At Upton Park, another point was gained towards what could be a record total in a league campaign and now, United have their trophy back. The midweek game also provided a rare sighting – a winger scoring a goal. Antonio Valencia‘s last strike was the opener at Blackburn Rovers a year ago and his lack of productivity is symptomatic of the worrying form of our wingers this season.
Despite their troublesome form, Sir Alex Ferguson continues their deployment and summer splurges indicates that this is set to continue. Indeed, the tradition of the club sees flank men appear in teams throughout generations.
From Billy Meredith and George Best through to Steve Coppell, Ryan Giggs and Cristiano Ronaldo. It is a trend that is set to continue with the relatively recent purchases of Wilfried Zaha and Ashley Young.
For a team heavily reliant on attacking from the flanks, this season has proved a major disappointment. Valencia‘s alarming dip in form has been discussed, the temptation to sell Nani explored while Young has only excelled in the art of flattering to deceive.
While direct comparisons are occasionally a rather arbitrary means of judging performances, taking a statistical look at last season and this makes for striking reading.
Last season Nani contributed ten goals with an assist every 117.3mins and many viewed his performances as a distinct indication of his coming of age. This season he has scored four times and provided two assists.
Young‘s debut season started brightly then plateaued with the odd stellar showing and a slew of crucial penalty winning antics. He scored eight times with an assist every 124.7mins. This season he is yet to score and has provided only three assists.
Valencia was arguably the player of last season and his form in the run-in was exemplary. In total, he contributed six goals with an assist every 124.7mins. This season he has scored a solitary goal and has set up just four.
You could speculate on reasons to explain their individual dips in form. Nani has fallen out of favour, arguably since an altercation with Davide Petrucci back in September. Second season syndrome has plagued Young while Valencia has seemingly lost his mojo.
There is also the argument that United are attempting to evolve into a tiki-taka hybrid which would explain the purchase of Shinji Kagawa and the burgeoning partnership of Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley.
Robin van Persie’s form has eased the pressure on wingers finding the net while Patrice Evra, Jonny Evans and Rafael have also pitched in with goals and assists that has gone some way to glossing over the wingers inconsistencies.
This all begs the question – with such a pitiful output this season, should United adapt to succeed or persevere with the wide attacking game? Certainly, the signs indicate a tactical moulding into a more fluid forward line with intelligent forwards like Shinji Kagawa and van Persie able to drop deep or run between the lines.
While crosses will always provide a significant number of goals few can escape the success of tiki-taka and a more intricate style of play in general on the continent. This can be coupled with gradual moves away from an outdated 4-4-2 as indications that the game is moving away from the flanks.
Those looking for signs of such an evolution need only look at van Persie’s equaliser against West Ham. The chance proffered from Carrick’s sublime pass through to Kagawa. Subtlety from Spanish maestros such as Xavi, Iniesta, Mata and Silva have shown how better chances can be created through intricate passing conducted through the middle rather than crossing the ball in from out wide.
As Johan Cruyff eloquently put it: “Football is simple, but the hardest thing is to play football in a simple way.”
Maybe it is time our wingers showed themselves to be worthy of a starting place before they become outdated themselves.