Manchester United and the 4-3-3
Ever since Redondo’s nutmeg on Henning Berg that lead to a Raul goal on the counter attack and the arrival of Queiroz, Fergusson has changed his tactics in the champions league. Instead of going gung-ho with an attacking 4-4-2 he now uses a more conservative 4-3-3 approach. Although this approach has yielded great results over the past 5 seasons with United reaching at least the semis on 4 occasions, I do not think united have the proper center midfield personal to play this formation this time around.
A 4-3-3/4-5-1 is a very flexible formation that can switch between a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-2-1-3. It gives the back four enough protection and is less susceptible on the counter too. The increased personal in the midfield helps keep possession and also helps in intricate passing as supposed to 2 banks of 4 in a flat 4-4-2.
Attack: The front 3 mostly consists of a main striker (a no 9) and two traditional wingers who either hog the touchline or 2 inverted wingers who can cut in from the flanks and support the striker. Rooney although prefers to play in the hole, plays the role of the no 9 and is supported by 2 of nani/Valencia/park/young depending on the opposition. United have a good front 3 with good movement and interchanging.
Midfield: The midfield 3 requires the perfect balance with each player required to have a different asset. An advanced playmaker (a no 10 or a trequartista), a deep lying playmaker (a regista or a water carrier), and a ball winner. With the departure of Scholes and Hargreaves and the conversion of Anderson to a box to box midfielder, United have never had a perfect blend of midfield 3. My perfect blend was the Liverpool midfield of 08-09 that consisted of Gerrard playing just behind an in form Torres (no. 9) as a no. 10, Mascherano doing the dirty work in midfield by dispossessing the opponents and Alonso making interceptions and spraying the ball to the wingers and Gerrard.
Defence: With a 3 man midfield offering ample protection to the back four, wing backs are often used to make overlapping runs forward as the holding midfielder temporarily slots into his position.
Although United won the completion in 2008 with a flexible 4-3-3/4-6-0 with a front 6 of scholes, carrick, Hargreaves, rooney, ronaldo and tevez, last night against Benfica United played with Giggs, Carrick, Fletcher and the previous time they used this formation was away at Marseille where Giggs made way for Gibson. While Giggs continues to defy the laws of nature all the others are jack of all trades and offer very little in terms of creativity (Fletcher is more of a box to box rather than a ball winner) which leaves Rooney cut a forlorn figure up front which increases his frustration and his chances of being carded or worse getting sent off.
After the bore draw at the Stade Veladrome last season Sir Alex made a tweak to his 4-3-3 to play a 4-4-1-1 with Rooney playing just behind Hernandez and Park and Giggs supporting him and Valencia providing the width on the right. This system proved to be effective as Rooney could drop deep in search of the ball and he, Park and Giggs could often interchange creating confusion among the opposition defenders. Park and Rooney and Valencia had the work rate to provide the legs for the ageing Giggs and Carrick who was used to screen the back four using his reading of the game to make vital interceptions. Although this formation help United build momentum in the second half of last season the lack of legs and the inability to keep possession against Barcelona in the final must have hurt Sir Alex as much as the result.
United have started this season with a fluid front 6 with Anderson, cleverly, nani, young, rooney, Hernandez/welbeck and a team with an average age of just over 23 that enabled them to score a record 18 goals in their first 4 matches but reverted to experience for the away game at Benfica by bringing in the likes of Fletcher and Giggs. It remains too early to predict which formation United will use in the latter part of the champions league this season and whether he sticks with experience or turns to youth but time will tell what plan Sir Alex will use this time around to crack the European code…..
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