Ferguson and 4-2-3-1: a love affair



There are certain supporters and pundits who paint Sir Alex Ferguson as an angry, old man who shouts a lot to get results. Such lazy depictions are, frankly, dead wrong. Consider this very simple ontological argument; if the Scot were such a simple-minded manager, would he have lasted this long at Manchester United?

United’s gradual and painful assimilation to four-band systems such as 4-3-3 and 4-5-1 has been credited by fans to Carlos Queiroz. After all, the barren period at United coincided with the Portuguese’s arrival. Given that the former Real Madrid manager is famous for his striker-less experiments during his days as Portugal’s youth manager, it probably is true that the radical experiments that took place between 2006 and 2008 were instigated by Queiroz – but it is not true that he brought about the shift to four-band systems.

For one, Ferguson started the shift a year before the former Portugal manager came to Old Trafford. Queiroz arrived in 2002 but it was in 2001 that Juan Sebastian Veron was purchased. With Veron and Roy Keane at the base, the former Aberdeen manager played Paul Scholes or Ryan Giggs off Ruud Van Nistelrooy in distinctly 4-2-3-1 ish system.
The Guardian’s season guide to 09/10 predicted that United would utilize 4-4-1-1 – Ferguson’s “love of his sporting life.”

Indeed, Sir Alex Ferguson argued, in an interview conducted by Gialuca Vialli, that he never used the traditional 4-4-2 during his time at Manchester United. The statement is not as outrageous as it sounds – for example, United’s 4-4-2 this season has been anything but traditional.

Ferguson’s first great team, despite being labeled as a 4-4-2, played in a distinctly four-band system. Keane and Paul Ince sat deep with Giggs and Andrei Kanchelskis placed higher on the pitch than their nominal wide midfielder positions called for. Mark Hughes led the line with Eric Cantona off him. Cantona wasn’t a second forward – he floated around too much. One may justifiably argue that this is all matter of semantics but the Frenchman was more a trequartista than a forward.

Even teams that looked like 4-4-2 never really matched the traditional kind. The second great Ferguson side that won the Champions League in Nou Camp is probably the closest the Scot got to using the traditional 4-4-2 model. Even then, the team always featured a striker who dropped deep, a la Dwight Yorke. Also with David Beckham playing deeper than Giggs, the system at times looked more like a lopsided 4-3-3 than a 4-4-2.

Why has Ferguson been this obsessed with four-band systems? After all, 4-4-2 has plenty of high-profile supporters. Arrigo Sacchi and Arsène Wenger are both fans of the system – they argue that, with intense pressing, the formation dominates the pitch in the most symmetric fashion.

There are many tactical issues with playing 4-4-2 that have already been discussed by this column and by many others. It is also worth noting that intense pressing is extremely hard. It is physically exhausting – even Barcelona cannot keep up the pressure throughout the game. The pressing game also requires a high workload on the training ground – Arrigo Sacchi’s great Milan side disintegrated as star players simply became fed up with the workload.

A big problem – if not the problem – is finding the right players. Four midfielders must have great engines; they must run from box-to-box, providing presence all over the pitch. Fitting in wingers to the wide spots is possible perhaps but finding box-to-box central midfielders is much harder task.

In continental Europe, where 4-4-2 has largely been discarded, there are almost no players that fit the description. Players who are used to more specialized roles find it extremely difficult to play box-to-box. Even in England, midfielders coming through have been brought up in the continental fashion – Jack Wilshere, for example, does not play like the Scholes of old.

The recent rumors about Javier Pastore, like many other ‘reports,’ are not conclusive but United’s interest in the player is genuine – the Reds attempted to buy the player before he went to Italy. United’s interest – disregarding finance for the time being – is interesting, given Sir Alex’ infatuation with 4-2-3-1.

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  • http://manutdjo.skyrock.com/ Louis

    I we like to see a 4-4-2

    with

    VDS
    Rafael Rio Vidic Evra
    Valencia Scholes Carrick Fabio
    Ronney Herdandez

    we can also play rafael at right mid like fabio as we are in need of wide player.

    • richard

      Louis–you are spot…I can’t say it often enough that Fabio should be on the field and Playing in the MF is good for me. I am convinced that both he and his brother can play wide at the back or in the middle of the of the park because:
      1.They can defend
      2.They are fast
      3.They have great technique, better than most MF players in the EPL.
      4. The run very well with the ball at their feet
      5. They have deep lungs and can be box to box players
      They are tough as nails and despite their size they are not afraid to get stuck in
      6. They are special players and less people forget they starrred in Brazils youth WC winning team and Fabio wa the captain.

  • http://manutdjo.skyrock.com/ Louis

    4-2-3-1

    VDS
    Rafael Rio Vidic Evra
    Fletcher Scholes
    Valencia Park Giggs
    Ronney

  • Zi Indefatigable

    Jay, keep em coming man!

  • Ted

    Gin soaked has tried for more years than i care to remember to try and convince people that he’s a master tactician. He invariably failed miserably.

    He is a motivator, not a clever tactician. And never will be.

  • bman

    Ted said:
    Gin soaked has tried for more years than i care to remember to try and convince people that he’s a master tactician. He invariably failed miserably.

    He is a motivator, not a clever tactician. And never will be.

    Rubbish.

  • Alfonso Bedoya

    pffft…

  • ghost

    fucking hell, ted. how mad are you?

    fabio should be a better option than obertan.

  • uncleknobheadforfucksake

    how many more times with this shite,

    THIS AINT TABLE FOOTBALL PLAYER ARE ALLOWED TO MOVE ABOUT ON THE PITCH, 4231 4411 and 442 ARE THE SAME THING

    FFS

  • http://none ian

    We need to perform tomorrow & that means enery & commitment.In other words both of the twins need to start -why is SAF so bloody reluctant? R at right back & F on the left in front of Evra. We need a decent game from Fletcher, but unless we play Rooney in midfield, drifting to the right,& both Berbatov & Hernadez we are buggered in terms of creativity & pace.

  • herbie simms

    Someone brought to my attention that Fergie should use both Rafael and Fabio together as midfielders.

    VAN de SAR
    VIDIC FERDINAND SMALLING EVRA
    VALENCIA RAFAEL FABIO NANI
    BERBATOV HERNANDEZ

    • Victor

      vidic at right back? lolwut!

  • kramer

    that might just be the most retarded post you’ve ever made. then again, maybe not.

  • ltel

    Blog Commenter said:
    Someone brought to my attention that Fergie should use both Rafael and Fabio together as midfielders.

    VAN de SAR
    VIDIC FERDINAND SMALLING EVRA
    VALENCIA RAFAEL FABIO NANI
    BERBATOV HERNANDEZ

    HES DONE IT…. THEE MOST FUCKED UP IDEA EVER CONCEIVED

    unbelievable….

  • ltel

    ltel said:
    HES DONE IT…. THEE MOST FUCKED UP IDEA EVER CONCEIVED
    wo brought this little nugget of wisdom to your attention?
    they should be executed

    unbelievable….

  • the red city

    Man United vs Arsenal, who does the F.A put in charge of the game do you ask….why chris foy of merseyside.

    Chris Foy, the guy who failed to take any action against ballack for elbowing evra, chris foy the guy who allowed birminghams controversial goal in december to stand, chris foy, the guy who wouldnt give utd a thing even if we were shot dead in the area.

    F.A has officially cheated us out the cup.

  • Alfonso Bedoya

    “HES DONE IT…. THEE MOST FUCKED UP IDEA EVER CONCEIVED
    wo brought this little nugget of wisdom to your attention?
    they should be executed
    unbelievable….”
    I like it…
    I would have put Rooney in goal though…

    “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.”

  • ltel

    Alfonso Bedoya said:
    “HES DONE IT…. THEE MOST FUCKED UP IDEA EVER CONCEIVED
    wo brought this little nugget of wisdom to your attention?
    they should be executed

    unbelievable….”

    I like it…

    I would have put Rooney in goal though…

    im surprisd he didnt put himself in goal…
    something the united 4eva knobfaces would come of with… we expect better

  • SHim rod

    i think 4, 1, 2,1 ,2 will suit united well

  • uncleknobheadforfucksake

    ffs

  • captainhormone

    ffs

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