Fergie’s Conundrum: Opt for the 4-4-2 formation or stick with 4-5-1?

Is 4-4-2 set to become a thing of the past?

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?!




17 responses to “Fergie’s Conundrum: Opt for the 4-4-2 formation or stick with 4-5-1?”

  1. timbo says :

    What you failed to emphasize or acknowledge is that the 4-5-1 formation has been forced on United by the dearth of any world class talent in midfield, shown up so tellingly in the CL final against Barca a couple of seasons ago. Like so many others who hop on to the Berbatov argument, you’ve put the cart before the horse. Berba is not the one forcing the change in formation, he is the victim of circumstances beyond his control, and it is his form that has suffered through lack of consistent playing time and cohesiveness in team play.

    Fergie is only willing to play 4-4-2 against lesser opposition. His ‘tactful’ admission that 4-5-1 ‘allows’ United to control the game more is essentially a euphemism for the fact that the team needs the extra man in the engine room to mask the deficiencies of players like Carrick, Anderson (particularly last season) the aging Scholes and Giggs, and even midfield dynamo Fletcher. Not since the salad days of Keane and Scholes has United possessed a midfield pairing of class, and even with the extra man the team lacks any kind of drive, invention, thrust or scoring through the middle. The team has become pedestrian and one-dimensional, bombing up and in from both wings in lieu of any serious threat or link up play to the striker(s) through the midfield.

    Why do you think Rooney often looks so uninvolved in games, so isolated against quality opposition? Why do he, and Berba when the two are played in tandem, have to track back so often trying to link up with the midfield, when it should be the midfielders trying to scythe through and create scoring opportunities?

    United desperately need a Modric, a Schneider, or a Schweinsteiger – forget about the Kaka’s, Xavi’s, and Iniesta’s of this world. Thanks to the Glazers we can’t afford them! Liverpool has Gerard, Chelsea has Lampard – what do United have to offer in the same department – nothing. Sadly, it doesn’t look as if United are in a position to buy anyone of quality to help the team in the area it most desperately needs propping up.

    Fergie has been reduced to toeing the company line and talking up the youngsters coming through as if we have another golden generation on hand, or complaining that the market is overinflated and not worth delving into. What else is he going to say if he wants to keep his job?

    Sadly, with the aging players on hand, the gap in class and experience to the young players coming through, and the injury concerns to a number of key players, I can’t see United finishing better than fourth this season behind the likes of City, Chelsea, and Arsenal. This will be a watershed season for the club, one in which the full implications of the Glazer’s ownership of United will finally come home to roost. People need only look to their other team, the Tampa bay Buccaneers, to fully appreciate the depth of the problems the Glazers are having – the team spends well under the NFL salary cap each year, gutting the team to such an extent that it finished with a 3-13 record last year. United will go the same way, and a once proud club will go the same way as Leeds.

  2. LEe says :

    Absolute rubbish; we’ll go the same way as Leeds. Come off it. Tampa Bay are not exactly the Manchester United of NFL fame are they? We have always blooded kids and I seem to recall everyone thinking Sir Alex should resign and that he was insane for releasing Hughes, Ince & Kanchelskis all at the same time in ’95. For a young player to get through the ranks at United and get through all the teams we have they would have had a winning mentality instilled into them, as well as having a mental toughness most can only dream about – even if they even know it exists at all. If kids are ready to play in our first team then they have earnt it and deserve it. We have to trust the many coaches and scouts we have that produce such players and rather than criticise, we should say thank you.
    Getting back to topic, I prefer the 4-4-2 with the fast, free-flowing football we’re used to seeing and linked with. I see no reason to think we couldn’t do it with Obertan, Nani & Valencia in the side either. I wouldn’t be surprised to see one of those play a more central role to accommodate them into the side at times, but we do have the players and we do have the depth. Sir Alex Ferguson would never let himself be embarrassed in one of his final few seasons after everything he has worked so hard for. The only comparisons we can have to Leeds are that we are both called United and we both field eleven players that kick a ball around.

  3. The Gaffer says :

    Cheers for the comments guys,

    I’ll avoid the rather pessimistic opinions (the Leeds comparison) brought forward by Timbo, and instead discuss the topic in hand.

    Timbo: Only on the most rare occasions do United’s midfielders struggle to ‘scythe’ down opponents and are somewhat successful in creating scoring opportunities, and you say Rooney has been so uninvolved in games because of this, yet he was United’s best player last year with an incredible record of 32 goals in 42.

    As for Berbatov, I’m a huge fan. The problem is consistency, although I know he has the class and if you trawl through the archives you’ll find numerous articles that get behind the Bulgarian. His performances in recent years do justify, however, the 4-5-1 deployed by Fergie.

    You could go on and on about who United need to sign, but I’m thinking the current crop are good enough for another season. Scholes, even this older and wiser one, is still a better player than the Modric’s, the Schneider’s and the Schweinsteiger’s, the type of players the papers like to suggest. As for Fletcher and Carrick, you have two quality players who are up there with the best in Europe.

    Lee: I do prefer the 4-5-1 only because United can do what they do best, keep possession and dicate the play but the 4-4-2 has been historically successful in the free-flowing football that United like to play. Like I’ve said in the article, they have their benefits and detriments.

  4. Ivor Hardy says :

    Do a Leeds,come on… Utd are a bankable asset a money making machine even in these testing times,yes we’re in debt but if the Glazers put Utd up for sale in the morning there would be a queue of billionaires trying to buy us.

    All this anti Glazers crap gets on my tits too we’re a plc get over it. Christ i hate them too but its business to them,i didnt see the green and gold campaign out when we won the CL and PL double a couple of seasons ago. Headwreckers….

  5. The Gaffer says :

    Keep it on topic people…

    And Ivor, can’t help but disagree. It’s not as easy as “if the Glazers put Utd up for sale in the morning there would be a queue of billionaires”. £700m in debt, the situation looks perilous. You do present a poor argument, too. The hatred of the Glazers was always there – now United fans are taking action. But, that’s that. I must not go on, I’d like to keep it on topic.

  6. mani says :

    4-5-1 / 4-3-3. Our main dimension was playing the ball to the flanks with Valencia delivering into the box, Wayne Rooney also prefers his own role.

    If we play 4-4-2, we will lose the midfield battle against the stronger sides, as they would have one extra man in midfield.

    I also agree with timbo. Man.Utd need to sign someone to play in the hole behind the striker. Ozil would be ideal, but Fergie hardly signs a player who has played high world cup minutes – he may approach him next season.

    What annoys me is that when we sold Ronaldo, Fergie should had done a swap deal (madrid could had taken 30m off) with Robben & Sneijder. They are the quality we need.

  7. Nelsinho says :

    I prefer the 4-5-1 because not only will allow united to dominate in midfeild which is crucial in the champions league but beacause it allows young players like anderson and gibson to get games whereas in a 4-4-2 you need two central players that have good positioning, tackling and passing ability fletch & carrick. im not saying anderson and gibson can’t pass the ball thay can but they don’t have very good positional play to play in a 4-4-2 so playing a 4-5-1 is good for sqeezing them in. examples where the 4-5-1 has worked is united vs bayern 3-2 a game in which i thought gibson played exceptionally well.

  8. SeoLucifer says :

    Personally, I have faith in either formations that we deploy . I trust Fergie to make the correct decisions depending on who we face.

    Although personally I would say a 4-4-2.

    No doubt the 4-5-1 brings out the best in Rooney, and like you’ve mentioned, he might fancy the system more.
    But I feel that if we stick to it for large parts of the season, there would be too much burden on Rooney once again. Plus if he’s playin up front alone, he would be watched by 2 defenders. And we all know what defenders would do in order to get someone of Rooney’s calibre of the ball.
    And if say Rooney is out and assumin we still play a 4-5-1, who do we expect to step up? And will you be confident of that candidate? Most are still unproven , while the proven ones are often disappointing.

    Also, with the wealth of attacking options we will have next season, I would say go for a 4-4-2. For the past 4 seasons excludin last year, we were quite comfortable with the 4-4-2.
    Regarding the midfield (possesion), Don’t forget, Carrick and Ferdinand did not feature regularly last year. Two players who are great at keeping possesion and making good use out of it. And Fletch’s passing range just seems to be improving each season.
    Therefore, I have faith in our midfield keeping possesion despite only featurin 2 instead of 3 MFs.

    As for the 2 upfront, we could go with different approaches.
    Roo-Ber would have Ber playmaking and Rooney the poacher which probably wouldnt hurt the latter’s goalscoring abilities.
    Roo-Owen/Hernandez/Macheda etc can also be good because, not only it seems like we have two poachers up front, but Roo can occasionally drop deep to help out our midfield without worryin there’s no one upfront to score which might happen in a 4-5-1 if he has to drop deep …somehow.

    Therefore, I for one, is in favour of a 4-4-2 than a 4-5-1 .
    Sorry for the long post.
    What do you think ?

  9. Munyaneza Godfrey Manu says :

    The 4-5-1 formation is good but if the lone striker used in that formation gets an injury, the optional strikers lag behind since they get few chances to keep on-form. That happened last season when Rooney suffered an injury. Therefore, I prefer 4-4-2 formation because all strikers have chances to play and make impacts in terms of high performances!

  10. Jabari53 says :

    I must agree Rooney does perform best in the 4-5-1 system but as stated by Godfrey Manu “optional strikers lag behind since they get few chances to keep on-form” in this system and if Rooney goes down with an injury again we’re left with an out of form lone striker or if we switch to 4-4-2 we’re left with two.

    I believe with the amount of forwards in the team this year Fergie will go 4-4-2 for the majority of matches and for the major games 4-5-1. Also i expect him to experiment with Chicarito playing as a lone striker (as a plan B in case Roo goes down) because i believe Berba in that system is a no-go this year. The problem with Berba upfront by his lonesome is that his game is dropping deep and create and it would have if we were blessed with goalscoring midfielders. Only if the likes of Nani, Valencia and co. step up in the goalscoring dep’t can i see our “No. 9” lead the line on his own.

    In my opinion the 4-4-2 is here to stay at Old Trafford (maybe if Sneijder or Ozil were to really come in I may have been singing a different tune) but keep on looking forward to cameos from the Wazza-led 4-5-1!!!!

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