Half yearly report: Manchester United – Dynamism with Stability
“It never rains in Manchester, but it pours” — Kevin Keegan
Manchester United are the most famous football club in the whole world with supporters from every corner. Perhaps it’s their reckless gameplay or their resilience, but their never-say-die attitude garners respect from everyone.
They have seen long eras of unparalleled success from Matt Busby’s Busby Babes to Sir Alex Ferguson’s Red Devils.
In the last few years, Football as a whole has gone through an evolution in gameplay. With Spain and Barcelona having dominated so completely with their Tiki-Taka passing, the other teams have adapted to a modern approach leading to a new generation of footballers with a very different philosophy.
After their pinnacle of success in their 2006-2009 phase, Manchester United have gone through difficult patches having been reminded of the gulf in their playing styles compared to modern teams which only grew after Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure. They were beaten thoroughly by Barcelona twice in the Champions League finals and then last season humiliated by their derby rivals twice. Their gameplay looked outdated on the European big stage where they were knocked out in the group stage itself. It looked like the days of the glorious Red Devils was on decline, but this season Ferguson has proved why he is the best manager out there. There is a renewed sense of excitement this season not seen since the departure of CR7, but what has happened, let’s have a look at their season so far.
This summer was a mixed bag of players coming to Old Trafford including a much unexpected one. The Red Devils acquired a young starlet, Nick Powell, a player for the future definitely. Then there was the signing of a potential successor of Evra, Alexander Buttner who has already proved his worth in the few matches he has played in.
What came as a pleasant surprise was the signing of Japanese playmaker, Shinji Kagawa who is the perfect embodiment of a modern player, who is malleable, a component of equal value in a team game of constant passing and intelligent football.
The biggest and most unexpected signing this summer was obviously Robin Van Persie, who has been an integral part of United’s success this season. Mentioning more is obviously not necessary for he is ‘The RVP’, the terror for English defences last season.
DYNAMISM WITH STABILITY
Many teams have switched to more possession based formations and tactics very quickly but have still struggled to get going because of the rapidity of the change. United have played with different formations and strategies throughout the season. Yet there is a stability in them unseen with the other teams who have tried changing tactics regularly, but why?
The answer lies in the adaptive nature of the players as well as the depth in squad allowing different types of players to get going in different roles.
For big games where the opponents have been very midfield centric, instead of crowding the opponent’s midfield to block the passes they played with a counter attacking 4-4-1-1 depending on their strong attack to get the goals even with relatively fewer chances. This was the case in their 3-2 victory over Man City recently where they had only 3 shots on target all converted into goals with hundred percent accuracy.
The 4-4-1-1 employed against Manchester City was a huge success. This has become United’s big game formation now.
Then comes their diamond formation employed in the Champions league games or even in the EPL when the opposition are not easy to score against with crosses. It still remains a work in progress in terms of consistency. Kagawa is sure to be a nice fit for this system to work when he returns from his injury.
4-2-3-1 is another system employed against regular opponents with Hernandez sometimes going up into the ace position to give United the edge with his excellent positioning.
THE COMEBACK KINGS
Offense is the best defence. United seem to be fueled up with that thought in mind as they have rained down goals on the opposition at the same time conceding too many. The biggest worry for them this season is their tendency to go down early in their matches to have to come back in the second half to get the win. While having a strong attack is good and all but such a trend can be dangerous to follow on when they play against the likes of Real Madrid or Bayern Munich who would tear down such a suspect defence.
Their defence would surely be bolstered after the return of Phil Jones and Smalling while Vidic would be back in the next month.
WHAT TO EXPECT
United have not been at their best this season but their Premier League rivals all seem to be going through their own turmoil right now making it easier for them to remain on top.
With their victory over their bitter rivals at Etihad, they have stepped on the gas pedal fully and if they continue in the same vein they are certain of racing away from their challengers to claim back their EPL crown. Valencia and Van Persie would be the major influence on their EPL road to glory.
Their Champions League expedition is going to be a harder road to tread where only change in tactics would not be enough. Smart midfielders would be a must in such games and onus would be on Rooney and Kagawa to perform on the big stage. Perhaps a twin playmaker strategy could be worth a try. Carrick and Cleverly would be crucial in these games as they would have to shield their defence as well as start attacks.
United have not had a really great side since 2009 when they were able to play pragmatically on the counter in big games in a 4-3-3 shape. Can this current United team reach the same heights? If they can, this counterattacking 4-4-1-1 will have to come through for them during this season’s mega encounters.
Projected EPL Finish – 1st