Fergie’s tactical conundrum

August 11, 2009 Tags: Reads 4 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson is set to revert to a traditional 4-4-2 formation after the manager’s flirtation with a highly flexible 4-3-3 during the Cristiano Ronaldo era. In a move that plays to the squad’s strengths, Ferguson is set to deploy two through the middle and two out wide during this year’s campaign. While it’s a system that has become unfashionable in the modern day, the real question is: when it comes to the crunch of a tough away fixture, will Fergie stick to his guns and play two up front?

One of the most significant knock-on effects of the summer player departures – and additions – is to leave a squad heavy in numbers on the wing but without the goal return of Ronaldo. United’s wingers Ji-Sung Park, Antonio Valencia, Nani, Zoran Tošić and Gabriel Obertan scored a grand total of 15 goals last season, compared to Cristiano Ronaldo’s 26.

Moreover, United’s squad – minus Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez – is heavy on strikers who are best deployed through the centre, not in the channels. Dimitar Berbatov will start the season leading the line, after Ferguson admitted that the Bulgarian was used far too deep last season. Similarly Michael Owen no longer works the channels, concentrating on playing off the shoulder of the last defender. Fourth choice striker Federico Macheda looks to be a classic number nine – technically gifted and strong with his back to goal but unlikely to succeed as a wide player in a three man frontline.

The exception to that rule is Wayne Rooney, who spent much of last season to the left of a three man attack. But after a summer of breaking ranks to demand a central role, Ferguson would be more than a little remiss to deploy the Scouser on the wing once more.

Manchester United 4-3-3

“The manager has said he will play me through the middle, so I’m happy about that. That’s what I wanted,” said Rooney prior to the Community Shield. “He may change his mind and whatever he says goes, but I hope he will play me there for most of the season.”

Rooney’s hopes remain to be seen. The manager has rarely used two forwards – especially in Europe – in recent seasons.

While the 4-3-3 system was developed to maximise the impact of Ronaldo, coming in off the right, it also gave the team additional manpower in the centre of the park. The risk in switching to two central players is that it will leave United – without a true defensive midfielder – lightweight and outnumbered against most European teams.

United 4-4-2United countered Chelsea’s narrow diamond in the Community Shield by tucking Park inside and leaving Nani to attack the Londoner’s right back Branislav Ivanović in tandem with Patrice Evra. Indeed, Park may continue to play a pivotal role in midfield, especially away from home or in Europe where the risk of being over-run in midfield is greatest. As such United may only deploy both Nani and Valencia against middle ranking Premier League clubs where the Reds can expect to dominate possession.

Ferguson’s tendency to play one through the middle – deploying Ronaldo alone up-front in both semis and the final of the Champions League last season – has been the default tactic in the biggest games for several seasons. Liverpool away on October 25th will be the first real test of the new formation.

4 comments

Tone - August 12, 2009 Reply

I think the real width is going to come from Rafael and Evra- play two holding midfielders – Carrick and Fletcher and let the fullbacks bomb forward. Fullbacks can’t be marked out of a game like wingers. I can’t see any of the wingers really claimimg a place in the team the way Ronaldo did. It’ll be more a question of playing whoever is fit/fresh/on form. At least we’ll see a bit of variation with the free-kicks this year as I thought Ronaldo’s were way over-rated. Beckham used to work the keeper with his 90% of the time- remember how many goals we used to score from shots the keeper couldn’t hold and spilled to a grateful Ole/ Cole/ Yorke?
Ronaldo had a monopoly on the free-kicks and 60-70% ended up in the crowd. I’d still like a goalscoring midfielder though.

20legend - August 13, 2009 Reply

It’s possible that United may play a 4-4-2 with a ‘fake’ left winger (I can think of no better way to describe this) like Madrid did with Zidane. Nominally he was on the left wing but had license to roam and ended up anywhere but. Works best with a fullback who can attack and defend and pretty much cover the whole wing. Evra should be fine for that and Fabio definitely has a strong shout for that role. I would like to see Anderson playing there. While he doesn’t have Park’s work rate, he does have a decent engine, can pass the ball well, can tackle and provide support to Carrick and Fletcher/Hargreaves. If Nani lives up to his promise we could go back to the good old days of a proper 4-4-2 but as mentioned in the article that leaves us VERY weak in central midfield. Might work against weaker opposition but definitely not to be tried against the very best. Anyways thats just my two cents. Will be interesting to see what Fergie does.

Danilo - August 14, 2009 Reply

“United’s wingers Ji-Sung Park, Antonio Valencia, Nani, Zoran Tošić and Gabriel Obertan scored a grand total of 13 goals last season, compared to Cristiano Ronaldo’s 26.”

Obertan, Valencia and Tosic didn’t play last season in the premier league. So don’t try to make it sound dramatic. Park and Nani together must’ve scored 13.

Tosic showed some Ronaldo like capability in his international match against South Africa when he scored two goals.

Ed - August 14, 2009 Reply

Not drama, facts as the FSW likes to say. Although I do realise I incorrectly added the goals up. It’s 15, have corrected the post. But take away Nani’s goals in the Reserve Team League Cup and things look even less rosy.

Obertan – 1 goal (1 in Ligue 1)
Ji-Sung Park – 4 goals (2 in Premier League, 1 FA Cup, 1 CL)
Nani – 6 goals (1 Premier League, 2 FA Cup, 3 League Cup)
Tosic – 1 goals (1 in UEFA Cup)
Valencia – 3 goals (3 in Premier League)

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