By Latoya Woolery
There has been a lot of variation and perhaps experimentation with our squad this season. Sometimes it’s been forced (the employment of the diamond due to injured/off form wingers), and sometimes it’s been a tad confusing (e.g. Jones in the hole with Rooney on RW at the end against Reading). It’s that versatility, an ability to adapt, that has the potential to be a huge advantage to us this season.
Versatility in formation
We have played a plethora of formations this season already; 4-4-2, 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3 and 4-1-2-1-2.
When it comes to teams like Manchester City and Chelsea, everyone knows how they’re going to set up week in week out because they only really have the personnel for one main formation (usually 4-2-3-1). They have two central midfielders, one more defensive one slightly more attacking, and three attacking midfielders lined up behind the striker, none of whom are ‘real’ wingers so cut inside a lot making the teams shape really narrow (especially Manchester City).
As Gary Neville pointed out in his Monday Night Football analysis of both games, we exploited them down the wings where their fullbacks were left isolated and exposed. Their attacking midfielders didn’t track back to provide any adequate defensive support. Another example is the way that we killed Newcastle early on at St James Park by utilising a diamond formation that Newcastle couldn’t cope with. The slick interchanging of short passing between Cleverley, Rooney, Kagawa and Carrick meant they couldn’t get a sniff of the ball.
It just goes to show that there is an advantage in being versatile in regards to the formation and shape of the team because the opposition doesn’t always know how you’re going to set up so may often get caught, putting opponents on the back foot from the off.
Versatility in tactics
Tactically Manchester United are normally quite versatile dependant on our opponents, which is usually a good thing. In April 2011, we got it wrong big time trying to stifle and nullify city at the Etihad by flooding our midfield and using Park Ji Sung to try and man mark Yaya Toure.
It didn’t work. This year Sir Alex Ferguson rectified it. He picked a team that would attack in our own way rather than just trying to prevent Manchester City from attacking us. We dominate most teams but against City, we allowed them to edge the possession whilst we focused on counter-attacking with devastating effect.
Again this versatility in being able to shift between playing a slower patient passing game and fast counter attacking football could give us a strength in the Champions League and latter stages of the Premier League season because of the element of surprise. I think it’s fair to say Manchester City weren’t expecting us to afford them time on the ball before breaking quickly, and that’s what helped us go two goals up in the first half.
It also has to be added that we have a manager who adapts. He knew he got the tactics wrong in April and rectified his mistakes in this game. Too often managers stick with the same and don’t know how to switch it up to change things. Sir Alex Ferguson is not one of those and every single manager makes mistakes but only the good ones know what to do about them.
Versatility in goals scored
This season, Manchester United have been devastating in front of goal in every respect. From set pieces, crosses, individual moments of brilliance and fantastic team goals, we have been scoring from all areas and angles. When teams score similar types of goals all the time, it’s easier to defend against and that unpredictability is making us so hard to defend against.
In addition we have had a massive amount of different goalscorers, 17 in total, so we’re posing a potent goal threat from everywhere.
That’s makes it extremely for the opposition because for a team like Sunderland, for example, when Steven Fletcher gets marked out of the game they have no-one else. Liverpool’s second highest scorer is ‘own goals’, a far cry from our plethora of goalscoring options.
With Manchester United, when our strikers don’t score, goals come from elsewhere with even our defenders Rafael, Evans and Evra all bagging more than one each already this season. This can only be positive and those that call United a one man team, suggesting that we are over reliant on Robin van Persie, simply need to have a look at the figures to realise that Manchester United are a team in all aspects.