For here is one of the greatest footballing club sides on earth, renowned for fast flowing attacking football, usually down the wings, playing what I call ‘creeping football’. This style of football is not as conspicuous as your typical 4-4-2, but has a much more ominous style to it.
Possession based, short passing, lots of movement and patience. A goal, when it happens, look more and more like a sophisticated tactical strike combining several moves and probes around the front of the box, involving a number of players, not a smash into the back of the net from a direct cross from the wing.
Not that Manchester United are known for route one football and never have been but effectively a lot of goals in a 4-4-2 come from comes from a more aggressive direct style of play using less players and longer balls.
Perhaps the most obvious hallmark of United’s current style of play for me is the absence of the threat from the wings, and the increased probing through the middle, with lots of 5 yard balls. Whatever anyone’s thoughts on this new stealthy formation Manchester United are adopting, it will remain, and it will be copied, the 4-4-2 will be phased out just like the old 3-5-2 was phased out in the 60’s.
We are seeing a paradigm shift in football. For the record, I can’t even pigeon hole this new United formation into a typical structure. Sometimes it is 4-1-3-2, or it is 4-3-3 or it is even 3-6-1.
There will no doubt be future articles on how to counter this style, or that Manchester United are copying Barcelona and Spain but those views are for another time. The question being is this, once this Manchester United side crystalizes into the new form, who will be the regular ‘creeps’ in the side?
Nani will almost certainly be not a creep, although given his strong resemblance to Michael Jackson’s Thriller character he would make a very good ‘creep’, but this new side requires someone who can move and pass well, not just take a man and man would say that being able to go by a man is a core skill which seems to have deserted Nani of late. Indeed, right now he looks a pale shadow of his former self and I would expect him to be moved on in January if the rumours about an eleventh hour collapsed sale to Zenit St Petersburg in the summer happen to be true.
Central Midfield is the heartbeat of this new team. Cleverley, despite many doubters and critics has already cemented his position in the first team and in my opinion is central to United’s new footballing philosophy. Cleverley is really beginning to turn the talent into sublime performance, and he is involved in the build-up to most of United’s goals.
No one else can pass and move like this boy and he is involved in the build up to most goals. Unlike the rapier Giggs who’s skills were much more magical on the eye, Cleverley does a lot of unseen good. He is the number one creep in the team. He will not be given the AM role he performed well for England as Kagawa performs this role, but he will operate more centrally where his energy and movement will help United maintain the tempo.
Indeed, Kagawa is a shoe in, for his amazing technique and vision and he has a more noticeable and exciting aspect to his play. His technique is noticeably on a higher plain and he has an exciting aspect to his play so he can keep fans on the edge of their seats. A big question is who sits in midfield with Cleverley and Kagawa?
Most people will assume that it needs to be a defensive minder tough tackler but they would be wrong. An anchor man is the last thing that would work in a formation that is fluid and always moving. My choice would be Carrick, not for his defensive ability though but for his ability to make a pass.
Anderson is a great option to replace any of the three midfielders as a substitute until he can consistently perform. Regards defence, when a creeping side has so much possession there’s no need to worry about protecting the back four so much.
Unless, however, the back four happen to be decimated by injury which has been the case recently. Once the injury crisis is over however I would fully not expect a typical robust Defensive Midfielder type of player to emerge like we have seen in the past in the shape of Keane, although I know that a lot of Man United supporters claim that this is what United need.
The beastlike Valencia and enthusiastic Rafael give United great defensive and attacking energy and options down the right. Jones and Smalling may struggle to get a slot down that side but I ultimately see them as being paired up centrally in defence in the future. Jones and Smalling may struggle to get a slot down that side but I ultimately see them as being paired up centrally in defence in the future, or at least one of them holding down a regular slot there.
Ferdinand as we saw against Tottenham can these days be woefully exposed by a player possessing fair modicum of zest and exuberance. I would say that after this season he may even find himself drifting toward team selection obscurity.
The left side of defence is obviously Buttner or Evra but the left side of attack is a conundrum, if such a position still exists! Young is not smart or hardworking enough to pass and move well and get back when needed. Perhaps Rooney should go there. He showed against Newcastle he has the temperament and guts to work hard and going forward we all know how lethal he can be. People need to get over saying he can be the new Scholes in midfield.
When Scholes come on he starts hitting long range balls. That’s not what this new team wants. Even though Scholes has saved United in matches recently his efforts are a short term fix and not in keeping with the way United will play in a few years.
RVP – I need say no more. He has the centre forward position.
Here is how I see United's tactical and evolution plan shaping up:
De Gea/ Lindegaard
Rafael Ferdinand Vidic (Evans) Evra/Buttner
What do you think of United's tactics so far this season, and where it could lead in the future?
image: © Marcel Sigg