Taking a look at how the Old Guard of Old Trafford has been protected through its twilight….
When Paul Scholes missed the second half of the 2005/06 season with a serious eye problem, it was feared his glittering career could be drawing to a premature close. Even if he did make a full recovery, recapturing the sort of form that led Zinedine Zidane to describe the Manchester United star as “the greatest midfielder of his generation” would not be easy, especially at the age of 32. – David Ornstein, Journalist – BBC.
The onset of the vices of an old age (well, in footballing terms) coupled with the blurred vision made Scholes a wounded customer. No one expected him to reach his zenith ever again in a Manchester United shirt. Infact, speaking in accounting terms – Scholes was written of as an asset and put in the liabilities – an 80k odd liability.
But as we know – “Nobody, Nobody does it better than Sir Alex Ferguson” , and the willy Scot pulled off yet another masterstroke. Instead of changing players, he changed the very system. Sir Alex knows the strength and weaknesses of his players, and that’s what makes him the best – If you cant stick to Plan A, there is always a Plan B!
Until the 2005-06 season, Scholes was very much an attacking box to box midfielder, who always made darting runs into the box, and scoring goals. The sight of Scholes firing in from close range was never far away, and the picture of Scholes – waiting patiently outside the D – Waiting for a rebound from which he could smash a volley – was always a sight to behold for the spectator. We can easily interpret the from the table below :
A careful examination of the above table shows us that Paul Scholes was a regular name in the United goalscoring charts. Whereas Roy Keane held the fort together, Scholes was given the freedom to create havoc from midfield – be it pinging digonals, threading needle eyed through balls or scoring himself – Scholes could do everything!
“Without any doubt the best player in the Premiership has to be Scholes… He knows how to do everything.” – Thierry Henry
The aggravating complaint of blurred vision and the loss of a yard of pace made Scholes ineffective. The 2005-06 can arguably be labelled as his ‘season in the dark.’
With the onset of the 06-07 season, the Scholes of old was no were to be seen. He was a more calm and subtle figure – often proving to slow things down rather than explode onto the scene. His new found position – the role of the deep lying playmaker – from which he split the opposition into two.
To further elaborate the matter in hand – let us have a look at Scholesy’s Goal scoring charts :
Finally, we have a look at the formations and setup of the two United sides – when Scholes was an attacking Box to Box midfielder – and when Scholes became the playmaker.
Closely observe the two different roles assigned to Scholes -
The board on the left shows us the setup of the team when the Ginger Ninja played as an attacking midfielder. The arrows depict his movement. The forward arrows depict his darting runs into the box, whereas the diagonal arrows depict his movement towards the wings – thereby functioning as the play-maker.
The board on the right potrays the formation of the team in which Scholes is the deep lying playmaker. The forward arrows are less pronounced(as shown in the heat map), as in his twilight, Scholes has strolled through games – making use of his eyes rather than his feet.
Giggs Single-handedly revolutionised football’s image… with pace to burn, a bramble patch of black hair bouncing around his puppy popstar face, and a dazzling, gluey relationship between his impossibly fleet left foot and a football.”
This is just one of the innumerable testimonies, that were showered on the curly hair of the Welsh Wizard. One would often see some pure Welsh Magic tearing apart the defence and simply rolling it into the back of the net, or maybe squaring it for his team-mate to tap the ball into an open net.
I could, in a subtle manner put it across like this -
“Giggs was a player, who had the feet of a ballet dancer, the Vision of an eagle, and the accuracy of a hunter.”
When in his prime, there would not be many who could stop the Welsh Wizard – his speed and penetration were unsurpassable. He had pace to burn, and an eye for pass. But slowly, since the turn of the 2003-04 season, Giggs lost a yard of pace – which made him a ineffective customer. Many quarters of the fanbase had also called for the fading Giggs to be replaced by the Emerging Downing.
But Sir Alex had other plans for Giggs. After a disappointing phase in his career, Giggs was no longer reckoned by the public – as the flying winger. Fullbacks found it easy against the Welsh magician because he was no longer the lightning quick Giggs everyone had known for a decade. But instead of simply getting rid of arguably his best servant in a 25 year reign, Sir Alex decided to change the role given to Giggs.
In the last phase of his career, Giggs has transformed himself – from a player who used to run defences ragged, to a player who split defences into two with his needle eyed passes. From a player who used to run riot down the left flank, terrorising every right back of the country and continent, Giggs has become a willy old customer, who can out-think and outwit opponents with his guile and experience. Infact, such is the experience of the Welshman that he actually deputised as a left back against West Ham in the 2010-11 season, and he did make a good fist out of it!
An indepth tactical analysis shall follow -
Firstly, a major talking point to be kept in mind while discussing the transformation of Giggs, is the way he is conserved by Sir Alex. One does need to be quick, playing in the ‘Scholes Role’ in midfield – and this is exactly what has worked in favour of the Maestro. With the hawk-eyed vision of an Eagle, Giggs does not have much difficulty in threading balls between the meanest of defences – as potrayed innumerably last season, and sometimes – this season.
Let us have a look at a heat-map which shows to us – the way Giggs functions as a Deep lying playmaker.
As a playmaker, Giggs does not have to use his speed and acceleration. Infact, a deep lying playmaker relies more on his eyes than any other organ, and minimal speed along with it. The heatmap depicts to us – the positions taken up by Giggs. Notice the concentration of yellow dots along the center-circle – it shows the primary position taken up by Giggs.
Now since playing at CM, Giggs conserves his energy, he could always make use of it by shifting to his hallowed berth – the left wing, and he does it quite brilliantly. Notice the yellow and the orange dots on the left wing – they indicate the positions taken up by Giggs when he overlaps the left sided midfielder.
Another thing of note in this process is that when Giggs overlaps the Left Midfielder , the Left back (Evra, most of the time) overlaps Giggs, thereby allowing the Left Midfielder to cut inside, hence creating the extra man in the six yard box.
To make it a bit more clear, I shall make use of boards :
A further understanding of United’s starting and average formation shall cement the idea of Giggs as a deep playmaker.
The above diagrams show us the positioning of the Number 11 of Manchester United – the way in which he’s tranformed his game from a flying wizard to a silent assassin!
They say experience comes with age – one learns the art of the game with time. Some famous personality had also once said that Sport is a great teacher – it is a never ending process of learning. Being disciples of the sport, these two immortal legends have never stopped learning, and never stopped amazing the world of football with their spirit, determination, persistence and sheer class and elegance!
Glory be to them!
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