RVP: Which Formation Will Ensure He's Not Birtles Mk ll

An exploration of Sir Alex Ferguson's options after spending £24m on Arsenal's talisman...
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An exploration of Sir Alex Ferguson's options after spending £24m on Arsenal's talisman...

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It’s fair to say, Fergie loves his strikers. They’re the player he signs the most of and he has had an absolute arsenal (sorry) of finishers at his disposable over his tenure at the club. From the likes of Cole and Yorke, Sheringham and Solksjaer, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, King Cantona, Wayne Rooney, Javier Hernandez and now Robin Van Persie.

But for every two or three goal-machines, a dud has arrived. There is no doubting that Sir Alex knows a player when he sees one. Whether they can’t deal with the enormous pressure that comes with being a Manchester United player or whether they genuinely aren’t good enough, there have been a few hit-and-miss strikers who have walked out the tunnel at Old Trafford.

Remember Garry Birtles? Prolific at Forest under Nigel Clough, winning two European Cup medals consecutively, yet unable to recreate his form in the red of United and sent back again to the City Ground for half the price they paid for him. Who could forget Diego Forlan? Yes he made the Scousers cry and will be forever etched into United folklore for that, but as far as Manchester United strikers go he never lived up to expectations. Then arrived Dimitar Berbatov. An enigma wrapped in a mystery. A player who, at both Bayer Leverkusen and Tottenham, looked very much like he could fit the mould at United and very much worth every penny of the £30 million United paid for him on deadline day 2008. Despite his 24 goal season, he didn’t quite live up to the hype and Ferguson lost his faith in him early on.

Who could forget Diego Forlan?

So now we have Robin Van Persie, chastised by Gooners everywhere for trying to win a trophy and achieve something in his career, who could potentially rocket United to a title and European glory. But what is the best way to play with him

4-2-3-1

This is the only formation that could see all three central attacking being used to the benefit of Van Persie. With Kagawa looking like the spark that United missed towards the end of last season and Rooney dropping deeper and being able to play either side of the front man and either Nani, Young or Valencia being used in rotation it’s the formation makes the most sense. Van Persie would be the point of the arrow that would penetrate defences from Spurs to Southampton. Yet we saw during his albeit fleeting debut at Everton that when defences and midfields pack tight, not allowing any space he could become isolated and the chances be few and far between. What is more, with this formation only allowing for one main striker could you see somebody of Javier Hernandez’ quality remaining at the club for much longer? What about the development of Danny Welbeck who has just signed a new deal? What about Rooney even? Will he mind not being the main attraction at Old Trafford?

What about the development of Danny Welbeck who has just signed a new deal?

4-4-2

The prospect of Van Persie linking with Rooney up top is mouth-watering but is it a practical one? It leaves Kagawa to either play a role out wide or in the centre of midfield, a position where he is likely to be out-muscled or at least ineffective in his lack of attacking freedom. Indeed, having two wingers would create a host of chances with the likes of Valencia, Nani and Young running full-backs ragged, yet Van Persie has never been known for his heading ability and we know doesn’t thrive off that kind of service.

4-3-3

 This would allow for a more fluid front three with Kagawa, Rooney and Van Persie all interchanging, or at least two of them swapping sides in order to change things around. Again though, this leaves players left on the bench with Welbeck, Hernandez, Nani, Young and Valencia all being ignored. A strong bench that may be but it is hard to see many of those players be willing to be bit-part players when all of them are of international quality.

Tevez couldn’t hack it, Berbatov couldn’t hack it, so why should the others?

The residing theme is as follows. Somebody will go. In any of these formations there are going to be players left out and upset at their exclusion. Ferguson is the king of rotation, he managed to keep the awesome foursome of Cole, Yorke, Sheringham and Solksjaer content on the way to European glory but do the players at his disposable hold the patience or selflessness to recognise they aren’t going to be played week-in week-out. Tevez couldn’t hack it, Berbatov couldn’t hack it, so why should the others? They could be plying their trade elsewhere, playing in the Champions League whilst getting 90 minutes every week.

Van Persie is a class player but is there room for him?

The ghosts of Birtles, Forlan and Berbatov still haunt the tunnel at Old Trafford.

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