Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Tinker Tailor Soldier Sir Alex

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I'm not one to say 'I told you so' but what better reason? A series of inept performances all season culminated in the embarrassing failure to progress from the easiest group in the Champions League. There are many things to consider here and, once again, I hope you can relate. Feel free to criticise but not in anger as I'm not turning on the club, I'm here to open eyes and see the bigger picture.

First and foremost, a team doesn't deserve anything. The team is only as good as the sum of it's parts and Sir Alex is usually adept at making United look much better than they are. It's not exactly a problem but this season the team was weakened two-fold:

1. Changes in formation nearly every game
2. Players being rested or rotated inexplicably at times

1. I for one have never understood the need to have two different formations reserved for different opposition. A player is only human and constant change can't be good for anyone. Also remember most players aren't the brightest tools in the box so teaching them one way to play should suffice. Changing tactics for a game is mandatory but changing the entire system cannot be good for the harmony amongst the team.

Look around at the top teams and only when the best come to play against you does a team change the system in order to nullify the oponent. Not away to Basle who, without being harsh, are not Barcelona who knocked United out last year. That brings me to an interesting point. United got to the final last year changing our system throught the campaign and it worked. So what happened this year? Edwin Van Der Sar retiring? Playing defenders in midfield? Playing center backs at right back? If you ask me, all of them.

2. Sir Alex took the competition for granted in playing weakened sides against what appeared to be inferior opposition. If he wanted to rotate players for freshness then fair enough but at times it just looked like he was giving players games to keep them happy. On one hand, morale is a big deal to the club, on the other, success is paramount to the club and morale goes hand-in-hand with it. So playing a player just to feel part of the group is a double-edged sword.

Before the first Champions League game away to Benfica United played Bolton away and won 5-0. It was not as convincing as you might think if you read one of my previous posts here. The formation was 4-4-2 and it looked like a formation United were enjoying considering that they had scored 18 goals in four games. If you read my previous post, yes they weren't disciplined in their defending but at least they were scoring goals to compensate. When they played Benfica, who were unbeaten at the time much like United, they changed to the 'European formation' and made seven changes to the team. Sir Alex brought in experience but if anything it was a hinderance. Considering in their first few league games before this tie, they made 2 changes per game, mostly in defence, it is plain to see the players work better in a 4-4-2 formation. As much as I do not see it as a formation to take on the best, for the most part, it is working. They were thoroughly outplayed against Benfica and for it not for a wonder goal by Ryan Giggs, it would have been a game that should have ended in defeat.

Only 3 players remained in the next game against Stoke. A culmination of injuries and players returning from injury forced Ferguson's hand and the game finished 1-1. Why they can't keep a first choice goalkeeper and defence in the majority of games is beyond me. Bar 1 or 2 games, they have had a different back four every match of the season and that makes no sense at all to me.

When United played Basle at Old Trafford, it was back to the 'European formation' with another 5 changes to the team. Injuries again could have been a reason here but altering the entire system at home to such a team makes strange viewing. (Also of note was Rooney was not in the entire squad after kicking a Romanian). In a game where they had 60% of the possession yet conceded 16 shots speaks volumes. Not forgetting that they were 2-0 up within 20 minutes but ended up finishing the game with an injury time equaliser to make it 3-3.

Liverpool away was up next and there were again many changes. Rooney could only make the bench which is odd considering he is United's best player. This was a first eleven that struck a chord with me as the two most effective players were named as substitutes. One as his frame of mind wasn't right, the other, Nani, made not an ounce of sense. Seven changes again to the team and surprisingly, 4-5-1 was stuck with. This is where things get a little confusing. Sir Alex alter the system for Champions League opposition who, to be fair, are easier to play against than Liverpool at Anfield yet they stick with the 4-5-1. It would seem that Sir Alex prefers the formation against tougher opposition, not just European sides. United were outplayed somewhat in this game though what do you expect when there was a lack of potency within the team. This was the first game that Phil Jones played in midfield as well which was mystifying. He didn't look comfortable and at Anfield is pretty much suicide. Only once United's two talismans came off the bench did they look like scoring a goal. A goal that was scored by Hernandez, the forgotten man at this time of the season.

The next European outing was against Otelul Galati and being inferior opposition, 4-4-2 was kept here. Another change in formation yet the one that seems to work best for the team. An astounding nine changes were made for this game and the fluency in the team was not the same. Cast your mind back and the only way United won this game 2-0 was with two penalties. This is a team languishing in mid-table in their league and they struggled when you look at the statistics. They had 33% possession yet created 15 opportunites to take a shot on goal compared to United's 11. That is extremely efficient on their part but lacklustre on United's.

Six changes occurred in the next game and the result was a 6-1 loss. The less said about this game the better.

You guessed right, another seven changes for our next game at Goodison Park. Also another game where it was a different back four. Rooney played in midfield here to compensate for injuries and played well though it was another game the stats show United aren't the same team. Everton had nearly 3 times as many opportunites than United yet they came away with a 1-0 victory somehow. Not to forget the point here, the formation was changed once again back to 4-5-1. I am assuming considering last season's freak result where United were 3-1 up yet the game finished 3-3 with two last minute goals was the reason for our 'safe' formation.

If you haven't seen a pattern yet, there were another seven changes for our game at home to Otelul Galati. It was at this point that I thought, strong team, 4-4-2, Old Trafford, this should be a game where United can show off their talent. Yet once again they were made to work for it in terms of goal-scoring opportunities. It's a game that strikes me as the one where there was an impotency in front of goal and it has stayed that way up until now. Profligacy such as this is not a good place to be considering the opposition.

Seven changes again when United played Sunderland. Another poor game in front of goal with 1-0 being a familiar shoreline this season. Rooney was in midfield once again and was out best player by far in the middle. Says a lot doesn't it.

Swansea away, looking like a hard place to go and let me tell you this time there were eight changes to the team. 4-4-2 remained and Swansea matched United throughout. Only a rare mistake from this passing team caused them to concede a goal. Concrete chances were few and it was another game that United didn't look right going forward. How Andy Gray insists Manchester United are an 'attacking team' is beyond me at times. Yes they are great on the counter-attack but judging by this season, bar the first four games, it has been anything but.

Here comes one of the most irksome games of the season. Home to Benfica, who already outplayed United earlier on and Sir Alex makes six changes for this game. The formation was effectively 4-5-1 with our best strikers not playing and Young a false-nine alongside Berbatov. I'm not sure if Sir Alex viewed this game as an easy win with players being 'rested' but upon viewing, it was anything but. Benfica had half as many shots on target against United yet scored just as many goals.

When United played Newcastle I honestly thought they would put them in their place as they are clearly punching above their weight. With 5 changes to the team that played Benfica, they had 29 shots at goal and only scored once. Worrying reading.

The only major anomaly to my research and only 3 changes for the game against Aston Villa. Judging by the performance against Newcastle, Sir Alex saw that the team played well. That is somewhat true, if it wasn't for Tim Krul United would have won the game easily. This was one of United's best performances seeing as the team remained pretty much the same. Without the change in goalkeeper, Phil Jones was moved from defence to midfield so wasn't the tinkering United have been used to. The performance was good but remember this was Villa under Mcleish. 

The next game was the one that brought the most disappointment. 3 changes for this game but actual changes as 3 players came in to cover injuries etc. The performance wasn't great but United did create a lot of chances - 22 altogether. Vidic ruptured knee ligaments and United are resigned to ITV4 after losing 2-1.

Being Manchester United, on the back of a poor performance or result there is usually a backlash. I've always thought that it shouldn't need to come to that as they should be playing better and dominating games more often than not. This time Wolves were visitors to Old Trafford and the Final score was 4-1. I am of the belief that Sir Alex has realised the error in his ways due to only 3 changes in the last couple of games, and 3 changes for the visit of Wolves. Vidic's injury forced his hand so technically only 2 players came in. The overall play was much better and finally goals were being scored. Ironically by United's two most effective players this season. Here's hoping that Nani and Rooney are now the free-scoring individuals they were during September and October.

It's not a question of the hunger of the team. There are many fantastically gifted players at the club and down to that alone, Manchester United will always be there or thereabouts. That, to me, is a problem in itself as to be the best it can't be down to the players alone. They need some continuity and I believe that is now coming.

The main problem isn't the formation as I once thought; it is the constant changing of personnel. Leaving me to think that Sir Alex has no idea what his best team is and what makes it worse, because of this, I have no idea either. Where do I play Jones? Is Smalling a right-back? Is Rooney our best midfielder? Is Valencia a better right-back than Fabio? I'll leave you to ponder on that while Sir Alex considers making seven changes for our next game. 


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