Continuing our review of Manchester United’s holiday season games. You can find Part I here.
We are firmly back to the 4-4-2
It doesn’t exactly pain me to say this, but it really was interesting being a United fan when we had the option of playing the diamond. Because we have never played anything but the 4-4-2 in the 15-odd years that I’ve seen United play. Suddenly here we are discussing tactics, positioning, who would fit which role best – it was all so exhilarating. Not to mention, the one time that we played it properly at Newcastle, we won 3-0 most comfortably. But thanks to that old lady who said we looked ‘like lost sheep’ and the requirement of Rooney, Kagawa and van Persie to all have good days for the diamond to work, it has now slowly petered out. Valencia is back from injury, Ashley Young does not seem like our worst buy anymore and suddenly we are back to the 4-4-2 . It’s really a case of ‘If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it’, given that it also allows Rafael and Evra to get forward much much more – which they seem much better at than defending. Like the rest of the team, to be fair. So thanks to a series of (un)fortunate events, we have firmly and with near-finality gone back to the 4-4-2. That makes me a bit sad. But…
Ohhhhh Robin van Persie!
I have a serious question for all the Arsenal fans out there- OMG, DID YOU KNOW HE WAS THIS GOOD?!! Let me be honest, I have caught Arsenal games quite a bit through my football watching days, because of course, the scheduling overlords manage to keep most United and Arsenal games separate. So I’ve seen RvP play. And I’ve never thought to myself ‘We should totally get this guy!’. Now that I’ve seen him week in and week out, I’m wondering why I never got that thought. Robin van Persie is exactly like Federer- there’s no backlift to the shot, it’s all about unerring accuracy and their greatest strength is the relentlessness. His goal against West Brom was all of these, and then he went and did it again at Wigan with the other foot. Just to show that he could. I think all United fans are getting slowly used to the fact that if RvP shoots, we can mentally chalk up a shot on target. Every time. Which is a quite useful attribute to have in a team that creates so many chances. That’s the difference at United, (pauses, mentally consoles self that the Arsenal backlash that will follow this sentence is worth it) the ball gets to RvP a lot more, and in a lot more scoring positions. And boy oh boy does he convert. Player of the year, surely?
Which brings us to…
Shinji is a puzzle that we have to solve. He cannot fit in a 4-4-2, as was evident in his discomfort when he came on for Carrick in the Wigan game. We could go back to the diamond, but that doesn’t seem to be happening anytime soon on the basis of our current form. We have a quick, one-touch-passing, creative midfielder and no diamond to put him in, at least in the league. And so we come to Europe and that mouth-watering clash with Madrid. We have to beat Madrid to prove that this is truly Fergie’s one last great team (surely this is his last team isn’t it?), and Kagawa is the man to help us do it. Based purely on the evidence of his old teammates running all sorts of rings around Madrid in their group games. That is something Sir Alex would have noticed for sure, so all that remains is to turn our team into Borussia Dortmund. Easier said than done for sure, but we all know Rooney is up for it. He’s up for anything, that just comes from being a complete footballer. RvP will be up for it, for the same reason. Cleverley has no excuse for not being up for it, he cannot have committed to a system so early in his career. Carrick’s role will not change much, so he is fine. Which leaves us with that right tip of the diamond, and there lies our problem. The diamond can have no weak spots, the success of the formation is predicated on that. Unfortunately Valencia is a clear no-no, and Ashley Young… *snicker*. This is why Welbeck played up front in the Newcastle diamond, because it was the one position where it was fairly OK to have a weak spot. But against Madrid, we can have no weak spot. And hence we are back to… How do you solve it?
Well Maria here is Shinji, but you get the point.
Sound of Music? Wow, I must sleep. Off to the FA Cup then!