Date: 28th June 2010 at 4:00pm
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In the final part of the series I’m looking at our attack whilst the defence was slightly more straight forward and the midfield problem was a bit clearer our attack poses a few more problems.

Let’s face it, last season United’s attack consisted of Wayne Rooney and Wayne Rooney. Sure Berbatov scored a few and Owen chipped in a bit but apart from that there was not much else on offer. I mean; when ‘own-goal’ is your second top scorer, you know what has happened. With the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez, the onus was very much on Rooney to step up and step up he did. He raised his game to another level, finally stuck in the box more and we reaped the rewards.

What of this term then? United have Wayne Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov, Michael Owen, Javier Hernandez, Danny Welbeck, Kiko Macheda and Mame Biram Diouf yet despite this a lot still rests on Wayne’s shoulders. He will again be the spearhead of the attack and will be expected to carry the mantle of goal scoring. Berbatov looks likely to be given another chance and I believe that we are yet to see the best of the brilliant Bulgarian. The reasons for him failing to shine are many and I’ve looked at them at length earlier and hence will not be going into depth about it but given a steady role and a settled formation, Berbatov may yet have his best season in a United shirt.

Michael Owen’s signing was seen as a no-risk move. That was exactly what it was but then the signing could be questioned on the grounds of how high or low in the pecking order he was. In the great treble season, United had 4 strikers – Dwight Yorke, Andy Cole and Ole Gunnar Solksjaer who were freely interchangeable and Teddy Sheringham who was essentially the 4th striker who came in on occasion. If Michael Owen was to be used as that 4th striker, then Sir Alex most definitely missed a trick by not signing another striker. If Owen was to be in the top three, then he should have been given more playing time. Wayne Rooney was partly to be blamed for that. Sir Alex publicly stated that there was nothing wrong with Owen’s contribution but it was just that in United’s system, Owen and Rooney as a partnership did not quite work well and that Wayne’s form made it simply impossible for him to be dropped.

The ‘weakest hamstring in England’ resurfaced later on in the season, and Owen was forced to miss the second half of the campaign. If and I must stress on the word, Owen does stay fit throughout the season, there is no doubting that he will indeed add that clinical precision to United’s attack.

What of the young guns then? Welbeck looks almost certain to be loaned out again. Kiko’s agent has said that United will not loan out his client this season. This clearly shows that he’s firmly in Sir Alex’s plans for the season. Diouf, on the occasions that he came on, did show some electric pace but would have to develop a lot to challenge for a regular first team slot. He’s 22 already and loaning him out for a year would probably raise eyebrows. It remains to be seen what Sir Alex decides to do. The latest signing, Hernandez aka  Chicharito is as yet pretty much an unknown quantity. Having seen glimpses of him at the world cup, he looks to be money well spent but as is known, the Premier League is an entirely different kettle of fish.

It will be interesting to see what sort of formation Sir Alex decides to play. Over the past 2 seasons, he’s tended to go into the big clashes with a 4-5-1 with first Ronaldo then Rooney as the spearhead. This does not leave any room for any of the other strikers to get a look in simply because of Rooney’s brilliance. In a 4-4-2 however, the gaffer has tried out various partnerships with Rooney playing behind Berbatov or sometimes even ahead of him, Owen with Rooney and even Kiko with Berbatov. While each combination has its own merits and faults, the effectiveness of each can be argued.

With a 4-5-1, united look more fluid at times but at times seem to lack that creativity that is so vital. With a 4-4-2 however, either one of Berbatov or Rooney drop deeper and tend to operate in a floating role which frees up some space but on the flip side, there are lesser bodies attacking the cross that comes in.

Whatever formation Sir Alex decides on and whatever combination of personnel he chooses, one thing is for sure; he knows what he is doing. He has a system in mind and goes about achieving success through this. He does not have an embarrassment of riches at his disposal as he had a few seasons ago but he still has a good blend of youth and experienced strikers more than capable of holding their own.


3 responses to “If the season began tomorrow Part 3 : The forwards”

  1. jonathan says:

    The 4-5-1 is tempting, because when it works it’s often best. However, it’s also proven to be unsustainable as it is Rooney-reliant and detrimental to the development to the rest of the forwards.
    We need to use Berbatov more constently if we’re going to decide his future, and to me it seemed that he was only ever paired with Rooney 1 out of 3 games this year. (and of those games, some of them even went well)

    I’m optimistic about most of our young forwards, but am most reserved about Diouf. He does have pace, and has been likened to an unpolished gem, but at 22 you’d think he demostrate a bit more clinical ability. He’s welcome to prove me wrong though.

    I’m excited about Chicharito and though England is different, I think he has the pace to cope and demonstrated his clinical finishing at the WC. Someone else on this site likened his style to Owen which is somewhat accurate and questions Owen’s value if Chicharito produces. It’s no offense to Owen who did about as well as possible in such a limited role with a new team.

    Overall, I think we should leave the 4-5-1 mostly for European games and regularily use the 4-4-2. I’d even be curious to try a 4-3-3, but with Berba playing behind the two forwards.

  2. Tom says:

    The success of next season could be down to getting the best out of Berbatov. I don’t know why he doesn’t seem himself in a Man Utd shirt. Ferguson has to work it out and finally get the best out of him. The expectation has gone from Berbatov shoulders after 2 seasons and he needs to play with freedom. If we can liberate Berbatov, and get the best out of him, he will be like a new player for us. The Berbatov we signed never really arrived, although he has shown flashes of quality. He has retired from international football to focus on Man Utd. The burden of being Bulgaria star player has gone and it might help him to get extra rest.

  3. timbo says:

    The article more or less hit on the reasons why Berbatov didn’t shine, and that primarily rests on the fact that Fergie constantly tinkered with the lineup and formation depending on the opposition – 4-5-1 against the better teams, 4-4-2 against weak opposition, and so on. It meant that Berba never got a chance to form an effective partnership with Rooney, nor the kind of decent run that would have allowed him to develop and sustain some form.

    What wasn’t mentioned was the fact that Rooney is a notoriously difficult partner for anyone to play with – England were forced to play Heskey, for Christ’s sake, because he seemed the only player in England who could team effectively with Roo as a strike partner! The flip side, as shown in Sth. Africa, is that Rooney often goes missing against quality opposition when played as a solitary striker simply because he’s too easily marked out of games because of his diminutive stature and the lack of penetration from midfield.

    Midfield gets back to why Berba had so many issues – the lack of class in United’s engine room, higlighted by the fact that an aging player like Scholes, who should have been confined to occasional cameos from the bench last season, ended up taking a major role for United. The deficiencies in the engine room have forced Fergie to play 4-5-1 against all but the poorest opposotion, meaning that Berba had to make way for the extra man in midfield. For all the carping about Berbatov, it should have been the likes of Carrick who received the roasting from all and sundry.