Maximus Tacticus – Manchester United
The English domestic football season has kick started with a cracker of a match at the Community Shield with Manchester United coming back from a two goal deficit to beat Manchester City 3-2. We are already past the first month of the season and have got an initial peek into how the teams are lining up. This month, let us look at the tactical setups of defending champions, Manchester United.
It is time to find out able understudies for the ageing old stars. Probably the best shop-stopper of his genre, Edwin Van Der Sar has retired alongwith Red-for-life Garry Neville and Paul Scholes. Defensively, it is time to look forward as Wes Brown and John O’Shea has bid adieu. Rio Ferdinand is spending far too much time on the treatment table adding to the frustration of all. Nemanja Vidić is strong as a rock but he has to be rested properly if the Red Devils want him 100% fit for the crunch matches. Hence, this is going to be a break or make season for Johny Evans. He has been getting enough opportunities for the last 2 seasons. With stiff competition from Smalling and Phil Jones, he has to cement his place this year. It seems that Evans is more likely to be slotted in the heart of the defense, Smalling at the right back position and Phil Jones doing a versatile John Oshea – centre half, right back, holding midfielder. Sounds good on paper, but remains to be tested. Sir Alex Ferguson is spoiled for choices in the attacking third this season. In his own admission, he has six front-line strikers – though the future of Berbatov seems uncertain and the duo of Michael Owen and Kiko Macheda will find it tough to break into first team plans of the gaffer as long as the league is concerned. But the fringe players have already shown they are capable enough of putting in a string of consistent performances. Anderson is doing pretty well during his prolonged first team starts as Fletcher is recovering, and Welbeck had a great start to the season till the hamstring gave away. Then again, the wing play, United’s preferred attacking weapon over the years, will get more option with the arrival of Ashley Young. In all likelihood, MUFC will field a free-flowing 4-4-2 in all the home matches and against lesser oppositions (or, when they are more ambitious) at away games. If early indications are to be believed, it will be a very fluid system with the front 4 constantly interchanging positions – sometimes making it a 4-6-0. Nani and Young can play in both the wings, and the latter can even play off-the-striker. It gives the manager more options – something more than the age-old 4-4-1-1, as adopted by him in the last season. As is shown in the formation, the main striker leads the line whereas Rooney, a typical No. 10, will drop into the hole.
Keep them Coming
The wingers will come inside, go outside to deliver telling crosses. The wing backs will give ample options down the flank and United will have the luxury to choose from the experience of Ryan Giggs or the exuberance of Tom Cleverley as the midfield playmaker.
As always, cup ties will be a breeding ground for youngsters, fringe players and providing much needed match fitness to players coming back from injury. Highly rated starlets like Paul Pogba, Rave Morrison are expected to feature heavily in these matches alongside Lindegaard, to keep De Gea on his toes between the posts. New signing Phil Jones will grab his opportunities and will partner either Chris Smalling or Johny Evans in a steel-n-silk model at the heart of the defense and act as an able understudy to the Vidic-Rio pairing.
Attack, attack, and attack
Similarly, the front six will be rotated to keep their freshness alive and Sir Alex is likely to adopt a more adventurous variation of 4-4-1-1.
Big Boys are Here
Against title challengers, especially in away matches and in Europe, Sir Alex prefers a more conservative 4-5-1 approach. The experience of Giggs and Fletcher will be used more frequently in these matches with Rooney, as usual, working his socks off as the focal point of attack at the top. The wing backs will be less ambitious and they will hold their line more often than not. With Rio out with injuries more frequently, and the form of Carrick a little suspicious, the versatile Phil Jones is likely to play a major role. He is physically strong, reads the game well and seems quite at ease playing for a big club. This will be a big season for him as he may be deployed at the heart of the defense or as a holding midfielder breaking up the play. With Ferdinand and Vidic both available, (accepted, Rio is a question mark, but we are discussing ideal situations here), Sir Alex may like to use Jones’ physical presence as a defensive shield, especially against strong rivals in away matches.
Compact at the Back
Man to Watch (1) – Ashley Young
Sir Alex has been an admirer of Ashley Young for quite some time. At 25, a move to a bigger club was imminent for Young since the last couple of seasons. He is a skillful dribbler, a value-for-money player on the pitch as he can adapt to both the wings. He can run at the wing backs, get chalk on his boots, as well as cut inside and trouble the keeper with both feet making him a very difficult player to mark. He has had one of his best seasons at a more central position under Gerard Houllier, so that opens up another option for the manager. Given the defensive shielding of Anderson, Fletcher or Carrick behind him, if given a free roaming role, just like that of Wesley Sneijder in the treble winning Inter side masterminded by Jose Mourinho, Ashley Young can be the signing of the season. If anything, he needs to improve his crosses or the final ball, while playing as a wide man. Just have a look at his delivery at the match against West Bromwich Albionin and compare that with Jose Bosingwa, who was playing as a virtual wide delivery man for Chelsea against the same opposition a week later – there are far too many balls failing to find a target (red lines). But the good news is that he is drifting into good positions and hopefully the composure will be attained once he gets a few matches under his belt.
Attack, attack, and attack
Man to Watch (2) – Tom Cleverley
Widely tipped to be the successor of Paul Scholes, the 21-year old young lad from Yorkshire is quickly letting everyone know that he has arrived. May be Sir Alex has seen enough potential in this home-grown talent to shut the door for more demanding, though truly established and world-class playmaker like Wesley Sneijder. Tom is at ease at the attacking midfield position, has a very good vision and distribution skill set, to go with a natural knack for goals. As is evident from his play in the league so far, Cleverley is pulling the strings at the midfield, a bit high up the pitch.
The striking feature is the % of successful passes which is close to 90 in all the matches so far. Add to that some assists, some superb dummy run, and some strikes to remember (against Tottenham Hotspurs) – you have a real AMC in the pitch.
Debojyoti Chakraborty is a hardcore Manchester United & East Bengal fan. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org