Manchester United: Rebuilding the attack

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Football News

The previous article in this series highlighted possible changes to Manchester United's strikers. Now we look at the other forward attacking players who may come and go.

A key consideration will be the formation(s) that David Moyes may utilise.

Several matches this season have shown his commitment to attack including some where he finished with as many as seven offensive players. Also the Fulham match despite provoking astonishing negatives in the media, once again showed an all-out commitment to attack.

When Bayern have 75% possession it's brilliant but for United it's rubbish!

Traditionally we may have associated United with either 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 but towards the end of Sir Alex Ferguson's reign and since the start of Moyes' we have often seen a starting formation of 4-2-3-1.

One of the changes of style Sir Alex had achieved was a free-flowing, interchangeable attack relying on at least five of the players being able to operate anywhere across the front.

There have been some signs recently that Moyes would like to do the same. 

It seems somewhat bizarre therefore for the media to complain about Juan Mata being played out of position. He has played right across attacking midfield in Spain and is particularly effective with a short passing game in the box.

We should remember that at times last season when United were in 'flow' the ball was zinging around like a pinball machine and this is one way to break down massed defences that are more typical in the Premier League.

But the clamour about the Fulham game was perverse. Why is it wrong to have 81 crosses? Far less than half were 'air balls'.

If you look at the Arsenal vs Bayern Munich game or Manchester City vs Barcelona, both the winning teams used width: Dani Alvez was a constant thorn down the right, including scoring a goal; Aren Robben scored one and made one from the same position. One is a wing back and the other a wide midfield player.

It seems therefore that Moyes will continue to deploy a mix of attacks both wide and through the middle.

Changing formations?

One thing Sir Alex was never going to do was to start with three defenders and a 3-5-2 formation. Depending on who Moyes signs, this couldn't be ruled out some time next season but then nor can 4-1-4-1 or 4-1-3-2.

This isn't in the name of experimentation; modern teams have to be flexible and dynamic in their play - even unpredictable if necessary; especially if they are engaged in both Europe and the Premier League.

So whatever formation is played at any one time will increasingly be down to the players; with skillful use of substitutions games have been transformed in the past.

After all how would you characterise Barcelona's formation on Tuesday? For much of the match it looked like 2-1-7 but then you suddenly saw Gerard Pique playing as an extra forward.

What we should do is reflect back on the Dutch 'total football' and the free-flowing style of the great Brazilian national teams. Clearly Rene Meulensteen was moving United in that direction with players right through from the Academy to the first team being comfortable playing in attack or defence.

And the clearest sign that Moyes is moving in a similar way is the probable reason why Wilfried Zaha hasn't made it at Old Trafford yet;; and it could not have been more clear in Cardiff's defeat to Wigan in the FA Cup. Not only was he reluctant to defend but even when he was in his own penalty box he let a Wigan player run right past him and score.

So what do United need in support of the strikers?

First we hinted that United may often play only one nominated striker in future. For some time now Wayne Rooney has regularly played the old 'Number 10' role that Paul Scholes played in his younger years 'in the hole'.

We should no longer be surprised to see Rooney, Mata, Kagawa, Welbeck, Fellaini or whoever is nominally 'Number 10' tracking back into midfield to link up and bring the ball forward. What was missing against Fulham, considering the dominance of United, was players on the end of the crosses that were made.

So the future is going to be a dynamic and more exhausting way of attack for United where the interchange will make it hard for the opposition to mark nominated players.

This also means that if United are to have any 'wingers' they too must be able to interchange rather than simply swap wings. And they must be prepared to defend where necessary and tackle as appropriate. This is where a modern player like Januzaj fits in.

Who will come and who will go?

It already seems certain that Nani will go; many supporters would gladly shed Ashley Young and probably Antonio Valencia as well.

So let's start with who will arrive; and we don't need any more 'Number 10s'.

Surely at least one wide player will be signed, but he also will have to be adaptable. The popular vote might go to Koke and even Angel di Maria will have his supporters but Moyes is building for the future. Carlos Mane ticks all the boxes at 19; Iker Muniain is a non-starter, as is any other Atletico Bilbao player. They simply neither need nor want to sell because of Basque nationality.

In terms of who stays the supporters have been at a loss to understand why Shinji Kagawa and Zaha haven't been given more chances. Shinji needs to do more work in the gym; he is a delight of a player but gets knocked off the ball too easily. Surely it is just as perverse for him not to play as it was for Mata at Chelsea.

However, he may well be a trump card in United's attempts to sign Ilkay Gundogan or Mats Hummels from Dortmund (who would love the talented Japanese player back).

As regards youngsters coming through, surely Jesse Lingard will get his chance before the season ends and Andreas Perreira is a star of the future. The final conundrum is whether the excellent and powerful 18 year old Saidi Janko gets developed as a wide player or a wing back. That too may rest on Moyes' formation in the future.

Zaha and Powell should return from loan better players, but sadly it's time for Davide Petrucci to depart. Jack Barmby looks a real talent for the future.

So in conclusion the supporting attacking players in next season's squad could well be: Mata, Januzaj, Fellaini, Mane, Valencia, Lingard, Zaha, Powell, Perreira, Barmby.

What is much more significant is how much Moyes utilises wing backs in an attacking role; we shall get some clues from who he signs including possibilities like Luke Shaw or Luis Felipe but we'll consider the defence in a later article.

Next up: central midfield.

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This article has been written by a member of the GiveMeSport Writing Academy and does not represent the views of or SportsNewMedia. The views and opinions expressed are solely that of the author credited at the top of this article. and SportsNewMedia do not take any responsibility for the content of its contributors.

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