One of the most enduring qualities of Manchester United under Sir Alex Ferguson has been its ability to adapt. Fergie requires desire from his players first and foremost. Everyone that comes through the door is identified as having more of it than most of his peers. In so doing the Scottish Maestro has created what we now know as the ‘Manchester United spirit’.
But Fergie also rates the virtue of adaptabilty very highly. Many to most of his squad can play in more than one position and this augurs well for periods when the injury list is long and important games are coming around every 3 days.
But, with the exception of a few fanciful fluctuations during his time at the helm, Sir Alex has always preferred to play with wingers. Even when he plays with a solitary striker and 5 in midfield, he usually deploys wingers to supplement his marauding full backs.
He tried again earlier the season to evolve the shape of the team into a more modern template – along the lines of 4-3-3. But this experiment has been shelved once again. Classic wing play is less common in the modern game but it certainly won’t die completely while Fergie’s still around.
So if we are to assume that Manchester United will retain their 4-4-2 then, the central question moving forward must be, are United’s current wingers good enough to bring success this season?
We can quickly tick Antonio Valencia off the list. He’s had a period of modest form this season but, when he finds his Zone he will be flying once more – laying waste to the opposition with pace and penetration and peppering his strikers with great crosses. So the right hand side is locked down for a few years yet.
It’s on the left where Manchester United struggle for balance. This is their achilles heel and the area that needs work.
I think we all know how soccersweep feels about Ashley Young. Quite why he plays on the left is beyond us. He doesn’t trust his left foot enough to beat his man and get a cross in with any regularity. Instead the theory is that he cuts inside to cause his damage. But the only real damage that this player does is to the aspirations that his team mates have for trophies. He’s useless. Fergie should perhaps give him some games on the right. Or use him as an understudy to Patrice Evra. But he’s not nearly good enough for a flank which has been honoured by Ryan Giggs for nearly two decades.
Nani has at least twice the skill of Ashley Young. He’s got a trick and can beat his man from a standing start. He’s another right footer but can put in a decent cross with either boot. He can turn a game, but so seldom does so. All he does with any consistency is frustrate his team and the fans. It’s making me a little annoyed just thinking about him. Nani’s a handy squad player but could well move on.
Shinji Kagawa’s Manchester United career has been cruelly curtailed by a niggling knee complaint. He’s more adept than Nani or Young on his left foot but he prefers to play down the middle. He wouldn’t offer the sort of width of a winger, in a traditional 4-4-2, but he might well be the best option for the left flank on his return.
Ultimately, we think that Kagawa will progress to the centre of midfield leaving a the post-Giggs problem area vacant.
Sir Alex Ferguson must be scouring Europe for a natural left-footer who can make Manchester United whole again.
Follow us on Twitter @soccersweep10