There has been some criticism over United's defending this year, and given that they have conceded 11 goals in their first eight games that perhaps isn't surprising. But whilst there have been some individual errors from their defenders, it's hard to put blame onto the back four when the whole team is set up to attack.
United have essentially fielded a front four over the last two league matches, with Kagawa joining Rooney, Welbeck and van Persie in the game against Newcastle, before being replaced by Antonio Valencia in the game against Stoke. Man Utd have won both of those games, and have looked superb going forward. The whole team has looked more aggressive and dynamic than the performances they had been putting in before those matches.
The return to form of Wayne Rooney has been vital, but the system that Ferguson has set up has done well to accommodate the vast array of attacking talent he has at his disposal. United have been criticised for not having a strong enough defensive midfield, that they look shaky when teams give them a physical battle. The response has been to start playing more attacking football. Rather than adding in a player into the centre of midfield to try and bolster it, Ferguson has decided he has more talent up front, so he will play more players there. Teams can try and take United on in a physical battle in midfield if they want, but while they're doing that van Persie and company will be running riot around their back four.
In this system I think that their defenders have performed very well. They are not given the screen that most Premiership sides enjoy, with many players in front of them that are not likely to chip in at the back. The defence has to act as the base of this formation, often as the only line of defence and also as the springboard for United's attacks. The rest of the defending will be done as a result of United dominating the game, not in the manner Barcelona do through possession, but through ruthless attacking football.
If Ferguson persists with this formation it will be an exciting year for United fans. On the rare occasions where none of their attack fires, they may get caught out, but as they showed in the win at St James Park, many teams will simply be unable to cope with the forwards Man Utd will throw at them.
image: © Audrey Pilato