Plenty was learned from Manchester United’s FA cup victory against Preston North End, but the stand out one was the immediate improvement in United’s game when the ineffective Falcao was replaced with Ashley Young to switch back to their traditional 4-4-2 system. Just minutes after coming on, the English winger set up Ander Herrera for the Red’s equaliser. From then on, there was going to be just the one winner on the night and no surprise that United managed to score another couple on the night.
Under the legendary Sir Slex Ferguson, Manchester United’s biggest strength was using the width of the pitch to it’s maximum advantage. United stretch the opponents to the full extent that they make the opposition full-backs tire after a while. The Reds then take advantage of the situation to score some breath taking counter attacking goals.
Throughout the Legendary Scotsman reign United had some of the finest wide players not alone in Europe, but in the rest of Europe. This sequence however changed after Cristiano Ronaldo moved away from United for a then world record transfer fee in 2009. Since then United didnot buy any world class wide players, but still had plenty in hand with the likes of Valencia, Young and Nani.
Despite them not being at the same level of say a Ronaldo, Beckham or Giggs, Ferguson managed to get the best of them to keep the club’s philosophy going. But, the trend hit a snag when Louis Van Gaal was appointed as the club’s manager last July. Since taking over as the manager, Van Gaal has used the system which hardly had any width to offer in the pitch.
At the start of the season, Van Gaal said he will not play with wide players since United did not have any quality world class wide players in the squad. So Ed Woodward, executive vice-chairman, broke the British transfer record by buying Di Maria a week later. Despite getting the type of player he wanted, Van Gaal for some reason has not kept his word and continued the same system by not having proper wingers on the pitch. Except for few games from September to October, when the Dutchman played with a 4-2-3-1 and 4-1-2-2-1, the Reds hardly had a run of games when they used the width of the pitch to the full advantage.
Even during the six match winning run right at the end of last year, United’s best attacking outlet was Ashley Young. Be it the left wing-back position or the left-back position, Ashley Young looked the teams best attacking outlet. That is the reason behind Van Gaal regularly playing Young in that position, despite his inefficiency to defend properly. But, since he got injured at the start of the year United lost the threat in the wide positions.
With United’s best attacker Di Maria playing either in midfield or as a striker, United did not have a proper wide player to threaten the oppositon full-backs. So the only dribbler United had who could take on defenders was Antonio Valencia. Hence, when Valencia was ganged up and stopped on the right-hand side from surging forward, there was no one else to offer the same threat in the wide positions. It was one of the reason for the slow start United had since the turn of the Year.
The match against Preston is the clearest indication why United should play with wingers. After the poor first performance, Reds play improved in the second half following a change in the system from 4-4-2 (Diamond) to a traditional 4-4-2 (Wide). No wonder two of the three goals United scored in the second half came from their widemen’s work.
This shows that United’s biggest attacking outlet this season has been their wide players and not the costly frontmen or the ineffective midfielders. If others can see it, then without a doubt, the all conquered Dutchman should also see it. So its time for Van Gaal to switch back to the same style which has been effective for decades in helping Manchester United win numerous trophies.
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