Sir Alex Ferguson is likely to sacrifice Wayne Rooney’s central link up play and creativity in favour of giving more protection to the full backs.
In football we think we have seen it all; tactics go out of fashion and some come back (the deep-lying playmaker, box-to-box midfielder) so it is rare to see something new emerge. The defensive winger. Nothing fancy, nothing flashy, they just do their job quietly. OK, maybe it is just a means to balance out the team and cater for specialists and individuals but their selflessness allows others to play with greater freedom. Park Ji Sung and more recently Wayne Rooney, have both played out wide for Manchester United to give greater protection to the full backs.
With the advent of the universal playmaker and the physical development of the modern game, it means most of the play nowadays tends to be concentrated in the centre. Effective wing play therefore is ever more crucial (though Spain’s movement and intelligence was too much in the Euro’s) but a natural winger can be much inconsistent and anonymous if they are stuck out wide all the time. Such players may have one good game in five but in that one game can be match winners. Wingers have added more to their game and are more than just tools although effectively decreasing the number of natural wide men.
Theo Walcott harks back to those old days but his Arsenal experience makes him the greater all-round player and his underlying threat to Manchester United is evident to Ferguson. Patrice Evra was tormented by Aaron Lennon in the first half in their 5-2 defeat and with United behind, Ferguson’s side’s relentless pressure forced Lennon back while Rooney was moved to the left, scoring two goals and nullifying the threat of the winger in the process. When United attack, it is like a 4-2-4 which means it can lead to vulnerability in the full back area and the central midfield prone to being overrun. Indeed this is an area Porto exploited in the first leg until United patched up the gaps in the second leg.
Rooney’s discipline allows Ronaldo to play up front where the Portuguese can use his dynamism to drive at the opposition, especially on the counter where the defence will have their tails up when they see Ronaldo running. (Maybe a converted forward role in the same way as Henry beckons?)
The tactic can be a double edged sword therefore we are likely to see some interchanging out wide as rookie Kieran Gibbs will start on the left side. The full back was given a torrid time by Jesus Navas in the Emirates Cup and lets see just how much he has progressed in the face of limited opposition.
Maybe Ferguson could have instilled a greater work ethic just as Guardiola has at Barcelona to his awesome attacking trio but in the short term at least , the solution is to counter-balancing Ronaldo’s egotism with Rooney’s selflessness.
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