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Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Over-complication hinders Man Utd as Chelsea soar into the distance

For more then a decade Manchester United have been at the summit of English football. Though others have mounted, and in the case of Arsenal, sustained, a domestic challenge, no one has approached United's consistency at the pinnacle of club competition, the Champions League.

United's success was based on a simple formula. The team was organised in a traditional 4-4-2 formation. At its' root was a solid, if unspectacular, defence/ goalkeeper combination. It's trunk was composed of a dynamic central midfield combination, augumented by wingers, free to roam, but who would 'tuck in' when necessary. At its head were two strikers, one of whom could drop deeper, to create , if necessary.

The success of this system was its' simplicity. Everyone knew their role, even if they were new to the team. Players could come of the bench and simply fit into their designated position. This can be seen in the smooth transition from Ince to Keane, Kanchelskis to Beckham, Cole to Van Nistelroy, and the successes enjoyed by 'supersubs' Ole and Teddy. Consequently United's play was direct, fluent and entrancingly incisive.

In the past three years these attributes have dissipated. They remain a good side, and a force in Europe, but have begun to resemble a kind of bastardised version of the Italian greats Juve and Milan. As the limbs of Giggs, Scholes and Keane have aged, so United have slowed their game down to suit. Their loss of capacity has forced the addition of an extra player in the centre of midfield to do the dog work, often at the expense of a striker or winger. Consequently at least two players play out of position, throwing up a whole range of selectorial idiosyncracies. Take, for example, last season and a must win game against a desperately poor Leeds side, Ferguson selected Neville, Fortune and O'Shea in central/ defensive midfield, Scholes on the left and Giggs in the centre!?! The score- 1-1, and a very long drive back down south.

It comes as no surprise to read that United are on course for their lowest goals tally in 15 years. Moreover it pains me to watch Arsenal and Chelsea and be reminded of our fomer beauty. So here is my five point to galvanise United.

1- Play 4-4-2. The players are comfortable with this formation. It prevents them wandering around aimlessly, out of position.

2- Spend some cash on or introduce from the academy long term replacements for Keane, Scholes and Giggs. Do not buy unproven foreign crap, i.e. Kleberson, Djemba, Forlan.

3- Do not sell Keane, Scholes, Giggs until their replacements have surpased them. In the meantime the young players can learn from the old masters, while giving them a rocket up the backside.

4- Purchase a good crosser of the ball. There are several reasons for this. Firstly United haven't been the same force since they let Beckham go. Secondly they possess four of the sharpest aerial threats in the Premier League in Van, Rooney, Saha and Smith. Thirdly, Mediterranean defences are poor at coping with crosses. In 99' Cole and Yorke, supplied by Beckham, caused havoc in the air. I believe the German emphasis on crosses can go some way to explaining their clubs' over-achievement in European and world football club's. Finally, Giggs and Ronaldo can't and never have been able to cross a football.

5- Appoint me as manager. I could be the English Mourinho.

Alistair Maiden


Blogger Abdul said...

A very interesting article. A few points I would like to make:

1. You have to take into account the fact that United's front line has been absolutley desimated by injuries this season. United have rarely had the opprunity to field two fit strikers and so Fergusons hands have been tied to a great extent as to formations.

2. United's best form this season (rivalling their vintage form in years gone by) was when they played 4-3-3 with Ronaldo and Giggs playing just off Rooney. United were fluid and pacy up front, and solid in midfield when Giggs and Ronaldo dropped back to support Keane, Scholes and Fletcher/Fortune.

3. Agree with you totally that United have had to slow down thier game to accomodate the ageing legs of Keane and Scholes. The question is how on earth do you replace these legends? United seem to have very little transfer kitty this summer, and, aside from Fletcher, the youth academy has/is producing very little in terms of raw talent. I cant see any players who are in United's price range who can make an instant impact next season. Ferguson has proved that, unlike Wenger, he cant pluck an unknow bargain and turn him into a superstar. So unless United break the bank to get Essien/Gattuso and Ferguson has the guts to drop Keane or Scholes, our problems are likely to continue next season.

4. I disagree that United are a poorer team without Beckham. When United last won the title in 2003, Beckham played a bit-part role and RvN and Co still scored a hatful of goals. I've said this for a while - but United have missed the undersated brilliance of Solskjaer (who played right wing in 2003) far more than Beckham.

5. See my comment on "Liverpool step back (again) as Man Utd step off" (below) - Ferguson absolutely has to play his best 11 every game.

4/13/2005 12:40 pm

Blogger T said...

Thankyou Alistair for an incisive article on Man Utd, and thank-you Abdul for further Man Utd analysis.

I note that neither of you have included the dismissal of Ferguson in your points.

For me he is the number one problem at Man Utd. Selling Stam and Beckham hve been disastrous moves, which had more to do with Ferguson's ego than anything the those respected players had done.

Abdul, I know you strongly disagree with me on this point, but I did state on the day Beckham left that Arsenal would celebrate, and I have been proved right on this point.

Beckham was so much more than just a good footballer. To me and many others he represented the never say die belief at Man Utd. So when he left Man Utd, an aura of invincibility also left the team.

He was the antidote in the dressing room to the bully-boys Ferguson and Keane, and I'm not sure if the Man Utd players have got over his departure.

He is an icon, which gave Man Utd a psychological advantage over the opposition.

And most significantly, as Alistair pointed out, he was the assist master. Every corner, free-kick, or attack down the right, put the opposition on edge. Beckham had a fantastic delivery and it is no coincidence that his departure has coincided with VNR's goal tally dropping significantly.

Ferguson is the man to blame for Beckham leaving. And his attempt to copy Mourinho's tactics shows that he is now a coach desperate for inspiration.

4/13/2005 2:23 pm


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