"One good reason I'm in defence? Erm..."
Manchester United succeeded in their ploy of relying on attacking muscle to outscore their opponents again last night. It’s pretty clear, though, that there exist underlying issues- over-lying even- at Old Trafford. Ferguson doesn’t seem to hold great trust in his young home-grown defenders, Kagawa is being misused and due to overly front-loading the squad this summer, Fergie is still desperately trying to scramble together a working formation to utilise the strengths of his imbalanced squad.
Fergie’s loss of trust in youth?
Fergie’s continued insistence on choosing Michael Carrick ahead of young up-and-coming specialist centre-backs like Scott Wootton and Michael Keane indicates one of two things: either the young crop is not up to the task or Ferguson has lost trust with home-grown youth. All reports indicate that Wootton, for example, has impressed in training and has shown potential for a bright future at the top level. The folly of Ferguson’s preference of big-game experience over centre-back expertise has been clearly exposed over the past couple of seasons when Carrick has been periodically drafted in to cover for injury. The first half last night brutally exposed Carrick’s lack of defensive know-how, as he was dragged wide and victimised by the powerful Braga forward Alan. In fact, the entire front line of Alan, Eder and co. (not a scaffolding company) thrived on United’s defensive frailties, which one imagines, despite his inexperience, Wootton would have buffered with far greater expertise.The first half last night brutally exposed Carrick’s lack of defensive know-how
With half of the defensive unit out injured- or more if you give Vidic his proportional weighting- Ferguson clearly doesn’t feel prepared to dip into his young defensive reserves. The rise to prominence of Carrick’s partner last night, Johnny Evans, does give the impression that Fergie- who retained Evans at the expense of Gerrard Pique- is willing to nurture home-grown talent when he truly believes in it. Has something changed in his mindset over the past couple of years, or does he simply not see enough to convince him Wootton and Keane are capable of stepping up to the plate?
Fergie’s continued insistence on choosing Michael Carrick ahead of young up-and-coming specialist centre-backs like Scott Wootton and Michael Keane indicates one of two things: either the young crop is not up to the task or Ferguson has lost trust with home-grown youth
If this is the case, United may well be in a spot of trouble over the next few months. Vidic may supposedly be back within a month but his injury proneness combined with Ferdinand’s creaking limbs and entire spinal structure, mean that Smalling and Jones will be forced into frontline action with greater haste than ideally envisaged. With the perpetually trembling De Gea behind them and a creaking twosome of Carrick and Scholes often planted in front of them, it seems likely United will continue to ship goals aplenty for a little while longer.
The Kagawa Problem
A second problem faced by Ferguson, and actually caused by him, is the inability to best utilise the £17m signing Kagawa. The Japanese playmaker obviously possesses genuine class and experience at the highest level, having largely steered the creative wheel for Borussia Dortmund’s league success over two impressive seasons. Regardless of which system is adopted, it seems, cramming Rooney and Kagawa into the same team pushes Kagawa into an unnatural wide position where he is unable to influence the game as much as he would otherwise be capable of.
Having forked out for Van Persie after Kagawa’s summer recruit, and the Dutchman scoring as freely as could be expected, Rooney has dropped into the central tip of midfield, or number 10 position, depending on the formation selected. These two positions, which essentially occupy the same territory, constitute Kagawa’s natural hunting ground. The meaningful question has therefore shifted back from ‘Can Van Persie and Rooney fit in the same team?’ to ‘Can Kagawa and Rooney play together?’ Well, obviously they can, but, unless RVP picks up an injury- moving Rooney into the spearhead of attack- irrespective of formation, one will always remain underutilised. Indications are thus far that it’s Kagawa who will lose out.
United’s tribulations with trialling formations continue to plight the team’s progress and stability. Last night, when asked by Gabriel Clarke at half-time the reason for the poor start a seemingly incredulous Ferguson gave the brilliant answer ‘Yeah, exactly!’ Well, I’ll give it a go instead then: In addition to Carrick’s inclusion, adopting the diamond formation- completely ignoring my advice- led to the worst of both worlds: It provided all of the exposure in wide areas avoidable with a 4-5-1 or 4-*-2 (a profanity in the current tactical environment) while also equipping the side with none of the defensive cover afforded by a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-2-1 shape. United’s midfield diamond looked decidedly awkward throughout, with Rooney moving to the left to create a more orthodox 4-4-2 towards the end of the game. The issue was less prominent when going forward, as players organically exchanged positions and brought full-backs Rafael and Buttner into play; the problem arose when retreating into their own half. It quickly became apparent in the first half that the four midfielders felt unsure about which zone to cover defensively, often doubling up and in the process leaving gaping holes for Braga to exploit- particularly in wide areas.
Ferguson will be tempted back into the defensive support provided by the 4-2-3-1 formation. Indeed, he will have to be carefully selective in choosing fixtures in which to develop the diamond formation
I would suggest that, even with Ferdinand and Evra returning on Sunday against Chelsea, Ferguson will be tempted back into the defensive support provided by the 4-2-3-1 formation. Indeed, he will have to be carefully selective in choosing fixtures in which to develop the diamond formation. I would personally suggest waiting until Vidic is up and running, tackling and elbowing once again- if he is to persist with the plan at all. However, the real issue is that even the 4-2-3-1 doesn’t seem to quite fit. The narrowness in midfield, as with the diamond formation, requires lung-bursting overlaps from the full-backs, who simply haven’t come close to managing to track back quickly enough, while their team-mates struggle to cover their positions. Sure, 4-5-1 or 4-4-2 may prevent United’s numerous forward stars from adopting their preferred positions, but at least the players would know what the hell they are doing.
Follow Fabio on Twitter at @Fabiozucc
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