Tag Tactics

Tag Tactics

Approach with caution: Moyes’ defensive demeanour

December 7, 2013 Tags: , Reads 13 comments
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One of the themes of David Moyes reign at Manchester United is the criticism levelled at the new manager for his cautious predilection. Many fans have always believed that the Scot’s conservatism was bound to resurface at Old Trafford since this was one of the defining characteristics of his Everton reign.

To say Moyes has been exclusively defensive in his approach is unfair, especially in the wake of winning a European away game by an unprecedented margin of five goals. Yet, six months in, United supporters remain worried about the tactical outlook of Sir Alex Ferguson’s successor.

Moyes has, at least, paid lip service to his obligation to honour United’s rich heritage of attacking football. It is a point he was keen to emphasise as early as the relatively dull 0-0 draw with Chelsea at Old Trafford, and reiterated after the pulsating victory over Bayern Leverkusen 10 days ago. “It’s what I’ve been hoping to get more often,” claimed the Scot.

United fans were collectively ushered back into reality after last Sunday’s curiously erratic 2-2 draw with Tottenham Hotspur. Defeat at home to Everton in midweek simply confirmed that Moyes’ hope and reality are poles apart.

It took a week for the memories of Moyes, purveyor of attacking football, to dissipate, leaving fans once again with a brand of football that errs towards safety first. This is, after all, a former centre half who spent £27 million on a battering ram only to employ him as a defensive midfielder.

It is important not to get carried away with characterising Moyes as purely a defensive tactician. Old Trafford has not yet seen two banks of four sat deep on the edge of United’s own box; even in the goalless draw with Chelsea the Reds looked more assertive than the visitors, with Mourinho strangely content to take a point.

Yet, the fact remains that as an attacking force the Reds have been far from potent this season, winning only three games by a margin of three or more since the start of the campaign, including the 4-0 defeat of an utterly toothless Norwich City in the Capital One Cup.

One problem is Moyes’ tendency to fall back on cautious tactics in the important moments of games. The most tangible example came in United’s 1-1 draw with Southampton at home, and Wayne Rooney’s substitution for Chris Smalling two minutes prior to Adam Lallana’s 89th minute equaliser.

The irony in this instance is that Southampton equalised from a corner, which might suggest Moyes made the right change by bringing on a central defender, but that football is a game that loves to confound.

In the end this change served only to highlight the manager’s favour for caution over attacking intent. Had the change been made five minutes earlier, with Rooney swapped for one of the more offensive unused substitutes – Javier Hernández, Shinki Kagawa and Wilfried Zaha were all available on the bench – it might have been United securing the 89th minute corner , pushing to increase a slender lead rather than protect it.

Moyes’ penchant for caution plays out in the lack of tactical variation and fluidity this season. The United manager is bound by his fondness for a 4-4-1-1 or 4-2-3-1 formation that only ever evolves when it morphs into a more conventional 4-4-2. In reality any variation depends entirely on Rooney’s positioning.

In this observation there is real surprise in United’s performance in Leverkusen, with Shinji Kagawa tantalisingly elusive between the lines, Ryan Giggs creative and positive in his use of the ball and Rooney, positionally capricious. The Scouser was at once a goal-scoring threat and incisive in creating chances, as evidenced by his four assists.

This attacking vigour was possible in the seemingly rigid confines of Moyes’ 4-4-1 formation, although one of the reasons the Reds prospered in the BayArena was because the team played in an attacking style that was tremendously fluid. United’s players interchanged positions and passed the ball with imagination. The Reds’ build-up was no longer predictable and the home side struggled to gain any kind of foothold in the game.

This is why United’s performances in the Premier League this week have been so disheartening. Kagawa, given a berth in the number 10 role against Spurs and Everton, was subdued in both matches, while Valencia was erratic in north London.

Most worrying of all though is Tom Cleverley’s form, Giggs’ replacement in the starting XI at Spurs. The 24-year-old has not been able to build the promise of youth, with any hope that he is United’s next big midfield star dissipating quickly. The England midfielder’s passing lacks penetration, with the player set on shifting the ball sideways rather than looking to create any meaningful attacks.

Cleverley’s defensive susceptibility is a real problem too – he was nowhere when Jordan Mutch split United’s defence with, an albeit wonderful, through ball for Cardiff’s first goal a fortnight ago. At White Hart Lane Cleverley could not get close enough to Sandro to stop the Brazilian launching a swerving shot into the top corner.

Away from individuals, perhaps United’s problem is not in the choice of formation, but in its application. Giggs cannot play every match, or even be expected to reach the standard of performance he displayed against Leverkusen on a regular basis, and without Carrick United look devoid of ideas in a flat-footed central midfield.

This is one area where Moyes can break loose of his inherent defensive sensibility. Kagawa could, for example, drop into central midfield alongside Jones, giving United greater creative impetus at the cost of some measure of defensive stability. Alternatively, Moyes could mold his attacking players into a more interchangeable unit that is a match for the dynamic trio of Cristano Ronaldo, Carlos Tevez and Rooney in 2008.

After all, Moyes has the talent at his disposal in Rooney, Kagawa, Nani, Robin van Persie and Adnan Januzaj. It would certainly please many fans to see the manager abandon a degree of caution in his tactical approach.

The Scot’s use of substitutions is can be more positive too. Draws might have become victories in United’s games against Southampton, Cardiff and the away fixture with Real Sociedad if the manager’s changes had shown more attacking intent.

Don’t mistake the desire to see more attacking football as nostalgia either. Sir Alex Ferguson didn’t end every game with four strikers on the pitch and a return to the gung-ho tactics of the late 1990s is unrealistic.

But some of the old United attacking exuberance would be a more than adequate antidote. Even if it is to at least allay the fear that Moyes actually prefers Chris Smalling at right-back to Rafael.

Moyes: 20 games in

November 29, 2013 Tags: , Reads 12 comments
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Manchester United’s record-breaking 5-0 win against Bayer Leverkusen last Wednesday marked the 20th game under David Moyes, and despite a shaky start to the campaign, the Reds are now on a decent run, with Moyes’ side unbeaten in 12 matches. With 20 down United has played enough games for Moyes’ tactical vision to emerge – there are significant departures from his Everton set-up.

The most conspicuous change in Moyes’ approach at Old Trafford is his use of United’s defenders. The Scot’s strict ‘two bands of four’ system was abandoned after the Reds’ 4-1 defeat to Manchester City at the Etihad, although Moyes has persisted with a 4-4-1-1 system, or thereabouts, in the following weeks.

United’s perceived defensive vulnerability at full-back, particularly Patrice Evra, led Moyes to instruct his defenders to tuck in during the early weeks of the season. Defending the box a priority. The effect was to force United’s wingers onto the back foot and allow opponents to put the Reds under pressure. United’s 1-0 defeat to Liverpool at Anfield is a case in point.

In the weeks that followed the approach has changed, and United can now boast a more familiar set-up – one winger assisting the defence, the player on the opposite flank presenting a passing option.

However, in general Moyes has instructed his players to perform a functional role. Centre-backs and central midfielders hold their ground, with full-backs and wingers pushing forward in a well-drilled fashion.

But Moyes has adapted. At first, the former Everton manager tried to replicate an Everton favourite by instructing his wingers to cut in and full-backs push forward to provide width. Yet, Ashley Young and Nani failed to establish themselves in the first team and Antonio Valencia is not suited for the role.

Meanwhile, the diminishing athleticism of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand dictated that the side defended deep leaving Moyes’ wide men without the time or space to transform United’s two banks of four into a more flexible 4-2-3-1. The result: the Reds were often too slow to initiate attacks.

While Moyes gained notoriety for a direct approach at his former club, the Scot has become more cultured at Old Trafford over time. In general, United has played a careful possession game to establish a high line before playing aggressively to unsettle the opposition.

At Everton, Moyes preferred attacking full-backs who were also solid defensively, leaving favourites such as Steven Pienaar free to cut in knowing that the player overlapping him will do so while protecting the integrity of his team’s defensive shape. The system allowed Moyes to field a functional player like Maroune Fellaini in the hole to make late runs into the box.

Moyes faced a different challenge at Old Trafford, where the Scot could not afford to instruct his wingers to cut in without exposing Evra and his counterpart on the right. The knock-on effect was felt through the team. With little support, Wayne Rooney at 10 was forced to roam into the channels to overload the flank. Meanwhile, United’s central midfielders were forced to sit deep, while Robin van Persie was left isolated.

The Scousers role is particularly interesting. Despite another summer transfer saga, Rooney quickly established himself in the first team, with the vast space between the his strike partner and central midfield, widened by two wingers hugging the touchline, there for the former Everton man to navigate.

Yet, the recalcitrant striker has never been particularly good at holding up the ball, nor has he ever been a trequartista truly linking the midfield with attack.

It was a strange decision, then, in the opening weeks to shun Shinji Kagawa. Even in Rooney’s absence, seemingly more dependable players like Danny Welbeck were preferred to the sublime Kagawa at number 10. The Japanese does not present an aerial presence and Moyes’ preference for brawn perhaps makes sense given the United wingers’ inability to penetrate central areas.

Still, it is Rooney’s inability to maintain possession that has opened the door for the Japanese. The lack of a spare man in the middle restricted options for United’s holding midfield two. By contrast, Adnan Januzaj or Kagawa deployed on the left, with each keen to cut inside, presents a passing option that enables United to push up.

There are consequences though. Evra’s surges towards the byline masks the lack of width, but with Kagawa or Januzaj on the left United is undoubtedly more vulnerable in defence. The set up can also drain the Reds of tempo, with United too often playing in front of the opposition, struggling to break sides down.

United’s victory in Leverkusen may be a turning point, with Kagawa starting in his preferred central role for the first time since Moyes’ arrival at Old Trafford. The former Dortmund player had an excellent game as well. United’s wide men stretched the German side, affording Kagawa ample space in which to operate. Crucially, the playmaker’s quick feet injected pace into United’s attacks.

Rooney’s indiscipline also contributed greatly. The Liverpool-born striker does not possess the pace of yore, but he remains a far more mobile player than van Persie. Rooney’s constant running unsettled Leverkusen’s defenders and the team exploited the panic by putting five in the net.

This tactical indiscipline is often masked by the term “passion.” Yet, on the pitch, composure is often of far greater value than any zeal for running. As a forward on the shoulder of last defender, however, Rooney’s workrate is a major asset.

It leaves Moyes with plenty of questions. While van Persie is far better technically, the Dutch does not have the forcefulness that makes Rooney so effective up-front. Indeed, in the current set up Moyes will probably benefit more from using Rooney as the leading striker than van Persie.

Not that dislodging the two-time Premier League top scorer is anything but a larger political nightmare than the Rooney saga. Yet, with Kagawa now in the mix and Welbeck lurking, Moyes has much to think about. The good news is that the new United manager has continued to grow into the role.

van Persie could benefit from new role

October 21, 2013 Tags: , , Reads 18 comments
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Wayne Rooney’s recent declaration that he is happy at Manchester United now that he is playing as a striker under David Moyes has been interpreted in a number of ways. But setting aside the claim and its message for a moment it is good to remember that Rooney had his best season in 2009/10 during which the Scouser played primarily as a traditional number nine. Given that Rooney lacks the typical qualities of a real number 10, or a winger for that matter, Moyes can be excused for using the Englishman as a striker given the player’s history.

But Moyes system has provoke a number of tactical question, some of which might be alleviated by using Dutchman Robin van Persie in a new role.

Moyes’ system, in which full backs are encouraged to aggressively provide width, means that Old Trafford’s two central midfielders – Michael Carrick and Marouanne Fellaini as the first choice pair – cannot push forward without risk. Meanwhile, United’s wingers have been encouraged to cut inside with Rafael da Silva and Patrice Evra pushing high up the pitch.

Yet, in the system there is also a clear need for someone to occupy the space between the main striker – Javier Hernandez or van Persie – and central midfield. It was a role Sir Alex Ferguson asked Rooney to fulfill in the Scot’s last Premier League winning side, leaving the Reds with a variety of channels in which to attack.

Typically Moyes deploys a forward in the hole, but this nominal number 10 has looked to attack the box late more than providing an additional passing option in the attacking third.

Theoretically United’s wide man are required to link midfield with attack, while the full-backs crosses from wide areas – turning Moyes’ formation from a 4-4-1-1 into a 4-2-2-2 in the attacking phase. However, there are weaknesses in United’s team that inhibit the Scot’s plan. The lack of a spare man in defense and Evra’s poor positional awareness has limited United’s opportunities in the final third, for example.

Additionally in recent matches against Southampton and Liverpool the opposition pressed United’s midfield duo heavily, forcing the Reds to attack almost exclusively down the flanks. Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia were shown the byline at Anfield, while Adnan Januzaj and Nani were fouled into submission at Old Trafford. In each United’s attack was predictable and blunted.

Moyes attempted to introduce a holding midfielder in European competition, but the United squad is loaded with forwards, and deploying a number 10 that links midfield and attack is surely more of a priority. Without this additional passing option in the middle United is forced to into wide areas, as has been the case in recent games.

With Rooney seemingly preferring a more direct role, Shinji Kagawa is the one man in the United squad capable of providing the missing link. Yet, dropping van Persie for Kagawa is unthinkable, leaving the Japanese out of favour and questioning his future at the club.

Moyes has always been keen on keen on having a player arrive late into the opposition box, which offers two separate targets to aim at with balls from wide areas. At Everton Tim Cahill and latterly Fellaini fulfilled the role, while at Old Trafford Rooney’s aerial presence might be weighing heavily in the former Everton manager’s mind.

Meanwhile, van Persie appears to be increasingly isolated in a United shirt, with United’s system not bringing the best out of the record Netherlands’ goalscorer.

These challenges bring to mind the once radical concept of false nine – a forward who drops deep – which is now mainstream tactical thinking. It is a role that might suit United’s Dutchman – in fact van Persie often played the role for Arsenal to great effect, with the former Arsenal player and Cesc Fabregas often devastating as a pair.

In Catalonia Lionel Messi is Barcelona’s false nine and his heroics outshine the fact that Barça’s wingers benefit from the space created by the Argentinean. At Old Trafford, allowing van Persie to drop deep might force opposition defenders to choose between letting the Dutchman crowd midfield or following him and leaving a gap in the defensive line.

Rooney and United’s wingers might even benefit from the additional movement in forward areas. The fact that Rooney, Januzaj and van Persie can all play as false nine suggests that the seemingly easy tactical switch of encouraging a forward to drop deep could inject the flair that United is desperate for.

In the plan van Persie will benefit from more touches of the ball, while United’s possession game – with just 76 per cent of passes completed against Southampton – will improve. The Dutchman’s presence in the hole would also allow midfielders to attack and Fellaini to offer his physical presence in the attacking third.

Retaining the ball for longer is advantageous in most situations, but it is particularly useful for United since Evra is better in the attacking than the defensive third.

Moyes is well known for his conservatism, but the concept of false nine is well documented and field tested. Spain won Euro 2012 with Cesc Fabregas dropping off opposition defenders, and Sir Alex is one of the pioneers of false nine, having used both Cristiano Ronaldo and Rooney in the role.

It is a bold step, but using van Persie in a new role could both solve many of United’s attacking problems and negate the need to bring in new attacking players, of whom Moyes may have little trust in any case.

Moyes forced onto the defensive

September 29, 2013 Tags: , , Reads 30 comments
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Manchester United’s loss to West Bromwich Albion on Saturday was the third reverse in the Premier League this season. Many of David Moyes’ problems tie in the tactics the former Everton manager has deployed, which have impacted both defence and attack.

One of the key concepts behind Moyes’ 4-4-1-1 formation is to develop two points of attack. By contrast two pure strikers offers essentially only one target to aim for. With a forward deployed in the hole, however, the team uses the number ten to feed its advanced forward, or provide other attacking players passing options.

The two banks of four used in Moyes’ prefered 4-4-1-1 formation offers a solid defensive base – it is a relatively simple shape that offers cover as the midfield four closely tracks the opposition midfield. And with at least one forward staying in the opposition half the team can quickly attack on the counter.

However, these two banks of four are rigid and the formation needs careful calibration if the side wants to avoid becoming overly direct. After all, the system deploys nobody to mark the opposition number ten so the gap between the defence and midfield needs to be narrow in order to squeeze the space in which opposition playmakers can operate.

This space has to be carefully managed, lest the team is forced deep, especially where the defence is immobile. The consequence is the requirement for a high line if the team is to play attacking football. It was this gap that Samir Nasri expertly exploited  in the recent derby, ravaging United’s defence in the Reds 4-1 defeat at the Etihad.

Jonny Evans’ return, a mobile and seasoned defender, offers hope and Rafael da Silva should soon regain match fitness to take up his position on the right. It will allow Moyes to use Phil Jones or Chris Smalling in their natural position at centre back. However, United’s new conservatism under Moyes suggests that Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand will feature prominently in the future. There are times that call for a deep line, but being forced into it is a different matter entirely.

The most significant weakness in United’s two banks of four is that against most systems in modern football there is no spare man at the back. With the Reds’ central midfielders, wingers and full-backs completely occupied man-for-man by the opposition, United’s central defenders are left to deal with two opposition forwards by themselves.

The system also requires central midfielders to act as a duo; a staggered pair in the middle can easily be outmaneuvered. Moyes’ apparent faith in Anderson is perhaps an attempt at enabling a midfielder to join the attack while maintaining a deep line, trusting the Brazilian’s pace to quickly return to midfield in defensive situations.

With the engine room pinned back United’s attacking thrust must come from the flanks. In Moyes’ 4-4-1-1 the Reds’ wide midfielders must hug the byline – getting caught out in central positions can put the team in an undesirable situation where central midfielders are dragged out wide and the wide men are forced to cover through the middle.

Part of United’s problem this season lies in Wayne Rooney. The former Everton player is in very good form, but he has been deployed as a second striker. Rooney comes deep only when the opposition is in possession for a prolonged period of time and bombs forward as soon as United regains the ball.

With Vidić and Ferdinand uncomfortable in a high line, Michael Carrick and his partner cannot push up the pitch without compromising United’s defensive integrity. Carrick and Maroune Fellaini’s lack of pace exacerbates this problem.

Ryan Giggs, Antonio Valencia and Adnan Januzaj can all play the traditional wide role, but the fact that United doesn’t have a genuine aerial presence bar the new Belgian acquisition limits the usefulness of this quintessentially British approach to football.

The unexpected defeat to West Brom on Saturday epitomizes the problems both in defence and attack inherent in Moyes’ 4-4-1-1. Perhaps emboldened by Evans’ return, the Reds pushed high up the pitch. Anderson and Carrick, in particular, enjoyed time on the ball, although West Brom’s midfield stuck close enough to the United duo to limit the incision or penetration from the middle.

Meanwhile, United used a mixed approach on the flanks. Nani played well in the first half, but was seldom seen after the break. On the right the Portuguese attacked the byline and crossed. Yet, with little height in United’s forward line, West Brom opted to defend the box, allowing the winger space and time to play.

While Rooney and Javier Hernández failed to penetrate the deep-lying West Brom defence, a breakthrough appeared possible with Nani delivering sharp crosses and United having good possession.

During the opening period Nani and Shinji Kagawa also drifted inside. With Rooney seemingly neither playing up front or in the hole United’s nominal wingers offered additional passing options in central attacking midfield.

This changed at half-time when Moyes introduced Adnan Januzaj and removed Kagawa, who failed to provide much creativity from the left. However, the former Everton manager put the left-footed Belgian youngster on the right and switched Nani to the left. The intention was clear – central midfielders spreading the play wide, wingers cutting in and full-backs crossing. It is a sound, if predictable, tactic that was often been used by Moyes in a decade at Everton.

Yet, the Scot failed to recognize the difference between his current and previous clubs. The approach in the first half offered great flexibility. The lack of running from central midfield was disappointing, but Nani at least put in several quality crosses.

The second half rendered United predictable. Rooney continued to storm forward, leaving nobody operating in the hole. Carrick and Anderson, who was replaced by Fellaini, were nullified by West Brom’s engine room and there was no one linking the forwards and midfielders.

Robin Van Persie, just back from injury, was introduced, but the delivery from Buttner and Jones was poor and, with the Belgian midfielder sitting deep, there was little aerial prowess in the box to threaten the West Brom defence.

Two goals conceded at Old Trafford and four the Etihad showcase the defensive frailty inherent in the current United set up. United’s central midfielders were occupied by their counterparts. There was no spare man at the back and the defence was pulled out of shape by the opposition, leaving the Reds extremely vulnerable with far too many gaps.

The concept of using Rooney as a second striker is attractive if United can genuinely create a presence in the hole. Kagawa is having great difficulty in fulfilling that role, with Moyes insisting that the former Dortmund player defend as a wide man in two banks of four. Meanwhile, United’s midfield pair needs to move as one unit to preserve the Reds’ defensive shape and cannot consistently provide runners from deep.

It leads to an obvious conclusion: a dedicated holding midfielder is required. Rafael Benitez, a manager well versed in the 4-2-3-1 system, has always argued that both central midfielders need to stay deep to accommodate two attacking full-backs. Indeed, Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid side included Alvaro Arbeloa, a solid defender, at right-back. United, however, does not possess a forward in Cristiano Ronaldo’s mould and the utility of whipping crosses into the box is limited.

Such a move is virtually impossible in Moyes’ 4-4-1-1 with wide players holding a defensive responsibility and unable to cut in. The in vogue concept that ‘central midfielders take turns going forward’ requires a number ten like Toni Kroos at Bayern Munich who comes deep and forms a midfield triangle in the middle to play the ball out of defence. In Moyes’ 4-4-1-1 though, the number ten dropping deep leaves the number nine – normally van Persie – completely isolated.

There are other questions too. Of late David De Gea has been passing the ball out to defenders rather than putting it in the opposition half. It is probably a measure to retain possession and defensive shape, but the move has considerably slowed down United’s tempo, leaving the opposition ample time to set up defensively.

Perhaps a tactical shift to 4-3-3 is possible should Moyes persist with the rapid introduction of Januzaj into the first team. But with four good strikers and a number ten of Kagawa’s pedigree in the squad, the formation isn’t Moyes’ best option.

However, shifting to a 4-2-3-1 might allow the number ten to drop deep and let defenders move the ball quickly and accurately up the field without isolating the advanced forward. The central midfield will have to sit deep though, with Evra and Rafael aggressive attackers and head and shoulders above United’s alternate full-backs. Rooney can play the Kroos role, but the problem of fitting in five central forwards into two spots has lingered on from last season.

Alternatively, a midfield diamond solves a lot of Moyes’ problems. A dedicated holding midfielder provides defensive cover and enables other central midfielders to join the attack. With three central forwards, Moyes can take full advantage of a variety of strikers at his disposal. However, the suspicion remains that the new United manager is too cautious for such an adventurous endeavor.

It is still early days – Moyes has been in charge for only a handful of games at United. The former Everton manager has been exposed to great pressure, but his excuse that he is still getting to know the squad rings hollow. The Scot has assessed his team during preseason and all evidence suggests that he was approached about being Ferguson’s success long before the official announcement.

United’s abysmal failure in the transfer market, aided and abetted by Ed Woodward, is understandable. Neither Woodward nor Moyes has ever operated at the top end of the market.

United’s offensive failure is disappointing; that United’s defence has been repeatedly breached too is appalling given that Moyes’ reputation is built on solidity.

Tactical evolution key to mitigating United’s weaknesses

September 11, 2013 Tags: , Reads 8 comments
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In the three seasons between 2006 and 2009 Nemanja Vidić and Rio Ferdinand formed possibly the best central defensive partnership football has ever seen. Ferdinand was no push over in the air, enabling United to play deep when necessary. Meanwhile, the pressing game with a high defensive line was no problem either because Vidić had the pace to recover.

Indeed, prior to the 2008-09 Champions League final, Manchester United was expected to defeat Barcelona with the Reds’ defensive solidity often cited by pundits and fans as United’s big advantage.

As the pair aged each has become more injury prone, with younger players such as Jonny Evans increasingly filling the gaps. Yet, Vidić and Ferdinand have remained first choice despite their noticeable lack of pace; perhaps David de Gea’s initial inexperience and timidity called for calm hands at the back.

However, Evans has firmly established himself as the automatic choice to partner either the Englishman or the Serbian when one of them is absent. The Northern Irishman does not possess Phil Jones’ natural talent, nor does he have Chris Smalling’s physical attributes, but he has more top flight games under his belt and offer keen tactical awareness.

Last season Evans was typically deployed as the left-sided central defender. However, when Jones or Smalling was deployed at right-back, the academy graduate shifted right as well. Since deployment at centre-back is fundamentally different from doing so as a full back and it makes perfect sense to have Evans, who is positionally excellent, and quick enough to mop things up if necessary.

There were other interesting combinations. Smalling was preferred on the left when he partnered Vidić. Despite his height, the former Fulham player is more comparable to Ferdinand than Vidić in style. Crucially, the Englishman offers mobility over the Serbian – for some reason Sir Alex Ferguson always preferred his left sided central defender– be it Evans or Smalling – to be mobile.

Perhaps a clue lies in Ferguson’s assessment of his left-back, Patrice Evra. The Frenchman enjoyed one of his best seasons in 2012-13, but he has never been a particularly good defender. Poor positionally, Evra has always relied on his pace and the centre-back partnering him on the left side to counter the opposition.

Given Evra’s weaknesses it made perfect sense to have the quicker of the central duo on the left and Ferguson’s preference for Evans and Smalling in that position is justified.


Data from the 2012-13 season suggest that central defenders tend to put in more tackles, commit and suffer more fouls and get involved in more headed duels when playing with Evra on the left. The implication is that United’s opposition has often targeted Evra as the defensive weakness in United’s back-four.

Other data supports this theory. Evra’s impressive rate of winning headers last season has often been brought up. Indeed, Evra’s 62 per cent success rate dwarfs Leighton Baines’ 39 per cent and Ashley Cole at 53 percent. However, Evra dealt with 3.21 headed duels per game when Baines dealt with 0.74 and Cole with 1.29. Despite being shorter than the former Monaco player, and worse in the air, Rafael, on the right, got involved in 2.14 aerial duels per game.


Full-backs’ primary offensive role is to create chances. In that aspect, Evra compares very favourably to Fabio Coentrão and Baines – David Moyes’ two defensive targets this summer. But it is the defensive statistics that confirm why the new United manager went looking for a new left-back.

Evra’s low proportion of interceptions in defensive actions, and the fact that the Frenchman committed more fouls per game suggest that his positioning is poor compared to Coentrão and Baines. Coincidentally, the figure has shrunk to 17.9 per cent this season. But the data from last season suggests that the Everton left-back would have provided greater security at the back, while offering offensive qualities at least as equal to Evra’s.

Additionally, there are tactical implications. Moyes’ side has faced significant challenges this season and most of them are caused by the team sitting too deep – Vidic and Ferdiand’s pace necessitating the move. With Evans, Smalling and Phil Jones coming back into action, the Scot can consider pushing his team up once again.

Fellaini’s acquisition adds a little bite in central midfield and pressing as a defensive measure has now become a viable option. However, it is difficult to foresee a manager with Moyes’ reactive tendencies setting up a pressing game with a positionally poor left back who is clearly being targeted by the opposition.

There are alternatives though: a midfield diamond might solve many of Moyes’ defensive problems, and release attacking options. Fitting in Shinji Kagawa, a player who can offer the creative spark United is desperately seeking, is easy. Danny Welbeck, Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie would be free to move into wide areas in search of space, which should ameliorate the lack of width prevalent in the diamond.

With Fellaini’s arrival United now has the number and variety needed for a midfield heavy plan. The deep-lying midfielder can cover advancing full-backs without worrying about losing the midfield battle. And with United’s options on the flanks limited, using Fellaini’s brawn and Kagawa’s brain appears a more productive approach.

The plan has weaknesses; attacks down the flanks – especially quick counterattacks – are extremely dangerous, but United already faces that challenge with teams targeting the left flank. Meanwhile, United’s full-backs, starting in the Swansea game, tended to concede the ground, come inside and defend the box anyway.

Putting theory to work is difficult, nor is there any guarantee that it will work. Sir Alex had experimented with the formation last season so Moyes has a base from which he can work. The transfer window has closed and the winter market is notoriously bare – the new manager now has make do with what he has. Tactical evolution may be the answer.

Swansea victory offers insight into Moyes’ tactical plan

August 20, 2013 Tags: , Reads 9 comments
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David Moyes has made a good start to his Manchester United career as the Reds solidly beat Swansea City on Saturday. The new United manager is notoriously reactive and one cannot assume that the Scot will continue with the tactics used in Wales, but  important details as to how Moyes will utilize the squad he inherited from Sir Alex Ferguson can be gleamed from the Premier League opener.

As expected, United came into the game with a very specific plan. There were some mistakes to be ironed out on the training ground, but the fact that the players stuck to Moyes’ ideas is a very good sign – some managers with clearly defined tactical ideal, such as Andre Villas-Boas, sometimes fail to control the playing staff and struggle to implement a strategy. It is a pitfall that the former Everton manager has clearly dodged.

Manchester United lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation as expected. When defending, two banks of four were quickly formed and Robin Van Persie stayed up top while Danny Welbeck or Ryan Giggs, who took turns playing in the hole, helped out as needed. Van Persie and Welbeck or Giggs pressed aggressively high up the pitch to allow United’s midfielders and defenders fall back into line.

Meanwhile, Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand defended deep and the midfield bank of four refrained from pressing their Swansea counterparts lest the home side exploit the space between United’s defence and midfield.

Interestingly though the Red full-backs tucked inside quickly and allowed Swansea’s wingers to put in crosses. Swansea failed to capitalize on United’s deep-lying  defence, but it remains to be seen whether Moyes will allow an opposition with a proper target man to utilize the aerial route.

United’s offensive approach was much more interesting. As Moyes had done at Everton, the Glaswegian had the Reds draw Swansea in before launching long balls forward. David de Gea directed his goal kicks long – often aimed at Welbeck’s head – and United attacked only when forward players had some room ahead of them and numerical advantage over Swansea’s defence.

Attacks were direct and purposeful – the Reds rarely bothered with patiently prodding around the Swansea defence and midfield. Instead, United tried to create situations where forwards could hold up the ball upfield then turn or make quick passes to United players running from midfield.

United’s forwards repeatedly attempted to establish a numerical superiority either by running directly at the Swansea defence on the counter or by drawing Welsh defenders out then exploiting the gap left behind. van Persie’s first goal epitomizes this approach.

Surprisingly, United produced very few crosses. Phil Jones and Patrice Evra consistently motored forward while the Reds’ wingers cut inside quickly, but generally attacks took a more central route than down the flanks.

Still, pushing full-backs into advanced positions is advantageous since it forces the opposition to trade off the risk of a United break through the middle by committing men to mark wide areas. And since attacks are sporadic United full-backs should be able to handle the physical aspect of the task.

When attacking the front four often switched positions to create space. Decent runs were made, but the frequency with which United forwards got caught offside was alarming. The timing of runs will become sharper as the season goes on, but it is troubling that there were very few incisive through balls.

With attacks bypassing central midfield entirely, Michael Carrick was reduced to mostly screening the defence. With Tom Cleverley never a particularly creative player it is clear why Moyes has chased Cesc Fabregas this summer. With someone of the Spanish’s inventiveness partnering Carrick, United attacks will become more varied and, therefore, harder to defend.

But if United is going to be functional in midfield then spark must come from the front four. Van Persie can fill in the ‘number 10′ role if needed, but without the Dutcman up front the Reds might want for a good finisher. Ryan Giggs lacks the explosiveness needed in this plan, although he did provide moments of genius against Swansea that Welbeck and Antonio Valencia cannot reliably offer.

Meanwhile, Shinji Kagawa is tailor made for this approach and it remains a mystery as to why the Japanese didn’t even get on as a substitute. Kagawa saw little game time in pre-season either and it is very possible that the former Dortmund player is simply unfit.

Moreover, the Japanese has never played as a winger with an onus on defending in two banks of four; as things stand, Kagawa can only be deployed in the hole. And with no central midfielder bursting forward to offer creative support relying on the Kagawa at number 10 would likely render United predictable.

There is also a rationale in playing Giggs, who understands Moyes’ defensive system, and can also swap places with Welbeck. To fit Kagawa into the United side Moyes has to buy a midfielder who can share the creative burden.

There are implications for United’s wingers in Moyes set up too – they will be asked to cut inside rather than attack the byline. Moyes’ wide-men will also have to quickly retreat to form the first line of defence when Untied loses possession, and burst forward when the Reds attack. Pace will be in the front of Moyes’ mind when he selects his wide players.

Given the role, finishing and movement must also be considered, meaning that barring new additions, Ashley Young and Luis Nani will have a role in Moyes’ system – possibly ahead of Antonio Valencia.

Young is a limited player, but he has played at 10 and his ability to feature across attacking midfield may come in very handy. Despite his notoriously poor decision-making Nani remains the only Premier League tested player in the squad who can beat a man; the Portuguese’s productivity will tempt the United manager to pick him instead of the Ecuadorian.

Indeed, Valencia’s place is under threat from multiple angles, while the one player who can perhaps make the winger worth deploying – Danny Welbeck – might just end up taking the former Wigan Athletic player’s place.

Welbeck has always been physically impressive and diligent – and it comes as no surprise that Moyes has put the youngster in the first 11 ahead of more illustrious players on the bench. The English striker has a fine tactical brain and maintains possession well even though he lacks incision.

Despite the rather meager goalscoring return in 2012/13 Welbeck has all the tools to consistently score. Crucially, he can compete in the air and will provide a very good target for de Gea’s long clearances if that is a key part of the plan.

Moyes used a well defined system with little variation at Everton. The Scot now has a variety of players at his disposal meaning there is no guarantee that the tactics deployed against Swansea will become the template.

That said Moyes’ has a tactical history – and the embarrassing chase for two Barcelona midfielders suggests that a facsimile of the Swansea plan will feature prominently this season.

The half-hearted bid for Marouane Fellaini is another sign that Moyes will go down this route as there is little need to compete physically in central midfield under the system deployed last weekend. And with United’s defence rather immobile, a pressing game is very dangerous; Moyes seems at least smart enough to react to his own team’s weaknesses.

Ferguson’s new Euro challenge

May 2, 2013 Tags: , , Reads 28 comments
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The United States naval Special Warfare Development Group, commonly known as SEAL Team Six, became famous for killing Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan on 2 May 2011. SEAL Team Six, along with its brother unit DELTA, is responsible for eliminating some 3000 alleged terrorists and capturing 9000 more during its deployment in Iraq.

During the war, the elite counter-terrorism unit operated under the mantra of “surprise, speed and violence of action” and it is staggering to think just how violent they must have been – 3000 killed by a few scores of soldiers. Despite the ‘success’, SEAL Team Six has since adopted a new code as its modus operandi – “silence, stealth and decisiveness of action.”

It is beyond the scope of this post, nor is United Rant a proper place, to discuss exactly why, but the SEALs’ change of direction should be rather familiar to Manchester United fans.

Under Sir Alex Ferguson’s stewardship, United has won two European Cups. Yet, the change in tactical approach between successes has been stark.

Take, for example, the 1998/99 season in which the Reds scored 29 and conceded 16 over the Champions League campaign. By contrast, Ferguson’s 2007/08 side scored 20 and conceded six. The reigning English champions scored nine more, despite playing two games less in ’99, and conceded 10 more in the treble-winning season compared to nearly a decade later.

The explanation for the switch from profligacy to parsimony comes in Ferguson’s change of approach.

The tactics deployed by Ferguson in ‘99 were fairly basic – a classic 4-4-2, although some, including Sky pundit Gary Neville, argue that with Dwight Yorke deployed in the hole Ferguson’s formation was closer to 4-4-1-1.

Whatever the formation, it was also a phenomenally tough side. The second leg of the semi-final against Juventus encapsulates the spirit of the side perfectly. While the game is, of course, remembered for Roy Keane’s heroics, to “modern” eyes it is also absolutely astounding just how violent the game was.

Watching the game one again it is noticeable how basic the vertical ‘box-to-box’ runs of Ferguson’s players were. There are no fancy false nines, nor an inverted winger. And while there was little choice with the Scot’s team two goals down, United’s sheer attacking verve is breathtaking – the ball just keeps going forward.

Contrast United’s performance at Stadio Della Alpi to the away game against AS Roma in ‘07/08. Right off the bat the side was infinitely more complex. Cristiano Ronaldo featured upfront as a false nine. Meanwhile, Wayne Rooney and Ji-Sung Park were deployed as defensive wingers. And the midfield three of Anderson, Michael Carrick and Paul Scholes did not include an old-fashioned defensive midfielder in Keane’s considerable mould at all.

The game was far more measured. Players didn’t just run in straight lines – instead, they covered each other and tried to progress carefully, with advanced players offering much subtler runs than Yorke or Andy Cole ever did. The game, notwithstanding Ronaldo’s great header, was won mainly on the chalkboard. In fact, Zonal Marking’s Michael Cox declares that “[the game against Roma] will go down as one of the great away performances in Europe by an English club.”

Correctly or otherwise, Ferguson considered the gung-ho style of football United played in Europe as a hindrance to further success in the continent’s premier competition. Or in other words, “surprise, speed and violence of action” could no longer be the order of the day when the manager wanted far more “decisiveness.”

Ferguson was proven right in his conviction when United defeated Chelsea in 2008. Had it not been for the emergence of Lionel Messi-led Barcelona – possibly the greatest team ever assembled – the Scot might have even added one or two more Champions League wins in the past five years.

United’s stark evolution in that decade owes much to the modern media era. Television brings almost any match on the planet to the viewer. Indeed, television has taken geography out of scouting and analysis.

And with so many eyes and brains, with so much money on the line, football is evolving quicker than ever. For example, the blistering pressing game buttressed by careful possession of the ball, championed by Barcelona and used so effectively by Spain, is already in decline.

The modern way has evolved again. Instead, “hip” teams now press hard when the opposition goalkeeper has the ball. The concept is to stop opposition from building from the back, forcing the ‘keeper to launch the ball long, with defenders dropping back and picking up opposition players. After all, why waste energy chasing the ball when one can prevent the ball from ever reaching an opposition player?

Bayern Munich showed how effective the idea is by hammering Barcelona 4-0 in the Champions League semi-final last week and repeating the trick at Camp Nou.

While Ferguson evolved his side in the decade from the ’99 victory, the game as a whole has changed from being “violent” to being “decisive.” It seems that in his final years as United manager, Ferguson, now 71, has another challenge to meet.

Everton vs. United: a tactical observation

November 2, 2011 Tags: , , Reads 21 comments

Despite the score, it was Everton that dominated the Saturday’s game. The Merseyside club edged Manchester United in possession and attempted 19 shots to United’s seven. The Reds, a few patches of good play notwithstanding, were under constant siege, and while United’s defenders had a better game, ultimately, it was luck that got the Manchester club through unscathed.

United started brightly in 4-1-4-1 formation, with Darren Fletcher playing as a dedicated holding midfielder, and central midfielders – Tom Cleverley and Wayne Rooney – combining well with the wide-men – Danny Welbeck and Ji-Sung Park – to support Javier Hernández in attack.

United’s wide-men were playing not as out-and-out  wingers, but as wide midfielders – a defensive ploy, with United’s players  working diligently to cover and regain possession. The central midfielders and wide-men overloaded Everton in the middle of the park, and converted the advantage into a goal. That’s when everything went pear-shaped.

Perhaps mindful of the recent 6-1 defeat, the United defence retreated to a very deep line – almost at the edge of the Reds’ penalty area. The giant gap between the defence and central midfield was simply too much for Fletcher to cover and Everton took advantage. With the Fletcher’s presence, and wide-men tucking in, United could have kept a higher line and compact shape.

After all, Everton lacked pace and the balls over the top were more or less innocuous. If anything, playing a deep line against Everton was perilous given Marouane Fellaini’s ability to win aerial balls in dangerous areas. Better opponents would have taken advantage.

Perhaps, with Jonny Evans and David de Gea in the side, two excellent distributors of the ball, Sir Alex Ferguson believed he could get away with a gap between the lines by instructing the pair to launch quick balls forward. But Hernández is hardly a target man. Slight in build and stature, the Mexican was quickly relieved of the ball by Everton defenders. Given the set up, Dimitar Berbatov would have been the better choice. Welbeck or Wayne Rooney could have dropped deep to link between midfield and attack, while providing some physicality up top.

One positive aspect of United’s more defensive approach was Fletcher’s coverage. The Scot dropped deep to form a temporary back-three at times, which allowed United’s the full-backs to attack. It is no coincidence that Patrice Evra provided the cross from which Hernández scored.

Yet, the most peculiar feature of the system was Rooney being deployed as a central midfielder. Many fans have campaigned for this deployment, and just as many argued against it. The Englishman combined well with Cleverley and worked hard throughout. The trio of Fletcher, Cleverley and Rooney holds much potential. Each player has a clear role – Fletcher holds, Cleverley passes and Rooney attacks. Cleverley and Rooney are versatile players who can dovetail between the two roles. Michael Carrick and Ryan Giggs can also fit in multiple roles – Carrick can hold and pass whereas Giggs can pass and attack – allowing Ferguson to rotate and keep players fresh.

One worry, of course, is that Rooney’s deployment as a midfielder limits his goal scoring prowess but that needs not be the case. Paul Scholes and Frank Lampard have scored plenty from a similar position on the pitch. In the Everton game though, Rooney was limited to single attempt at goal.

Again, the deep line is to blame. To make full use of Rooney as a central midfielder, United’s defence must play a high line and keep the space between the lines compact. This will allow the English international to spend less time defending and more time bombing forward. The wide-men should also be pushed higher up the pitch to allow the former Everton striker to hit his trademark cross-field passes. With Carrick and Anderson out-of-favour, fans should expect to see Rooney as a central midfielder more often; he’s a brilliant forward but he has the potential to be an outstanding midfielder, given the right set-up.

However, from the tactical point-of-view, the system used against Everton didn’t make much sense. Just as players are blamed for poor results, the manager is also culpable. This column has lauded Ferguson’s tactical acumen many times but, on this occasion, the Scot got things wrong. Better teams than Everton would have exploited United’s weaknesses. With Manchester City so rampant, the Reds cannot afford to slip up. Ferguson must do better!

Moving forward

October 24, 2011 Tags: , , Reads 23 comments

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.

Ashley Young: a tactical profile

October 19, 2011 Tags: , Reads 16 comments

Ashley Young is a curious character. Not as innately talented as Ryan Giggs or Cristiano Ronaldo, yet the Englishman has managed to establish himself on the left-flank at Manchester United following a £16 million move from Aston Villa in the summer. Plenty of fans were surprised by the move, questioning Young’s value to the club. But it was Young’s flexibility as much as his raw talent that attracted Sir Alex Ferguson.

Indeed, when the 26-year-old signed on at Old Trafford, Ferguson compared the former Watford player to a former utility man, now departed for Sunderland. “… John O’Shea, for instance, wasn’t in a starting position all the time but, because of his versatility, he made nearly 400 appearances for us in his career here,” claimed the United manager.

Young is similar to the Irishman in that he is an adaptable player who can be deployed in a variety of positions – a real jack of all trades. One must then ask whether the Englishman is a master of anything?

One of the English international’s strengths is his athleticism. Young is fast, blazing past markers on the flanks and quickly roaming across the field as a central attacking midfielder. With the player’s great agility and balance, Young makes a formidable opponent. Judging by his frequent forays into defensive positions, the Englishman also possesses great stamina as well.

Young is also an excellent deliverer of crosses and set pieces, which has been missing from United’s armory for some time. For that alone, Young must be considered an integral part of United’s first team because there is nobody – bar, perhaps, Ryan Giggs – who can offer good free kicks and corners. But Young is no Rory Delap – the winger is not solely in the side to provide good dead ball delivery.

Ashley Young Heatmap

Figure 1. Source: Guardian. Click for larger image.

The problem with Young lies in his other assets, which by no means poor, are not exceptional. Consider Young’s passing. While proficient, the midfielder’s passing lacks imagination and creativity. Perhaps Young is simply still acclimatising but too often his passes, especially those of a more adventurous nature, have been weighted and executed poorly. For this reason alone Young should only be considered for the attacking midfield/second striker role as the last resort – especially when Wayne Rooney, Giggs, and even Anderson can play the role.

Another concern is Young’s movement.  As an “inverted” winger, Young should look to cut in more, allowing Patrice Evra to overlap. Figure 1, left, demonstrates that Young has remained predominantly on the flank, hitting the byline and getting chalk on his heels one.

Comparing Young’s movement to Luis Nani, Figure 2 below, demonstrates just how glued to the touchline Young really is. As a right footer, Young needs to check back before crossing. While these inswinging crosses can be extremely dangerous they are harder to pull off once the winger approaches the byline. In addition, given that Young can shoot from distance, it is curious why he doesn’t exercise that option more frequently by drifting infield.

Perhaps the reason is Young’s dribbling, which is not at Nani’s level. Young prefers to beat a man with blistering pace and not clever trickery on the floor. Given this predisposition, Young’s obsession with hitting the byline makes sense as he need only beat the full-back with pace. It is not so easy to cut in to the middle where there are midfielders and central defenders to worry about.

Nani Heatmap

Figure 2. Source: Guardian. Click for a larger image.

If it wasn’t for Ferguson’s other options Young would probably be better deployed as a classic wide man on the right. One disturbing thing about all of this is the fact that Young is ill-suited to modern formations such as 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1. In 4-4-2, Young has a bit of space to accelerate before facing the full-back. In 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1, as a winger, Young directly faces his marker and no space to gain momentum.

Young’s limitation, in essence, boils down to one issue – predictability. There is no doubting that Young is a good player but, to truly cement his place in United’s first team, he must learn to play with a more flair. Against the very best sides, such as Barcelona, Young will be more easily countered, just as he has been against Chelsea and Liverpool in recent matches. He must rely less on pace and develop his game to yet another level.