Manchester United's match with Stoke City was supposed to be the turning point - the day that David Moyes finally stepped out from behind the daunting shadow of one Sir Alex Ferguson.
And the day started well, with United pressing high up the field and passing the ball nicely. Chances were at a premium but that was to be expected, as Stoke didn’t look to be too interested in attacking. United won a myriad of free kicks, failing to make anything of any of them. Stoke on the other hand one. And converted it. From that point, every one of the United fans watching the game got that sinking feeling again: 'we’re going to lose again.'
It’s no secret that United’s season has been abysmal at best. However, while many critics have attacked the incompetence of David Moyes’s defence, I believe it is the offence that poses the greatest problem. Last season, United’s defence was also shaky. They didn’t concede as many as they are this season but the defence was fragile at best.
However, last season, the strikers scored in boatloads. Halfway through the season, United were averaging more than three goals a game: something almost unheard of in the Premier League (although Manchester City are getting close). This season, they are averaging 1.63 goals a game, while shipping 1.26. The numbers tell the story very adequately.
How can one expect to finish top four when the difference between goals scored and conceded per game is 0.37? Liverpool, United’s most direct competition for the champions league spot is in contrast scoring 2.5 goals a game, having conceded just as many. Moyes needs to get the offense scoring and fast and a change of formation is required desperately.
United have always employed some variation of a 4-4-2 formation with strikers, wingers and anchoring center midfielders. This has been successful in the past: Ronaldo, Beckham and Giggs have run the wings to perfection: blazing by defenders and creating chances. The current crop of wingers, on the other hand, look like schoolchildren.
Nani has not created or scored a goal, Valencia seems to have little use beyond winning throw ins, and Ashley Young can neither beat a man, nor deliver a cross. Yes, Januzaj has been a revelation, but as any United fan can tell, he’s not a winger. Many have touted the 4-2-3-1: the formation employed by some of the best teams in the game including Real Madrid and Chelsea. However, that really wouldn’t solve any problems.
United don’t have the speed to score on the break like Chelsea and Madrid do. I advocate a more progressive 3-5-2: a formation used by Juventus to good effect over the last couple of seasons. Yes, defensive three will see the full backs sit out, but given how poorly Evra has performed this season, he is of more use on the bench than on the field. Some combination of Vidic, Smalling, Jones and Evans can be used to fill this position.
In front of them, Moyes should employ Carrick and Fellaini just as he would in the 4-2-3-1. They would serve the same role: breaking up play and getting the ball to the strikers. The genius of the 3-5-2 however is the additional attacker it incorporates. Mata, Januzaj and Kagawa can all float between the midfield and the striking duo of Rooney – Van Persie, without having to worry as much about all going back to defend at once. The formation would bring creativity, innovation and life to a dour looking United team. Moyes needs a solution and this is it: play the 3-5-2 and get United scoring again.
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