Moving forward



Sunday’s 6-1 defeat to Manchester City at Old Trafford was the second biggest loss in Manchester United’s history. Sir Alex Ferguson described the match as “the worst result in [his] history.” Still, the arrow of time points firmly towards the future and United must move on, starting with a visit to Aldershot Town on Tuesday night. But what lessons should the Reds take from Sunday’s defeat?

First, United must quickly sort out the midfield, which was again exposed. Many pundits and fans consider United’s engine room the weakest part of the squad. Rightfully so, as the cupboard remains rather bare, with only four senior central midfielderss available to Ferguson. Darron Gibson sits firmly in the reserves, while Ryan Giggs and Ji-sung Park can put in a shift but, mired in mediocrity, the options still look limited.

One option, certainly in the short-term, is to revert to the gridiron style 4-5-1 of last season, which would enable two central midfielders – two from Anderson, Tom Cleverely and Darren Fletcher – to bomb forward while allowing the deep-lying playmaker, Michael Carrick, to create. With Carrick also providing an anchor, the two more advanced midfielders are freed.

The current ad hoc, and rather brittle system as epitomised by the City game, of one staying behind while the other attacks can be abandoned. An ancillary benefit lies in the fact that their attacking takes off opposition pressure from Carrick, who is at his best with a bit of space and time.

Perhaps Fletcher summed it up when he called United’s tactics on Sunday “naïve”. With more than shots conceded to the opposition than any other team in the Premier League, they may have been all season.

“We kept trying to win the game when it was conceivably not possible,” said the Scotland captain.

“Maybe we were a bit naïve and should have sat behind the ball and tried not to concede. At the time you’re thinking we’re at Old Trafford and we always want to get the ball down and play. The players haven’t been brought up to sit behind the ball, defend and see games out. But to lose those goals late on was very disappointing.”

Ferguson’s other option is simply to make do with what is available for now and bring in some reinforcements in the winter transfer window. Luka Modric and Daniele De Rossi, for example, remain available – crucially neither is cup-tied in the Champions League. Yet, both are improbable acquisitions given the nature of Fergie’s previous winter deals.

Ferguson must also examine his full-backs. Patrice Evra has been in decline since the start of last season. On Sunday, the Frenchman’s poor positioning was responsible for the majority of goals conceded. It is worrying that a seasoned professional has been making such glaring defensive errors of late. Surely the day has arrived for Fabio Da Silva to be given a stint on the left, if only to shake Evra out of his funk.

The situation on the right must also be scrutinised. Phil Jones and Chris Smalling, for all their bravado and composure on the ball, remain centre-backs out of position, and too often out of depth on the right. While there are legitimate arguments to be made for their deployment, with 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 looking increasingly untenable, the time has surely come to deploy a proper full-back in the mould of the Da Silva twins.

Then what of Ferguson’s strikers? The club has more strikers than it can deal with and implementing a more solid system means one less spot for a forward. Wayne Rooney stands out from the bunch and will be first-choice in such a regime. It is very hard on Javier Hernández, Danny Welbeck and Dimitar Berbatov but surely their feelings are secondary to the general well-being of the club.

Fluidity is hard. Barcelona pulls it off only because the majority of the club’s players are schooled in the same philosophy at La Masia. There is no shame in failing to emulate the Catalan club. Besides, whomever knocks Barça off its perch will likely do so with a unique brand of football, not a tiki-taka replica.

With United’s failings so brutally exposed by City the priority now lies in fixing the most obvious flaws, moving past the historic defeat, and not in attempting to uphold an unsustainable philosophy.

Ferguson commented that “there’s a lot of embarrassment in that dressing room and quite rightly so.” But the players have no time to wallow in their self-pity – there is a lot of work to be done.

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  • lununcle

    I do not believe this 1-6 result is the end of the world but yes, there’s lot of work to be done by the players…it is equalliy important that SAF should come up with a plan to strengthen the squad which I think he will certainly do something in Jan.

    The following is my observation:
    1. Evans – this guy has lost a lot confidence in himself since the beginning of last season…time to drop him..
    2. Evra – he should not be asked to take all the blame on his out of positioning after the red card for Evans….but we have to admit that he has passed his best..
    3. Fletcher – he didn’t do much apart from scoring the consolation
    4. Andersen – time has come to realise he is not the guy that we can rely upon..

    We can consider the following:
    a. promoting Progba to the first team to add some steel to the midfield.
    b. buying some creativeness in the midfield…given both Modric and Sneijder wouldn’t come according to those reports, we should look into the Spanish or Portugess league to find the creativeness that we have badly missed
    c. Evra should be asked not to go forward that often afterall defence is his primary duty. Need someone to cover him as well in case he is not fit…someone young and fast (O’shae, I miss u)

  • triggs

    a) Unless Progba is a new player we’ve created from the DNA of Paul Pogba and Didier Drogba, your point about introducing Pogba to provide ‘steel’ makes no sense. Although Pogba is a big guy, he is a classy creative type not a destructive player.
    b) You’re defo right on this point. All the big teams have central midfielders who find the space inbetween the midfield and defence to thread balls and create – United don’t. Silva, Mata, VDV, Iniesta, Ozil. We should have paid what was required to get Sneijder. Now we should be identifying the best prospect for this role and taking steps to acquire him for next season if not Jan. Mario Goetze looks perfect for us.
    c) Fryers looks ready to me – big game for him tomorrow night.

    • lununcle

      Sorry, should be Paul Pogba….BTW he is supposed to be the new Patrick Viera surely he will add some steel in Man U’s midfield…

      • Triggs

        Have you seen him play?

        He’s only been coined the new Vieira because he’s tall, black and French. He’s not a defensive player.

  • Yous

    No mention of Evans in the article? Really? He’s the biggest liability in the squad, he’s not even built like a proper centre back. Not doubting his (limited) ability but he’s just not good enough for United, better off at a smaller club. Jones needs to be drafted in. To think fergie let Pique go to barca because he had more faith in Evans is saddening. As for the midfield Im still amazed that fletcher is starting every week. Poor at distribution which is the type of player we need. I was at the game and half the time he was running around like a headless chicken. Cleverley gives me hope and I’m hoping pogba will be given more chances although he is still too young. If fergie really wants to close the gap against Barcelona then he needs to revamp the midfield and get rid of Evans. Simple.

  • RobDiablo

    Evans is the new O’Shea; he should only fill in at Left Back when Evra and Fabio are unavailable.
    Made of glass: Due to the fragility of the twins, Rio, and Vidic, it is a rare game when the preferred back four start. Hell, these days, we are lucky to see any two of them at the same time. Unless, like Welbeck supposedly has, the twins are reaching the end of awkward growth spurts that make them especially susceptible to injury, I think United need to move on and buy a top class (and sturdy) Right Back. This Tuesday night – and in every other match like it, Sir Alex should pair Jones and Smalling at Centre Back and let them start forming an understanding with each other and the goalies.
    Made of grass: That would be the centre of midfield. No need to name and shame; none of the players currently employed in these positions are either proper holding or attacking midfielders, which means that none of them belong in United’s first XI. I’m not including Cleverley in that indictment because I haven’t seen enough of him.
    Why did Sir Alex not sell Berbatov to PSG? I can understand not playing him, but having him sit on the bench when the money from his sale would have gone a long way toward the purchase of Juan Mata, for example, is unfathomable. Now, Sir Alex must either find a way to utilize Berbatov, sell him in January, or exercise the option to extend his contract by one year and hope to sell him in the summer. At least United are otherwise set for strikers, wingers, and keepers.

  • Julian

    Yes the midfield has been a problem for some time now. Hargreaves was brought in to tighten it up in a holding role. An uncomplicated player who could win the ball and set attacks moving with a short pass to a colleague. Sadly that didn’t work out and the absence of such a player has been sorely missed. Anderson, in preference to Carrick, has been asked to fill the role this season. However, he doesn’t have the discipline nor the capability to do the job assigned to him. We need both a defensive and a creative midfielder. To help finance this Berbatov and Anderson should go. Others who do not perform – even Evra – should be summarily dropped. Injuries have played a part this season meaning that if Fabio is unfit, Fergie has little option but to keep on playing Evra.

  • shauno

    We can go on and on about this (and people probably will) but our defenders, wingers and forwards are more than good enough. Evra and Ferdinand are still quality. Evra is just knackered and needs a rest. His main problem is he is a natural attacking fullback who rarely gets injured. He defends high up the pitch (which is a good thing) and gets forward a lot. But he needs resting from time to time. It’s just CM and thats it. It’s nothing to do with formation either as without dedicated, thoroughbred CM’s at this level you can play whatever formation you want you’ll always be weak in the middle. Looking at the formation of City yesterday if we had two good CM’s and played 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 the score would have been 0-0. Just cancelled each other out.

  • denton davey

    Because SAF insists on playing some version of a 4-4-2 in order to get width in attach, the midfield is ALWAYS going to be over-run by a team which plays a narrower 4-5-1 with two “inverted wingers”. IN that regard, yesterday’s match was a perfect storm for ManShitty.

    So, what to do ? Given the resources available – in regards to players, not transfer-money – the solution that makes sense to me (and has for a while) would be to use TheWayneBoy in the middle of the “5″ in a 4-5-1 formation. He practically plays in that role and it would make sense of his strength and passing ability although he would have to learn a bit of positional-discipline.

    With regards to the defence – Rio looked both lost and past-it yesterday; Patrice Evra is out-of-position far too often for a veteran.

    Blaming Jonny Evans seems to the rage today but – let’s get real ? – UTD were only one goal behind when he was sent off and in the 53rd minute there was a glorious opportunity for Ashley Young to draw UTD level.

    Things went pear-shaped thereafter when SAF continued with an attack-first policy with ten men – that was tragic when Balotelli scored the second and they got the third but the situation only became farcical after they got the fourth, fifth, and sixth after the 89th minute.

  • http://damiangarside.com Damian Garside

    You presume we can move forward. And who at this club is going to do the moving, and at what speed?

    It’s Halloween soon: maybe some of the good old Manc Reds can get together and commemorate this essentially American festival, in honour of our US owners by SCARING THEM THE SHIT BACK ACROSS THE ATLANTIC.

    Just a thought

  • Leela Prasad (@theblcksheep)

    Its neither ‘are’ cup tied at the moment. Brilliant article however.

  • RedDevilInArizona

    After a 1 – 6 defeat it is easy to point at failures in midfield and defenses as the easy out, and there is plenty of blame to go around those areas. However; I think the offense also needs to be looked at; our early season goal scoring prowess appears to have vanished. Teams have realized that with defenders in front of our attacking players we do not have the skills to penetrate and finish. Early in the season when we were scoring goals for fun, it also disguised the fact that we had the highest goals to shots ratio, or put another way – we are having problem getting shots off. In other seasons the after game comments would be that if we continue to create chances we will get goals – this season the chances are just not coming. Early goals change games and in the first 20 minutes or so Sunday we needed to get goals, instead we let City know that their regular back four and two midfields was capable of stopping our attacking players. This left Silva and Milner with little or no defensive responsibilities and able to lead any and all counter attacks.

    There are going to be games where Berbatov and Rooney is our best pairing, kiss the fast flowing football goodbye for that game, but there are times when we will need his skills.

    If the oppositions defense pushes our wingers diagonally to the touchline, closes off the inside move with a center back or other player, there will be no crosses coming in and very little product from coming inside. Some of the pressure can be taken off our winger by having a midfield that can run at the central defenders and deliver a ball for a teammate; I don’t know that any of our midfields can do that. Rooney tries to provide that role but is having a hard time passing the ball to his self. I would also like to see a defensive anvil that we can play in front of the back four; Bastian Schweinsteiger – I think that’s his name, comes to mind. His is older than our “buy and sell on” profile so we would lose money on the deal but sometime that’s what you have to do.

    Lastly; our back four, we really need to settle who that is and who it will be in the future. This has been almost impossible with the number of injuries we have had. We also need to determine what type of defense we want to play, safety first or cavalier bombing forward. In Sundays game City put their two forwards on our central defenders, this gave De Ger no outlet and no other option except to boot the ball way down field the and our midfielders are not good enough to handle the immediate pressure this invites.

    Ok SAF rant over – get back to work and sort this team out.

  • Will

    It’s a difficult pill to swallow but I think United will have to look internally to sort out the midfield. I’d be interested to see how Jones would get on in a 4. Young and Nani on the flanks, someone like Giggs or Cleverly to ghost into the opposition penalty area. One thing Ferguson needs to do is achieve as much continuity with his defensive selection as injuries, suspensions allow.

  • Ashish

    The truth of the matter is that no team,not a single one can play at a high tempo from start to finish.

    United have always been playing at a high tempo right from the outset and the more patient teams like Barca and now recently,City have always absorbed initial pressure before asserting themselves in the game slowly but surely.

    Take Rome 2009,United made a blistering start,United had lots of possession and a few chances but they went at HT trailing Barca 1-0.

    Wembley 2011,again,United make a blistering start,but then Barca slowly but surely assert themselves but this time United are lucky since they go into HT 1-1.

    And most recently,23rd October 2011,United make a blistering start have the bulk of possession create a few chances but then slowly but surely City assert themselves and United trail City 1-0 at HT.

    You see a pattern here??

  • brianofnazareth

    BUY TWO FUCKING QUALITY MIDFIELD PLAYERS!!!

    SELL EVANS.

    SELL PARK.

    ALWAYS START WITH ROONEY/HERNANDEZ WHENEVER POSSIBLE.

  • sheesh

    Commenter said:

    If the oppositions defense pushes our wingers diagonally to the touchline, closes off the inside move with a center back or other player, there will be no crosses coming in and very little product from coming inside. Some of the pressure can be taken off our winger by having a midfield that can run at the central defenders and deliver a ball for a teammate; I don’t know that any of our midfields can do that. Rooney tries to provide that role but is having a hard time passing the ball to his self. I would also like to see a defensive anvil that we can play in front of the back four; Bastian Schweinsteiger – I think that’s his name, comes to mind. His is older than our “buy and sell on” profile so we would lose money on the deal but sometime that’s what you have to do.

    Good post. There’s definitely a valid argument that we’re far too reliant on our wingers and Rooney to create anything.

  • sidney

    In order to move forward our attacking players need a kick up the arse because our football in the final third has been utter shite for 3 or 4 games now
    Young, Welbeck, and especially the big timers like Rooney and Nani have gotten off lightly in the City post mortem
    The zip has gone, and so have the ideas. The final ball, and the play around the edge of the area has been shite
    I’d throw Cleverley back in the mix. He gave us a kick up the arse in August

  • squigs

    The Viera comparison is a lazy one, both are French and black that’s as close as it gets. Pogba is an elegant footballer but wouldn’t have the tackling or engine that Viera had when he first broke through.

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

    sidney said:
    In order to move forward our attacking players need a kick up the arse because our football in the final third has been utter shite for 3 or 4 games now

    Young, Welbeck, and especially the big timers like Rooney and Nani have gotten off lightly in the City post mortem

    The zip has gone, and so have the ideas. The final ball, and the play around the edge of the area has been shite

    I’d throw Cleverley back in the mix. He gave us a kick up the arse in August

    Sid, there is truth in that but first you need to get the ball in the middle of the park and second you need to have the skill to distribute the ball to our attackers.

    We simply do not have enought quality in the middle to do that on a consistent basis. when we had roon, teve, ronaldo at the front with vds, rio and vida at the back, you can get away with an inconsistent midfield but we will continue to be exposed until we get people who can command territory, win space and then the ball.

    I not so worried about a creative force, more about tackling, interception, ball winning and distribution. we have bundles of skill with nani, roo, young and hernandez but we need a heart, and at the moment its beating like it’s smoking 40 John Player Specials a day, it’s rotten.

  • sheesh

    I felt last season we needed both a creative midfielder and a defensive midfielder, at least one of each.

    I see we’ve once again been linked with a move for Sneijder. No doubt, we will end up paying over the odds as Inter are no longer under pressure to sell. Typical United and their shoddy negotiating tactics.

    I don’t understand what on earth we’re playing at. I thought we weren’t signing Sneijder because we have Pogba and Morrison coming through – but we’re not even playing them FFS.

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

    Morrison is a proper nut job – he smacked his own mum up didn’t he (well that’s what a mate says)

  • uncleknobheadforfucksake

    in 2002 keane got injured, the injury took his legs, that’s when the midfield needed to be sorted out

    its now 2011…

  • baggio365

    uncleknobheadforfucksake said:
    in 2002 keane got injured, the injury took his legs, that’s when the midfield needed to be sorted out

    its now 2011…

    lol