Shea, Park, Fletcher and Anderson are all constantly slated but with three of them in the team yesterday we played pretty well I’d say.”

    “Was probably one of the best displays from O’Shea I’ve ever seen. Really laying down a marker for a regular starting roll.”

    Bollocks!

  • uncleknobheadforfucksake

    to be fair osheas the worst first team regular of the last 30 years

  • sidney

    But it’s great beating decent/great teams with him on the pitch

    It’s a piss take

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  • Anthony

    sheesh said:
    I think you need to get out more.

    I think you need to stop sucking O’Shea’s dick.

  • captainhormone

    schizo?

  • Alfonso Bedoya

    Blog Commenter said:
    Then that’s really fucking depressing.
    He’s not exactly “mobile” anymore, is he?
    What a retarded argument. With that logic you’ll have him 1st choice until he’s 50!

    No! What’s retarded is getting rid of him, when he’s still the best you’ve got. Who gives a fuck how old he is, if the options are worse? You’re as bad as Cal… defending a stupid argument, just because half of it makes sense… Scholes is too old to run about like Park… Right! Everyone agrees… and we’ve all been through this tedious debate a thousand fuckin times… but when you need someone to pass the fuckin ball with any degree of accuracy… HE’S THE BEST WE’VE GOT RIGHT NOW!

    “Badges, to god-damned hell with badges! We have no badges. In fact, we don’t need badges. I don’t have to show you any stinking badges, you god-damned cabrón and ching’ tu madre! Come out from that shit-hole of yours. I have to speak to you.”

    • mongoletsi

      Mate, maybe we’re both defending our arguments because half of it makes sense…

      You compared me to Cal, thus… I’ve had to rethink what I’ve said… nobody wants tarring with that brush!!

      We’re skirting around the facts – we shouldn’t NEED Scholesy to play a regular, vital part.

      Carrick fucks me right off. He hasn’t, for some seasons now, been a great passer. Which is an issue as that’s one of the main reasons we signed him. Scholes replacement and all that. Yeah right.

  • http://none ian

    I see where you are coming from Don Alfonso but I don’t think it is quite so simple. If Scholes plays he needs to be with at least one “reliable” midfielder runner, either Fletcher, no problem, or Carrick; so it does narrow the options. I am amazed that so few seem to appreciate that the main reason O’Shea started is because of his height. City have some big buggers to mark at set pieces, like Toure. Brown would have been just as solid.
    The main issue was that, as we all know, we need someone like Silva.

  • uncleknobheadforfucksake

    scholes playing doesnt narrow any options

  • uncleknobheadforfucksake

    theres a good argument that fergie hasnt signed a good midfielder for 18 years, keane

  • sheesh

    Anthony said:
    I think you need to stop sucking O’Shea’s dick.

    I think you need to get your eyes tested. Blinded by the fact that a shite player plays a bit better than usual in a derby match.

  • Anthony

    That isn’t fucking hard is it? He was still average at the very best not World class like you are making out.

  • sheesh

    Anthony said:
    That isn’t fucking hard is it? He was still average at the very best not World class like you are making out.

    Where have I said he was world class?

    FFS, this is getting tedious – only because you’re comprehension skills are so poor.

    I think you’re posting just to get attention. Well, now you’re not getting anymore from me.

  • Anthony

    I am not a sad act like you. You must be the one wanting attention seeing as you are making O’Shite out to be something he isn’t.

  • captainhormone

    oh ffs

  • Anthony

    My thoughts exactly.

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