Manchester United’s season has had a few ups and downs. Whether it is destroying West Ham with beautiful goals or conceding 2 goals in injury time to Everton, the season so far has left a good number of United fans sad. There’s a good number of fans who are annoyed at United’s inability to take advantage of Chelsea’s loss to City and try and keep up with Chelsea when Chelsea won Arsenal.
Coming into this season, a good number of United fans wanted to see a degree of strengthening especially in midfield where there is clearly strength in depth but no depth of quality. The best midfielders Manchester United possess are Paul Scholes and Darren Fletcher. This duo clearly does not compare to the midfield combos of fellow European contenders such as Barcelona, Chelsea and Inter Milan. Paul Scholes is clearly past his best warranting a change in position and his efficiency has to praised ( http://tinyurl.com/2fwhzfu ) and Darren Fletcher isn’t rated in the same class as Michael Essien who can be considered an equivalent in terms of role. Strengthening in midfield is a good option but that is a topic for another day. This lack of depth in quality is responsible for the rotation of midfielders at United in response to specific opposition as Ferguson deems best. Praise has to be given to Ferguson for effectively managing this situation over the past few years.
Currently, this system does not appear to be working as a number of midfielders at United aren’t performing up to the expected levels (Fletcher, Carrick, Anderson, Park). It now appears there is a sudden dearth of quality in midfield at the club. Against Sunderland, the midfield was bypassed by heavy pressing which resulted in inadequate ball retention and this lasted a good 30 minutes of the first half. When United finally seemed able to dominate possession, creativity deserted the players. Playing Macheda on the flanks didn’t seem to help matters as he was unable to provide width and John O’shea isn’t Patrice Evra (a superb overlapping full back who currently looks off the pace). Nani alongside the back-line has to be given some kudos for playing to an acceptable standard.
Ferguson has to get one thing right, Chicharito isn’t a wide player who moves in, he is a central player who moves out. When the midfield is lacking in creativity, wide players should provide some crosses into the box and cause the opposition defence problems but Chicharito when playing wide seems more intent on coming in than putting in crosses. As there is no creativity, his inside runs do not result in anything significant. Chicharito-Evra (who might take more adavntage of the emptiness of the flank to provide width) might be more reasonable but Chicharito-O’shea is just not right. Chicharito should be played in the middle and given license to drift to the flanks as any poacher would do. All United games where he has scored, he was central (Chelsea, Villareal). Against Scunthorpe where United scored 5 with Chicharito starting, it would come as a surprise to hear he failed to find the net.
In midfield, Fletcher was the deepest midfielder. I think his role in this game had to do with protecting the back-line. It also meant Scholes played higher in a choked region thereby denying him the space he usually enjoys to create. Anderson was just the Anderson United fans have become used to nowadays. All defensive work thereby resulting in little creativity from him. Whether this is tactical instruction, I do not know but this clearly limits him. As seen with Hernanes at Lazio, when creative players with average or good defensive abilities are relieved of their defensive duties, they can explode beyond imagination. Playing Anderson in a (Park-esque anti-Pirlo) role as he did against Villareal clearly doesn’t help his chances of becoming a constant source of creativity.
After the barrage United managed to survive at Sunderland, I think Fergie should have pushed his luck and changed to a 4-4-2. A combo of Scholes and Fletcher (Maybe with more less license to go forward than he has done this year to still be in a position to help the defence). The manager should note that United had conceded goals in previous games with a Vidic-Evans combo where Evans wasn’t particularly impressive. He should have trusted Vidic-Ferdinand more and moved Fletcher higher into midfield. Bebe was brought on for Anderson to provide directness and width. Though Bebe also likes to cut inside, he provides more crosses and has more balance on the ball than Chicharito therby he is more suited to the flanks. The lack of width which United clearly needed was epitomized by Vidic’s hopeless run down the left to produce an equally hopeless cross which at least provided United with a corner. Finally, Chicharito moved central to play alongside the in-form Bulgarian. Chicharito has a knack for scoring and a very good leap for a small man. This reversion to 4-4-2 should have come earlier in the game. If this had happened, United would have created more chances from crosses into the box and could have won the game.
As plenty people would state, football games aren’t entirely won by tactics and tactics can be overrated but I think after being lucky enough to withstand the Sunderland 30 minute barrage, if the tactical change made was made much earlier, United could have got 3 points at the stadium of light.