David Moyes took over the reins at Old Trafford as the sun dawned on July 1st 2013. He had taken over from Sir Alex Ferguson, a man who is considered immortal at Old Trafford and strikes fear in the heart of every player and manager. The transition from SAF to Moyes has not been smooth by any stretch of imagination.
The pressure and expectations of being a Manchester United manager are getting to David Moyes and till now he has failed to face them. Asking for a treble in the first season may be a tad too much but standing at 12th place in the league after 7 games is something to worry about. Given the way the team have played, David Moyes looks like a lost sailor looking for his ship.
For a long time, United have played with a conventional 4-4-2 with two pacy wingers and marauding full-backs to assist them. And it has been a success more often than not. David Moyes decided to continue the same way and attack through the wings. But this is where Moyes lost it all. Having managed Everton for 11 years, he brought the same mentality into this side.
He required them to defend deeply and attack on the break. For one reason, none of United’s players are suited to playing on the counter. Next, Moyes defensive strategy meant that the supply of crosses into the box was cut down by a huge margin. Playing with a lone striker in Van Persie, you need someone to feed him from the wings or the center. Unfortunately for United, Moyes has failed to address that issue.
Against Shakhthar Donetsk, United had just 44% of the possession. That is a disastrous record for a team like United who have set sights on the Champions League. To win against big teams you need to dominate the game and impose yourself on it. In this area, Moyes has totally got it wrong and a 4-4-1-1 just doesn’t help it.
Playing a 4-4-1-1 with Everton may seem right, but with United a 4-4-1-1 with two defensively placed wingers just isn’t right. Moyes is yet to settle into managing one of the best teams in Europe. In a 4-4-1-1, there are usually four players who move and play in the final third. This leaves the team wanting for men in the middle of the park.
As a consequence, retaining the ball and maintaining possession becomes a tough task. And rightfully so, the opposition starts dominating the midfield. Gradually the game is out of United’s control and is at the fate of the opposition. This mistake was clearly exposed by both Manchester City and Liverpool
Moyes tactical ineptitude has led to him not playing Shinji Kagawa, one of the best trequartistas in the world. Instead Rooney is played in that role. Rooney, as much an excellent player he lacks the passing that Kagawa possesses. Given, how poorly the team has performed in 4-4-1-1 this season, it may time for a tactical switch to the 4-3-1-2 diamond with Shinji Kagawa at the tip of the diamond. Playing a diamond may come on to effect the way United plays and get the best out of every player.
In the 4-4-1-1 which has been played till now, it has been Robin Van Persie leading the attack with Rooney in the hole. Valencia occupies the right wing and the left wing has been rotated between Young, Welbeck and Kagawa. Carrick has been the mainstay in the center and Cleverly and Fellaini have alternated alongside him.
While playing 4-3-1-2 may mean the end of Nani and Young, it signals the start of something new for United. First of all, Moyes must make it clear that Rooney must be ready to play anywhere in the front six. In a 4-3-1-2, you must give importance to the trequartista, in this case ‘Shinji Kagawa’. Every top team in Europe today, has a No.10 who plays in the hole and feeds the striker.
United too have Kagawa, but they have failed to get the best out of him yet. Kagawa, in his own respect is a brilliant player who can change the course of a game. He has what United have been missing for a long time. He has the delightful touch, the ability to find the forward with an intricate pass and above all, the ability to break down tight defenses with his passing.
His movement in the final third is amazing and his nimble feet help him to fend off defenders. While playing Kagawa at the tip of the diamond, Moyes must make sure he is given no defensive responsibility and has a free role.
The midfield trio should consist of a Carrick, Rooney and third player, either Fellaini or Cleverly. Carrick should be the deepest lying midfielder covering the defense and initiating counter attacks. His diagonal passing comes as an added advantage.
Last year, watching Rooney play in a centre midfield role was like watching Paul Scholes at his best. Rooney has all the necessary qualities to replace Scholes. He has the vision, passing, energy and the technical ability to excel in that role. Added to this, he also defends very well and tracks back. He produces a very high work rate and rightfully saying, he is combo of Park ji Sung and Paul Scholes.
The other midfield spot should be up for grabs between Fellaini and Cleverly. Against defensive teams, Moyes can opt for Cleverly. He has improved a lot and is excellent on the ball. He carries the ball around the midfield and doesn’t lose it often.
Fellaini is a more defensive choice compared to Cleverly. Fellaini, as seen against Shakhthar Donetsk loses the ball many times and is not exactly a box-to-box midfielder. Against strong teams who attack on the counter with pace, Fellaini would be a good option.
Going on to the defense, the full backs need to be alert throughout the match. They must attack and make sure they are not caught suspect on the break. Rafael, Fabio and Evra are good players for this position. The center defense should be occupied by Vidic and Evans. Rio Ferdinand is no longer the player he used to be and Jones and Smalling are inconsistent.
Secondly, Moyes must bring Chicharito into the picture. For all he has done, he has been warming the benches ever since the arrival of Robin Van Persie. He has been stuck in a situation like Fabregas was in the past years at Barca. Fabregas couldn’t replace Xavi or Iniesta in the team even though he was as talented. It was the respect and reputation they held that stopped Fabregas from a permanent spot in the line-up.
Likewise, the arrival of Van Persie has been a bane for Chicharito. However well he played, the manager just cannot keep Robin Van Persie out of the first team. So as long as Van Persie was fit Chicharito never got a look-in. But they never realized the boons of playing a duo of Robin Van Persie and Javier Hernandez upfront.
The advantage of playing that duo is that Chicharito keeps on moving throughout the match. When Van Persie plays as a lone striker, it makes it easy for the opposition to mark him. When Chicharito plays, his constant movement at the shoulder of the backs would draw them out of position. This leaves a gaping hole in the center of the defense.
This is where Kagawa’s brilliance comes into play. When the center backs are drawn out of position, it clears the path for Robin Van Persie to have a look on goal. And there is also a potential Wayne Rooney in a scoring position. With the option of two players, Kagawa’s pass to anyone of them could break the defense. Another possibility is that he has the ball to himself, he can have a shot on goal from a potential scoring area.
Another possibility is that the center backs are stuck with marking Van Persie that they fail to mark Chicharito. Once again, Kagawa is the man here. When Chicharito is left unmarked, he can easily beat the offside trap and can finish off a potential killer pass from Kagawa or Rooney.
The advantage of United playing this kind of a non-conventional diamond is that they have three strikers in the system and narrow down the width of their attack. Many teams in the Premier League play a wide system with two full-backs and two wingers. By playing a diamond, United narrow down their line of attack and put pressure on the center backs.
The full backs would find it hard to mark the front five, all of whom are constantly moving around the box. What this does is it creates an imbalance in the attack of the opposition. By doing that, United are in control of the game. Even if the defenders mark both Robin Van Persie, Hernandez and Kagawa, there is always a Wayne Rooney to score goals.
Having four forwards in the team is not a big deal, but getting the best out of them is. A diamond could bring the best of all four forwards in the team. Welbeck can replace Hernandez whenever required.
Playing Welbeck means that he would even move out to the wings, thereby creating confusion in the minds of defenders. The diamond is the system that can get the best out of Kagawa and the forwards.
When playing the diamond, the opposition full backs are required to drift inside which would leave the opposition wingers to counter the threat of marauding full-backs. When playing such a high-pressing and advanced game, the opposition tends to lose the ball more often and eventually lose their rhythm.
For every boon, there is a bane. By playing a 4-3-1-2 diamond formation, United tend to lose a lot. First of all, a 4-3-1-2 diamond signals the exclusion of wingers from the team. By this change, the most likely to be affected are Nani, Young, Zaha, Valencia, Janujaz. Taking up the case of Valencia, he can always play as a right back and put in a decent shift. So his position in the team is unlikely to be threatened by a tactical switch.
Adnan Janujaz can play anywhere in the third quarter, which means he can be a viable substitute for Kagawa at the tip of the diamond. Nani, Zaha and Young are likely to suffer the most from this transition. Young, I believe is well past his prime and is living on borrowed time at Manchester United. To include Nani and Zaha in the team, Moyes can always switch to a 4-2-3-1 against smaller teams with a weak midfield. Playing a 4-2-3-1 against them would not be a big risk as their midfield is supposedly weaker than United’s.
Having looked at the pros and cons, it can be concluded that the positives of playing 4-3-1-2 diamond largely overpower the negatives of it.
Thus, after what has been a disastrous opening two months for Moyes and Co., a tactical shift could be Moyes’s chance at redemption.