Thursday, 18 June 2009

Team Four

Following on from my previous post where I suggested that Ronaldo's departure marked the end of Fergie's Third Great Team, I want to look at how his fourth great team (or Team Four, if you will) is going to begin to take shape this summer and next season.

4-4-2, and why it failed last season

Before I get onto personnel, let's deal with formation. I envisage Team Four being built around a reversion to 4-4-2 in a way that hasn't been possible since the halcyon days of Louis Saha's half-season in 06-07. Fergie tried to revert to 4-4-2 last season as Berbatov was being introduced, but it clearly did not make best use of the resources available - chiefly because it marginalised Ronaldo, tying his goalscoring gifts to a touchline where they were much less of a threat.

Also - with Nani stalling, Park not incisive enough and Giggs' pace failing, we lacked an incisive counterbalance to Ronaldo (whereas when Saha was playing with Rooney, we had Ronaldo and Giggs on the wings). With only Ronaldo threatening, it was easy for the opposing team to tuck one of their central midfielders over to be a de facto second full-back, whilst ensuring the corresponding wide player tracked back. This regularly gave Ronaldo a three-on-one disadvantage, and even he wasn't good enough to make hay with those odds all the time.

Conversely, when the threat is balanced from both flanks, the central midfielders have hard choices to make. Either they both push wide, leaving plenty of space free in the middle for our strikers to drop or our midfielders to burst into. Or, they both funnel towards one side, leaving the opposing flank very vulnerable if United can switch the ball quickly (something that Scholes, and latterly Carrick, are very proficient at).

Hence why pulling Rooney out to the left wing worked so well towards the end of the season. The "gang-up-on-Ronaldo" mentality was ingrained in the opposition and so Rooney was given time, space and only one man to worry about - and consequently flourished.

Potential changes

So, having seen what we need to make 4-4-2 work, what sort of names might we hope to find on the teamsheet next season? How much of our reported £100m war chest will we need to spend to get there, and on how many players?

The main thing to bear in mind is that Fergie will always look within the squad first. Last season we talked about the most promising crop of youngsters since the Beckham / Scholes / Nevilles era - now it's time to see how true that claim was. Also, Fergie very rarely signs a really big name, particularly not one who is on the hitlist of every big club in Europe - so I would expect a number of lower key acquisitions rather than a show-stopper. Dream small, boys and girls.


Firstly, it must be clear - if it wasn't before - that Fergie is going to need to back Rooney and Berbatov through the middle. Berba has yet to fully justify the fee we paid for him, but a pre-season with the squad and the chance to feel like a first choice player by right rather than by transfer fee should bring more out of him. If you want a case for playing Rooney through the middle, you have only to see how he has performed for England over the last 9 months.

One obvious gap is the issue of reserve strikers. Rooney and Berba both had their injury problems last season, and it would be naive to rely on them both to be fit for the whole campaign. From within, we can only look to Macheda and Welbeck as genuine strikers - both of whom have shown promise in the few run outs they did get, but you would hardly want to be relying on them if Rooney broke a metatarsal again.

However, with Rooney and Berba in place, we are never going to sign a world-class striker. It would be an impossible sell to persuade someone of equal calibre to our existing strikers to come and be part of a squad system. So we are left with either young strikers who would be happy to be part of a rotation, or older strikers (in the Sheringham mould) who could come to us for a last fling at glory and be happy to be a squad player.

Not all that many names spring to mind - Benni McCarthy, Eidur Gudjohnssen? Jermaine Defoe? This one will be a test for Fergie.


Next, the wingers. I would think that Valencia is almost guaranteed to arrive. Valencia is principally a right-sided midfielder, who is accustomed to the Premiership, and he fills an obvious hole on the teamsheet.

There are no shortage of candidates to fill the other berth. Nani and Tosic are both internal players bought with a view to being a long term replacement for Giggs, but it is hard to tell whether either of them will be up to it - Nani got little gametime last season, and Tosic has yet to make a Premiership start.

If we were to sign a player, Ribery is obviously the name on everyone's lips. He is clearly a great player and I would love to have him, but I expect Bayern to be a total nightmare about the transfer and totally unrealistic about the asking price. There is no way that United are going to get involved in a four way auction with Barca, Real and Chelsea.

Aaron Lennon is one domestic prospect being talked of. However - apart from the fact that I don't think anyone at United will want the brain damage of another summer negotiation with Daniel Levy and co - he is a bit injury prone and also sometimes lacks the end product in the final third to match his trickery and pace.

My real top choice would be Ashley Young - fast, tricky, scores goal, is accustomed to the Premiership and is English. There's no way Villa could refuse £30m for him. If we were going to spend megabucks on a winger, Young would be better value for money that Ribery.

Central midfield

We're pretty well equipped in the centre of midfield, with one exception - if Hargreaves doesn't recover, we are very light on defensive midfielders. Fletcher has acquired an unhealthy level of importance to the squad, one which we would be well advised to plug somehow. Given that we've been linked in the past with basically every defensive midfielder in the world, I'm sure names will spring to your mind - my personal favourite would be Gattuso as a short term fix, but that is highly unlikely. If there was anyone we might consider picking up from the Real firesale, Diarra is a possibility also. What I wouldn't give for Essien............but there really is no chance of that.


Here, any regeneration we need can come from within. Rafael and Fabio can expect to see plenty of game time, as can the superb Jonny Evans. Hopefully Wes Brown will be back to full fitness by the start of the season as well, giving us valuable cover at right back and centre back.


I have long advocated that EVDS be phased out and Foster phased in. I really do think that Foster has everything it takes to perform at the highest level. The key is his fitness - if he stays fit for the whole season, I would expect him to play a large number of league and cup games. If he can't stay fit, then next summer will be the time to consider signing a keeper from elsewhere.

Right, those are my rather extensive views - what are yours?


Penguinissimo said...

Update - believable transfer rumour of the day - Porto's Hulk (who was fantastically good against us in the CL last season).

MoYa said...

In terms of strikers I feel we just need to get a 3rd choice and let Welbeck and Kiko share the 4th. I would tend to go for someone like Vucinic, we've been linked with previously. He would be happy to come of the bench. And Fergie is strating to like Serbs!!
I would love it if we signed Aguero, though he might not be exactly what we need, but my what a player!

United have always been a club with a liking for wingers. I hope Real or the other unnamed club sign Valencia as I feel we can do better and don't see himas an upgrade to Nani.
Ashley Young would be marvelous! Everything we need.
I feel we need a player like Ribery, just to give us that little extra.

In defence we seem fine and I would slot Brown in right back.

Van Der Sar doesn't give me a lot of confidence. I rate Foster, but the lad can't stay fit which is especially terrible for a keeper.
Sergio Asenjo as a 3rd choice who we can groom looks an excellent prospect.
Or Akinfeev whom I rate very highly to gradually take over from VDS.

MoYa said...

@ Penguin

Speaking of Hulk, I rate his teamate Lisandro Lopez very highly. He hugely impressed me in Europe. He has pace, can take players on and can certainly finish. Also he's not afraid to mix it with anyone.

Penguinissimo said...

Agreed on needing a third striker - I'm happy to Welbeck and Macheda to share the 4th spot. Hadn't thought of Vucinic - interesting.

Agree about Lopez too - although Hulk's strength may be better suited to the Premiership.

Anonymous said...

Penguin do you really think Fergie will only buy Valencia? I have full faith in the ability within the squad, and that of the young serb who arrives in January to make it a difference too! But I do see a few more names arriving, abielt younger names, a wouldn't be surprised if Fergie had the wheels in motion for any potential transfers!

Groom the young Marcus Berg into a star Fergie!

~ Red Knight

Penguinissimo said...

RK - no, I think he will buy a few low-ish profile players - maybe 3 or 4. I don't expect a big fish signing, although I'd love to be proved wrong!

Anonymous said...

What about Manucho? I think maybe he will be useful together with Kiko and Wellbeck instead of buying another striker. I also think we really need another defensive midfielder, Hargreaves will never be fit for the whole season.

Penguinissimo said...

To be fair, Manucho hardly set the world alight on loan. I don't think he's United quality.

I tend to agree on Hargreaves, though - any more matches he plays for us will be a bonus.

Dan said...

I'm not even going to suggest a striker - too many names batting about and all if, ifs.

However I like the idea of Young.

Nice post again

Anonymous said...

Don't we have first right of refusal for G Rossi. He would be a good young signing.

Penguinissimo said...

Rossi's hardly likely to come back to us - he left because he wasn't happy being a reserve, and he'd definitely be that if he came back. Can't see it, unfortunately.

Anonymous said...

How about Huntelaar? Email Fergie to snap up Young he would be a great signing!

Penguinissimo said...

Same problem with Huntelaar, I reckon - he'd never come to be a reserve.

Anonymous said...

I still believe that we can get something more than merely a reserve striker, man utd plays so many games throughout the season, and as you mentioned Berba and Rooney both will most likely spend some time injured. We need a reliable goal scorer with more experience than Kiko and Welbeck and more quality than Mcarthy, or Gudjohnsen (i do like Defoe)... If it were me though I would just send Aston Villa a 50 million check for both Abonglahor and Young...they are high quality young players, sign Veloso or Diarra from Sporting to bolster the defensive midfield and snap up Douglas Costa from Brazil as another young winger...Antonio Valencia is not enough to replace Ronaldo...what do you think>

Anonymous said...

Good to see you back and keeping the blog up to date. As always agree with all your sentiments as to where our needs are but not convinced that Fergie won't go for one really big signing. Guess time will tell but signals from Lyon are that Benzema will be available for the right sort of money.


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