Wingless Ferguson

May 1, 2011 Tags: , , , Opinion 16 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson is on record stating that he has never used a traditional 4-4-2. It is true, however, that systems he has used over the years, including 4-2-3-1, are cousins of the orthodox 4-4-2. It is not true though that Ferguson is tactically inflexible; he has used variants of 4-3-3 and even three-at-the-back systems over the years. However, one thing is consistent over all these years – no matter what Ferguson’s tactics, he has always used wingers.

It is no great wonder that the Scot prefers wingers in his side – Manchester United has been particularly blessed in the department. However, Ferguson’s luck with wingers is  running out and it may prompt a change.

Antonio Valencia, whilst good, is a limited player. Ferguson’s comment that the Ecuadorian would have been purchased regardless of Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure suggests that Valencia was bought not as an indirect replacement for the Portuguese, but to take Park’s place as someone who can be deployed in big games to pin back full-backs. Nani, on the other hand, has come leaps and bounds this season, although the issue of consistency still lingers, and media reports that Nani is positioning for a move to Italy cannot be ignored.

It also remains a problem that Valencia and Nani are both naturally right wingers. This column has previously discussed why Nani performs better on the right. Valencia, being a more limited player, simply cannot play on the left. An easy out is to purchase a left sided player – it is perhaps the reason why Ashley Young has been linked to United in the press.

Even if Ferguson’s situation with his wingers is resolved, the midfield remains a problem. This column has previously argued that United will probably persist with 4-2-3-1 based systems and purchase an advanced or deep-lying playmaker to add some “stardust” to the team. It was an argument made before the burgeoning partnership between Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernández.

In recent games Rooney has been deployed in deep roles;  deeper than he has ever played in his career. The English international has revelled in the freedom afforded by depth. With Hernández stretching the play, Rooney has all the time and space to do whatever he wants. Hernández is the key – the opposition defensive line drops so deep to pick him up that Rooney is often left without a marker. This is a great partnership and one that shouldn’t be altered.

Does this mean that an exciting attacking midfielder can’t be brought into the club this summer, and must United persist with wingers? An attacking midfielder, for argument’s sake let’s say Javier Pastore, can be bought and played in a 4-3-1-2, with Rooney and Hernández deployed up top. However, a deep-lying playmaker in the mould of Luka Modric can be bought and fit into the existing system. It is, indeed, a more likely option.

But what stops the old Scot from making one last big tactical change before retirement? After all, Ferguson has shown over the years that he isn’t afraid of the change.

Ferguson has already tried out the wingerless system in the League Cup game against Southampton. The game ended disastrously, as the midfield failed to perform.  The issue with such systems is width. Midfielders and strikers must work tirelessly to provide it in lieu of traditional wingers. But United does have players like Rooney and Darren Fletcher, who are tailor made for such roles.

Another boon of using a wingerless system is that Michael Carrick would be freed. With so many players around him, the Englishman won’t be pressured as much and will be able to provide calm passing from deep.

However, another concern with the 4-3-1-2  system is facing teams that do utilise width extensively. AC Milan was destroyed by Tottenham Hotspur this season for precisely this reason. In such matches United can revert to 4-2-3-1, placing wingers or players such as Rooney in wide positions to counter the threat. Additionally, Chelsea showed last season that wingless formations can work in the Premier League if the team is good enough.

The coming summer will be exciting for many reasons. One of them could be that Sir Alex abandons his only tactical constant.


Calvino - May 1, 2011 Reply

Valencia “limited”?? Honestly some of you need to get over yourselves. What exactly do you expect from a winger that you do not get from Antonio Valencia? Please can you answer that. Beckham made a career out of playing wide right with not as much pace nor power yet you are dabbing Valencia with such faint praise.

The rest of the article might have made a lot of sense but I have not read through.

Steven - May 1, 2011 Reply

Got to agree with Calvino! Valencia, in my opinion has got exactly what is needed to be calssified “winger.”
Yes he is not exactly Ronaldo, Beckham or the Giggs of old but to call him limited is an unjust classification. Valencia is extremely effective and has great vision and since his return from injury is keeping one of our best players this season in terms of goals and assists on the bench: Nani.

Pikey McScum - May 1, 2011 Reply

Calvino said:
The rest of the article might have made a lot of sense but I have not read through.

That pretty much sums you up Cal…

han - May 1, 2011 Reply

something is brewing…

Spider - May 1, 2011 Reply

Absolute nonsense. Valencia and Nani will still be key next season and for several seasons after I suspect. Breaking stubborn teams down without wide players who can beat a man is a total nightmare, unless you’re relying on playing direct to a quality strong target man e.g. Mourinho’s Chelsea with Drogba. The fact that United have been linked with plenty of wingers (Sanchez, Young etc.) strongly suggests Ferguson is sticking to using them. Barcelona may not have out and out wingers but Alves plays pretty much as one, and one or two out of Villa, Messi and Pedro is always out wide.

han - May 1, 2011 Reply

ask rooney if he would rate valencia as limited? those 2 have developed a real understanding since last season and since the return of the Vman, shrek has been on fire

ray - May 1, 2011 Reply

stopped reading after the valencia is “limited” bit

dozer - May 1, 2011 Reply

Valencia’s limited?
How many wingers in the world are actually better than this guy?

Alun Vaughan - May 1, 2011 Reply

In my opinion Antonia Valencia is the best right sided winger in the world. Valencia, Nani and Park for the big games – personally I wouldn’t want anyone else

eddieTheRed - May 1, 2011 Reply

United are one of the few teams left in top – level football that retain a degree of tactical flexibility and long may it continue; the trouble with abandoning the winger system is that it makes a team very narrow and a bit one – dimensional; if plan A doesn’t work there’s no plan B.

You have to be able to adapt to cope with all the different systems opposition teams play over the course of a season!

herbie simms - May 1, 2011 Reply

Valencia plays the role SAF wants him to play and he is brilliant at that with some precise crosses. And if we do buy Alexis Sanchez, it would be interesting to see what position he plays in the team as he can also play as an attacking central midfielder.

bman - May 1, 2011 Reply

Valencia’s excellent going forwards as well as defending, and is a real fighter, as his recovery from his injury shows. As others have pointed out, there’s not many names that would rank above him as a pure winger. He’s “limited” in the sense that he can’t play on the left, sure, but in reality not many players can play on both sides with equal effectiveness. Nearly every player who it’s claimed can play on both side of midfield is actually much better on one side or the other. Nani is a good example — nearly every player actually tends to come inside, there’s extremely few players I’ve ever seen who can bomb the sideline down and put crosses in from either side of the pitch.

As for making Carrick more effective by playing a packed central midfield, that sounds crazy to me. The man’s primary talent (some would say his only talent) is pinging long balls from the centre out to our attacks, it’s no coincide that he went from one winger-oriented team (Spurs) to another (us). If you’re playing in a congested midfield, you need to be much better at protecting the ball the way Scholes can. Carrick’s good at retaining possession in a game with some space, I think we all know he’s much less use in a hurly burly game of dodgems.

So yes, Fergie is extremely flexible tactically, much more so than most people realise, but the man’s committed to open expansive football and using the full pitch.

Spudiator - May 1, 2011 Reply

Jay Shon said:
Ferguson’s comment that the Ecuadorian would have been purchased regardless of Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure suggests that Valencia was bought not as an indirect replacement for the Portuguese, but to take Park’s place as someone who can be deployed in big games to pin back full-backs.

That’s a pretty presumptuous statement, assuming it’s true (and I’ve seen nothing of this quote myself), I would’ve imagined it would be more likely along the lines of adapting Ronaldo’s role in the team, either up front (as he played numerous times), to left wing (which he was more than capable) or, more likely, to a free roaming role where he could just float around between midfield and attack.

United Rant’s original returning eternal optimist!

squigels - May 1, 2011 Reply

I shudder to think we would consider dropping wingers. The use of natural width within the team as been a United hallmark for decades.

Besides we have two shit central midfielders as it is, I don’t want 4 of them.

herbie simms - May 1, 2011 Reply

As long as Fergie is manager, we will always have wingers but I’m not sure this will continue after Fergie has retired.
New managers will bring in their own tactics and style of play. Some people may think Valencia is limited because he mostly hangs out wide and crosses the ball into the centre but he is quite capable of cutting inside, taking on defenders and scoring goals but Fergie has him playing a more suporting role to the strikers and retreating back to assist in defence. Very talented player.

Andrew - May 3, 2011 Reply

people getting a bit too emotional over Tony V here….the article says he’s limited but also says he’s good. I think that’s true….although I’d add very good at what he can do. He’s limited in the sense that he’s not as creative as Nani, not as dynamic as Ronaldo (who is) and can’t play in any other position other than on the right. Very good reliable player though….with Nani angling for a move away Dirty Sanchez would be a good versatile replacement with the reliable and very good Tony V as an alternative

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