Fergie’s Conundrum: Opt for the 4-4-2 formation or stick with 4-5-1?
Much of Wayne Rooney’s good form last season was put down to his role as lone striker. The 4-5-1 formation deployed by Sir Alex Ferguson saw Rooney enjoying the freedom to roam in the final third, with the majority of his 32 goals being scored in that position.
Fergie still has a decision to make, however. Does he stick with the 4-5-1* going into the new season or does he turn his back on that and opt once again for the 4-4-2, a system in which United were consistently inconsistent with last year.
When United took on Celtic in Toronto on Friday (or Saturday), United lined up in a very orthodox 4-4-2 with Dimitar Berbatov partnering Mame Diouf up front, and seeing as Rooney didn’t feature in United’s 3-1 victory, United are likely to continue experiment with the 4-4-2 throughout their American tour. Indeed, Rooney will only be a spectator for the remainder of this tour, as Sir Alex is keen for his talisman to get some well-earned rest in the aftermath of the World Cup. That is if Rooney’s chalet in Barbados includes MUTV.
Another reason to why Fergie may be tempted to go for the two up front as opposed to the one is the number of attacking options he has up his sleeve. United fans alike will hope Berbatov can finally find some consistency and his impressive performance against Celtic is proof that the Bulgarian can flourish if he finds his confidence. This was only a friendly game, but his all-round performance of a goal and two assists was worthy of praise earned by Sir Alex post-match. Anything other than a 4-4-2 will mean Berbatov will have to make do with the bench. Although, since he joined United, Berbatov’s form certainly is not exactly a convincing case to play with the two up forward.
And then he has Michael Owen, Federico Macheda, Danny Welbeck, Javier Hernandez and Diouf to choose from too. Playing the lone man will mean these talented bunch will have little game time, possibly fighting it out for a starting place only in the domestic cups. Although you would argue that what the 4-5-1 has done so well is give United that balance and presence in midfield. Paul Scholes looked in imperious form playing deep and pulling the strings while Fletcher and Carrick were able to pass opponents out of the game, and in the process suffocate the play. This system seems the better option in terms of dominating play, which is most important in getting the results, but what it does is limit, or prevent, United’s other forwards from developing into better players. Having seven forwards at the club, with six having a point to prove, is as much healthy competition as unhealthy.
Sir Alex’s reasoning behind his preferred formation, the 4-5-1, is that it allows his side to control the game. In a quote dated back to earlier this year, he says the following: “The idea behind the 4-5-1 is that you can control the midfield and keep possession of the ball – that’s always your aim when you use that formation. I believe the team that has possession of the ball has more opportunities to win the match. As for the 4-4-2, there is more emphasis in that formation placed on playing the ball forward and usually you use the two traditional wingers.”
“Playing 4-5-1 requires a lot of patience but this team certainly has that in abundance,” he adds. “Some people say you have more chance of scoring by playing 4-4-2, and in some cases that might be right, but if you score and you’re playing 4-5-1, you then have a great opportunity to open the game up because the opposition then have to take risks.”
And he may be right – the 4-5-1 suits the fluid counter-attacking football that United play. You feel that Rooney, United’s best player last season, prefers the 4-5-1 formation more, and if it gets the best out of him Sir Alex will continue to play it. The use of attacking wingers such as Nani, or in the past Ronaldo, could also determine whether the system is instead a 4-3-3 as opposed to 4-5-1. The 4-4-2 is a far more simplistic and orthodox system, maintaining a constant shape.
It’s an interesting debate; one that has had fans’ on forums split on opinion and probably in some cases, driven married couples apart. I do prefer the 4-5-1 formation to the 4-4-2 but both have their benefits and detriments. I’m sure you have an opinion, too – why not share it by leaving a comment?
Note: *As in 4-5-1, you could interpret it as 4-3-3/4-2-3-1. For the purpose of the blog, I refer to it as 4-5-1 mainly because, as in the above quotes, Fergie describes it as such. You can’t argue with Sir Alex, now can you?!