Fergusonīs change of tactics raise questions
Published: 22.10.12 / Written by: David Gold
Sir Alex Ferguson is not one to sit around waiting for things to be put right.
The Manchester United boss takes decisive action when things are not going to plan. His decision to field a diamond system in their last two matches, against Cluj and Newcastle, has resulted in vastly improved performances, with his team controlling games in a way they had not been in the opening weeks of the season.
Tactically, it is an interesting way to go. Robin van Persie can now drop a little deeper if he wants, with Danny Welbeck playing high, and Wayne Rooney sits behind both in the traditional trequartista position. Shinji Kagawa is therefore pushed back into central midfield, which is a deeper role to that he is used to, having shone so much at Borussia Dortmund playing in the hole behind the strikers.
Ferguson is finding it hard to give Kagawa that same role at Old Trafford, what with van Persie and Rooney also tending to play in that area of the pitch. But the big question now is, having taken control of the middle of the pitch with a system similar to that employed by Carlo Ancelotti at AC Milan and Chelsea, what will happen to their width? This new system does not have an obvious place for Antonio Valencia, for Nani, or for Ashley Young. Nani seems to be looking likelier and likelier to leave Old Trafford, but Valencia and Young are highly effective performers whose width is crucial to so much of United's play.
The question therefore is will Ferguson be happy to keep them on the bench, as well sacrificing an element of United's counter attacking abilities? So much of their best play over the years has come from lightning counter attacks, which use wide players to hit opponents swiftly on the break. But without wide players further forward, it will probably take United longer to build up such attacks. That negates to some extent Michael Carrick's role. He is meant to get the ball forward quickly and accurately, which he is very good at, but with fewer options when countering, United may find their options increasingly limited.
It amounts to an interesting dilemma now for Ferguson. He has plenty of options up front, but seems to be lacking them in the middle of the pitch, hence his move to a diamond system. But there is nothing new about United's midfield being susceptible to being out run. Frequently in the last season or two United have ceded the upper hand to an opponent dominating this area, but they get away with it because their defence is so strong and they counter attack ruthlessly. The problem now is that the defence no longer is so watertight, meaning they need the added protection that they haven't required so much in recent times. That appears behind Ferguson's decision to switch to a diamond.
It is a wily move, which has turned United's fortunes around. But whether it is the way Ferguson wants to go long term, or even the most effective system for this team, is open to question.