Thursday, 8 April 2010

Why Ferguson was right (and wrong)

I thought I would start my blog with an analysis of the second leg of the Manchester United vs. Bayern Munich Champions League Quarter-Final. To start with we should look at Man Utd's formation and team selection as this was the initial starting point for discussions.

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After the Chelsea match in the Premier League and the first leg of this contest there was much discussion and criticism of Ferguson's reliance on his old guard. During those two previous games he had selected Neville, Giggs, and Scholes in the same starting 11, which meant that whilst there was a lot of experience in the team there was a decided lack of dynamism on show - something that was especially apparent in the first half against Chelsea.

Going into this match it seemed Ferguson might again go with his previous plan of experience trumping youth. However knowing that Utd needed to win and there was no room for keeping it tight he appeared to realise that a positive approach was the best option. In order to implement this approach Ferguson selected a 4-3-3 brimming with youth with Gibson selected to start in the middle alongside Carrick and Fletcher, Nani and Valencia selected on the two wings, Rooney on his own upfront, and Rafael in place of Neville (who didn't even make the bench).

Once the game started it was apparent that this was quite clearly the right thing to do as Utd played a typical high-tempo pressing game that did not give Bayern the chance to settle as well as putting pressure on their incredibly fragile defence by attacking down the wings at pace. Man Utd's game plan appeared to be to overwhelm their opponents with speed and dynamism. The success of this ploy was seen by the number of raids that Rafael achieved against Ribery and Badstuber in the first half and the outright fear that seemed to strike Lahm when Nani had the ball at his feet.

When Utd went 3-0 up it appeared that Ferguson's tactics had been hugely successful. However as the game wore on it seemed that Ferguson's "gamble" was doomed to failure. I believe that in actual fact Ferguson got his tactics spot on until they went down to 10 men where his conservatism and decision to hold onto the lead meant that he effectively gave the ball to Bayern and enabled them to dictate the play. After Utd went down to 10 men he subbed off the ineffective Rooney and brought on O'Shea with the team lining up similar to that shown in the diagram below:

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Prior to the sending off and substitution Utd had put pressure on the full-backs and had effectively prevented the danger men of Robben and Ribery from causing too much damage. As soon as the switch was made those two players came to the fore. Every time Utd got the ball they seemed to lose composure and with that the balance of power.

Bayern's midfield of Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben, Mark van Bommel and Bastian Schweinsteiger began to dominate possession and force Utd to make mistakes that ceded possession. Nani was isolated (yet still dangerous) and Valencia, Gibson, Fletcher and Carrick became totally ineffectual as an attacking force. It really was a case of "not it but when" Bayern would get the critical second.

Much of the press reaction has focused on what they call the failure of "Ferguson's gamble". Whilst there is something to suggest that selecting Rafael, Gibson and an injured Rooney in a big game like this was a gamble I think the first 35 minutes proved he was definitely correct. However I think Ferguson's biggest mistake was his failure to truly gamble and take the game beyond Bayern. If after Rafael's red card he had switched to the following formation the game could well have been won...

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I believe that Ferguson should have made two substitutions: O'Shea on for Gibson and Macheda for Rooney. This would have meant that Utd reverted to a 4-4-1 but would have kept the pace and danger of Valencia and Nani focused down the wings, which would have meant that Robben and Ribery would have had something to worry about defensively as they did in the first half.

This team selection would also have meant that Carrick and Fletcher were able to go man on with van Bommel and Schweinsteiger who would not have been able to dominate possession as they did. With Macheda in upfront Utd would also have posed a threat with both pace and power and goalscoring ability: the time was most certainly not suited to Berbatov's notable talents.

As the game wore on I would have also considered bringing on Giggs for Valencia and switching Nani to play behind Macheda and make Giggs, Fletcher and Carrick play tight as a central three...with the purpose of trying to keep possession and not allow Bayern to dictate the tempo of the match. Making the changes as he did Ferguson created, as David Pleat argues, "a backs-to-the-wall mentality", which invited Bayern onto them. It was not Ferguson's gamble that failed but his conservatism.


1 comment:

  1. interesting comments but on the chelsea team for next season i think cech should make way for another keeper,he is not commanding enough in the area and makes us look unsteady on many occasions,he is a great shot stopper but that for me is not enough i think only one new top quality outfield player is required as we need to be bold enough to bring on our own young talent too many of them show promise then get loaned out and never return..Man utd have done it so many times its hard to criticise as they have performed way better than i thought they would this season so fair play to them.