Last weekend showed two teams that have been stuck in second gear for most of the season.
Chelsea v United has been an anticipated contest for the best part of ten years now, with both sides consistently being title challengers in this period.
However, rather anti-climactically, Chelsea and especially United have failed to hit the ground running this season.
There’s been copious amounts of articles and reports from across the internet examining why United have been so lacklustre and why Chelsea haven’t completely found their way under the ‘Special One’, but what solutions are there for both the Blues and the Red Devils?
In this article I explain how a change of formation for both could set them on the right path.
Manchester United: 4-2-3-1 to 3-5-2
Not much has worked for David Moyes this season.
He’s lost the services of Robin van Persie and more recently Wayne Rooney due to injury, had trouble with numerous accounts of unhappy, want away players and has lost too many vital games already.
However in United's recent fixture against Swansea, the supporters definitely had something to smile about; In a season where Moyes has been plagued with ineptitude in midfield, it finally looked like United had found the right combination in the middle of the park.
Moyes is expected to buy a new, creative and combative midfielder this window but the midfield trio of Michael Carrick, Darren Fletcher and Shinji Kagawa performed admirably at Old Trafford.
In that match Darren Fletcher and Michael Carrick had a pass accuracy of 93% and 88% respectively and intercepted three and two passes each, clearly highlighting their defensive and offensive capabilities.
This is the midfield three that I think Moyes should build his team around and operate a 3-5-2. In defence, Moyes should use Vidic as a sweeper.
Without being disrespectful, Vidic has lost a yard of pace over recent years and isn’t agile enough to be playing further up the pitch. Against Swansea he was very impressive, intercepting five passes, making nine clearances and blocking two shot, but was lacklustre and slow against Chelsea, as evidenced in his late sending off.
Either side of him should be Chris Smalling and Phil Jones. Neither of them have had outstanding seasons but both have the capabilities to play centre back and full back. This will come in useful when A) United are defending a lead – they will have plenty of defensive cover and B) when United are looking for a goal – they can push wide and play as makeshift full backs, giving the team more options.
The inclusion of Kagawa, Fletcher and Carrick as the central midfielders has already been discussed, so that leaves us with the wide players, Adnan Januzaj and Antonio Valencia.
These two should play their position similar to the way Kwadwo Asamoah and Stephan Lichtsteiner play for Juventus, offering both a defensive and offensive outlet. Putting Januzaj and Valencia on their stronger side gives United width, which is clearly paramount to their game.
Also, just like with Smalling and Jones, when United need men behind the ball, the wingers can play as full backs allowing the centre halves to become narrower. Valencia has played at right back plenty of times for the Red Devils and is more than capable of playing there when required.
Questions remain over the defensive qualities of Januzaj. While he averages 0.9 tackles and 0.7 interceptions a game, it is unknown whether he has the discipline to hold down such a pivotal role.
Perhaps one of the reasons United have failed to create consistently in games this season is due to the over reliance on Wayne Rooney playing as CF instead of an out and out striker.
If United play 3-5-2 then Rooney will be free to link up with Welbeck for the duration of the game instead of having to drop deeper. However Rooney’s position in the 3-5-2 can be adjusted according to the situation. If United are losing, they can drop Rooney in the hole behind two of Danny Welbeck, Javier Hernandez and RVP who will make way for one of Carrick or Fletcher, allowing Kagawa to sit a bit deeper and dictate play from further back.
Chelsea: 4-2-3-1 to 4-3-1-2 (false nine)
For a team 3rd in the league Chelsea are, as it has been well publicised, very poor in front of goal.
Despite spending over £50million on Fernando Torres, Demba Ba and Samuel Eto’o, Chelsea don’t have a consistent striker and don’t look like they are ready to buy one this January window.
Therefore they should metamorphose from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-3-1-2, with Oscar (or perhaps Andre Schurrle) playing as a false nine instead of one of Torres, Eto’o or Ba playing as striker.
Although the change to the formation is admittedly very slight, Chelsea would benefit from it- Oscar has better stats across the board this season than Chelsea’s main forward Torres.
While the Spaniard has scored four, the Brazilian has six. But it’s not all about goals; Oscar averages the same amount of shots as Torres per game, has assisted three more goals and averages 0.4 more key passes per game.
Given that Oscar traditionally plays deeper than Torres, these stats would only increase if he was playing as a centre forward. Oscar has also been hailed for his defensive work this season – his 2.7 tackles per game in comparison to Torres’ 0.7 make Oscar a better candidate for the first line of defence.
Allowing Oscar to play as a false nine instead of a striker would also allow Eden Hazard and Willian to push further forward, playing as left and right forwards instead of wingers. This move could benefit Hazard enormously in the way it has done for Cristiano Ronaldo – allowing him to play high would do wonders for Chelsea on the counter attack and would undoubtedly increase the Belgium star's goal tally.
If Chelsea go with this formation then the left and right full backs would have to be able to sufficiently cover ground and retain possession down their respective flanks to allow Willian and Hazard to play high. Chelsea needn’t change their personnel down these flanks though.
Cesar Azpilicueta and Branislav Ivanovic both have a pass success rate of over 80%, and, according to WhoScored.com, holding onto the ball is listed as one of their strengths for both players.
This then means that Chelsea need to have twi defensive midfielders to cover the full backs. David Luiz would be ideal for this role because of his experience as a centre back; if Chelsea were on the attack he could drop into to form a defensive three with Terry and Cahill to allow the full backs to push wider.
Ramires would be his partner; his stamina and energy would be useful for covering errand full backs/ Hazard and Willian. In front of these two would be the oft-omitted Juan Mata. Despite being criticized for his lack of defensive work Mata still averages a tackle a game and with Ramires and Luiz covering him, he would have more freedom to link with Hazard, Oscar and Willian. Also, with an average pass success rate of 87%, he would be vital for keeping possession.
All stats obtained from www.whoscored.com and correct as of 16th January 2014.
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