Ferguson’s midfield dilemma

Manchester United’s play last season was characterised by two things: a rigid 4-5-1 formation and Wayne Rooney’s unstoppable performances. Unstoppable, it seemed, until injuries at the tail-end of the season and then his lacklustre performances in South Africa. It leaves Sir Alex Ferguson facing a dilemma this summer.

The 4-5-1 formation relies heavily on Rooney’s goals, who worked for much of the season in tandem with Antonio Valencia and Nani on his way to an impressive 34 goals in all competitions. It seemed that when the Scouser was playing well good results followed suit. Fans will be worried, however, that Rooney may suffer a recurrence of the minor knocks which plagued the end of last season.

This concern is greatly magnified by United’s dependence on 4-5-1, a system which completely fails to accommodate Rooney’s back-up, Dimitar Berbatov. Sadly for Sir Alex, the Bulgarian striker can only play alongside another goalscorer as he did with former team-mates Robbie Keane and Oliver Neuville.

The reasonable solution, therefore, is for Ferguson to play 4-4-2 when Rooney is injured or rested, with Berbatov and Michael Owen or Javier Hernández up front in the Scouser’s absence

However, this reality brings another problem to the fore and that is the weakness of United’s central midfield. Whilst Michael Carrick, Anderson, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes can play in a three-man central midfield, as they do in Ferguson’s 4-5-1 system, each struggles in a 4-4-2. Either too immobile for the defensive role, or uninventive for an attacking position, each player has his weaknesses.

This was Ferguson’s dilemma last season – the Scot well understands that his players cannot cope in a 4-4-2 system in the toughest games and, in Rooney’s absence, the Scot tried to deploy Berbatov as a lone striker. It was a decision that clearly did not pay off in those crunch games towards the end of the season.

For the coming campaign, therefore, United’s manager must either pray that Rooney stays fit all season, or he needs to bring in players to strengthen United’s squad.

One option is for Ferguson to bring in a striker capable of playing alone up front in Rooney’s absence. Wolfsburg’s Edin Dzeko, for example, would suit the role perfectly. The defining problem with this strategy is obvious though as, even if money is available, it is almost impossible to buy a striker good enough for this role who is happy to play second fiddle to Rooney.

The second, and safest, option is for United to invest in a midfielder or two capable of playing in a 4-4-2, with either defensive or attacking prowess suitable to commanding a central role with a man less.

On the attacking side, players such as James Milner, Mesut Özil and Thomas Müller, the latter two who excelled with Germany in South Africa, fit the bill. While Müller looks set to stay at Bayern Munich and Milner is on his way to Manchester City, Özil is readily available. The 21-year-old’s contract runs out at the end of the season and the player would surely welcome a step up from Werder Bremen.

Another potential signing is Jack Rodwell, a solid defensive midfielder with a wealth of potential and who could also fill in for Rio Ferdinand at the back if needed in an emergency. The Evertonian’s price may still be within reach.

Perhaps Ferguson’s final option is to learn a lesson from the Wolrd Cup where Uruguay, Argentina and Mexico each played with three genuine strikers in a 4-3-3 formation. It recalls memories of Cristiano Ronaldo, Carlos Tevez and Rooney in their pomp.

Uruguay used Edinson Cavani, Diego Forlán and Luis Suárez, all of whom are out-and-out centre-forwards for their clubs. Similarly, Argentina played with Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuain and Tevez leading the line.

Should United invest in a striker such as Suarez, could Ferguson pull off a similar formation, with three from Rooney, Suarez, Hernandez, Nani, Berbatov and Owen leading the line? It’s a option that offers Ferguson more flexibility and the security of a three man midfield.

Of the three choices presented here, the first is probably impossible and the third is a risk, but Ferguson’s second option is certainly possible. One thing is certain, United cannot rely on Rooney as the team did last season. The risk of injury and loss of form is just too great.

Ferguson claims money is available despite the Glazers’ financial mess – he should use it to bring in one more signing before the season starts in August!

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Comments

  1. mike knighton says

    James Milner??? Oh dear, I don’t know which United you was watching last season but apart from Rooney clearly Fletcher was our best player. I think the issue is less to do with the fact that ‘our midfielders cant play in a 4-4-2′ but more to do with the fact that these days many teams play 5 man midfields (especially lesser teams against united) so with two out and out wingers, 2 central midfielders can get easily outnumbered.

    The Berb should play more – the guy is class but Fergie never wants to gve him a run of games and drops him for any big games – not good for confidence especially for a forward.

  2. Kings says

    I would definitely go for Ozil, at £12m, that is definitely value for money, keeping in mind that he is only 21.

  3. Alfonso BedoyaAlfonso Bedoya says

    If we really have no money, and we have to make do with what we’ve got, then the solution is simple…

    Rooney in midfield.

    I’d love to see a 4-4-2, with Rooney and Fletcher in the middle, behind Berbatov and Chico.

  4. says

    Alf,
    please am not having a pop. However, how on earth can you imagine Rooney in a midfield duo? Come on bruv!We can kill two birds with one stone by playing Rooney in a midfield trio and have any from Fletcher/Carrick/Anderson/Gibson to sit behind and play deeper like Bastian and Sami did for Oezil of Germany. We can then play Valencia/Obertan/Nani/Park to play wide of Kiko or Hernandez. Owen does not deserve a mention here at all in my view. Berba should only play when Rooney plays but as behind the Scouser.

  5. Nicklearse says

    OR play rooney in the hole behind berba, and voila -

    Rafael – Vidic – Rio – Evra

    Fletcher – Anderson/Scholes

    Nani – Rooney – Hernandez

    Berbatov

    • Ian says

      i think you have the formation right.. but not the players.. chicarito could play the lone striker but he is no winger. and i wouldnt pick nani for my 6 a side team. valencia yes. cleverley yes please.
      every successful attack minded team are adopting this 4-2-3-1 system. to deploy this system we are lacking any quality specialist defensive midfielders to cover for rafael when he goes walkabout or paddy rave if he decides to go on strike.

      hargreaves is clearly never going to play again, anderson is liable to go missing and probably dosent have the brains to play this role.
      carrick is a big pussy and yet again we rely on scholesy or giggs.
      defour is a quality prospect who has been linked (maybe next summer or possibly transfer window)
      rodwell could also be one for this role next season.
      i think we need a big season from the darrens! messers fletcher and gibson or we could be playing 3rd rd qualifiers this time next year.

  6. Alfonso BedoyaAlfonso Bedoya says

    Calvino said:
    Alf,
    please am not having a pop. However, how on earth can you imagine Rooney in a midfield duo? Come on bruv!We can kill two birds with one stone by playing Rooney in a midfield trio and have any from Fletcher/Carrick/Anderson/Gibson to sit behind and play deeper like Bastian and Sami did for Oezil of Germany. We can then play Valencia/Obertan/Nani/Park to play wide of Kiko or Hernandez. Owen does not deserve a mention here at all in my view. Berba should only play when Rooney plays but as behind the Scouser.

    I think Rooney would take to midfield like Capt, to an amputee, scat film.

    One of Rooneys’ biggest flaws, is his impatience… when he’s not getting the service, he goes looking for the ball, and then ends up out of position when United go on the attack.

    Fuck it… stick him in midfield where he can be more involved. He’s got boundless energy, is strong in the tackle, takes no shit, won’t be bullied, is a good reader of play, good instincts, great vision, full range of passes, inventive, decent shot, a natural leader, unselfish, and is more of a threat around the box than in it.

    We have a ton of decent strikers, but are weak in midfield.

    Rooney could run the midfield and drive the whole team forward in the same way Gerrard does for the Verrrmin.

    I honestly hate seeing Rooney up front on his own, especially when we’re being starved of the ball.

    And I can’t see any midfield taking the piss out of Rooney and Fletcher… which means we can chuck 2 up front again.

    And I like 2 up front… like a big pair of tits.

  7. cantilever_moaner says

    Rooney in midfield ? No No No No No fucking NO! That would be another Alan Smith situation! He as just scored 30-odd goals for the first time in his life as an out and out striker, we should be feeding him with quality from midfield, Ozil anybody… oh wait!!

  8. Just1n says

    Take our most potent weapon and put him in MF , hmmmmm i don’t think so.

    Anyway i am hoping for Anderson to have a breakthrough year. I know Danni can’t wait.

  9. Bill says

    Although it would be nice to imagine we will buy players, I seriously doubt we will. Hernandez for me could have the touch and energy of Rooney, so if he’s out then the 4-5-1 would remain for the big games. I can see United playing 4-4-2 in cup matches as well as most games vs. relegation candidates and some mid table sides.

  10. captainhormonecaptainhormone says

    Hernandez is a goal scorer like owen..he cant read a game or distribute the ball like rooney…it baffles me why fergie continues to compare rooney and owen and he is now doing the same with Hernadez

    Maybe it’s me, but from what i’ve seen he is a mexican michael owen…nowt like rooney at all

  11. sheesh says

    captainhormone said:
    Hernandez is a goal scorer like owen..he cant read a game or distribute the ball like rooney…it baffles me why fergie continues to compare rooney and owen and he is now doing the same with Hernadez

    Maybe it’s me, but from what i’ve seen he is a mexican michael owen…nowt like rooney at all

    He looks like he’s got more to his game than Owen, someone who has the attributes to create something out of nothing. Owen is more dependent on service but give him good service and he will score goals.

    Rooney’s Rooney. There’s no one like him.

  12. uncleknobheadffsuncleknobheadforfucksake says

    give owen good service and he’ll misskick the ball or give it the old airshot, prick

  13. kramer says

    owen can’t make a fucking 5 yard pass anymore and you can be sure he’ll be picked ahead of hernandez every time this season.

    anyway, fergie has to let anderson play, and give him a fucking extended run.
    bench gibson. forever.

  14. says

    I would love to see us line up like this next season:

    Van der Sar

    Rafael Ferdinand Vidic Evra

    Fletcher Carrick

    Valencia Ozil Nani

    Rooney

    A 3 man midfield of sorts with 2 wide men, and creativity to support Rooney.

    For the midfield and attack on the bench you could have a mix of Scholes, Giggs, Gibson, Anderson, Hargreaves (!), Park, Obertan, Berbatov, Hernandez, Owen, Macheda etc

    With one addition in Ozil, I think our squad would be looking very good.

  15. says

    I still reckon a holding midfielder is required. Hargreaves may never come back and he needs replaced. It would make it more feasible to play a 4-4-2. As Toby has noted, many of United’s midfielders are too immobile to shoulder the majority of the defensive burden.

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