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Manchester United's most favorite formation has been the 4-4-2, which in some cases has been modified to play a 4-5-1, and in some cases also becomes a 4-3-3, depending on the players available.
Clubs such as FC Barcelona, Bayern Munich and AFC Ajax have their own footballing philosophy, which is ingrained into their youngsters and they are taught to play football in that certain manner. Bayern Munich plays a 4-4-2 diamond formation from its U15s onwards.
Johan Cruyff, the proponent of total football at Ajax, made full use of the 3-4-3 and 4-3-3 formations during his time, emphasizing on giving the ball, moving into space, creating space and the end result was beautiful football.
Barcelona was where Cruyff was able to revolutionize one-touch football, which resulted in FC Barcelona using the 3-4-3 formation through all the levels of their club, until the B level, from where they use the 4-3-3 formation.
This is one thing which Manchester United lacks, having one basic formation throughout all the levels in its club. Not to say that it would make a world of difference, but it is something which would come in handy. True, no formation is entirely perfect as each formation can meet its match in another formation.
Sir Alex Ferguson has experimented with a lot of formations, right from 4-1-4-1 to 4-2-3-1 to 4-5-1 to 4-3-3 and finally, the tried and tested 4-4-2.
With rumors swirling around that Shinji Kagawa is to sign for Manchester United, many are pondering whether Manchester United has decided to move with the times and embrace a new footballing philosophy, now deciding to play and buy using a 4-2-3-1 template.
As easy as it sounds when someone plays on FIFA 12 and decides to pick a formation to play his/her team in, the dynamics and tactics which go into each formation during a real football match is far far different. Some of the most noteworthy people who revolutionized football formations are as follows:
First, there was Bela Guttman, a Hungarian-Jewish coach who gave Brazil its famous 4-2-4 formation which he revolutionized and propagated for the Seleção. The result was free-flowing beautiful football for a long time to come.
Then came Sir Matt Busby, who believed in playing attractive and progressive football. This article would go quite a way in going to explain what exactly goes on in deciding a playing formation and the roles played by each and every player of Manchester United, all the way back in 1967.
Next up was Johann Cruyff, who gave the world total football with the 3-4-3 and 4-3-3 formations.
Then came Arrigo Sacchi, who once again turned football on its head, by introducing a 4-4-2 with zonal marking and a back-four which would begin to press the opposing team from the half-line itself.
Box-to-box midfielders, who were once such a common sight in English football are now fading (Steven Gerrard, Roy Keane, Bryan Robson) and are being replaced by defensive midfielders and attacking midfielders.
The latter are mostly found playing behind the main striker and dictating tempo in the final third (Mesut Ozil, Kaka) and specializing in the same, and the former shield the back-four and concentrate on breaking opposition play or man-marking the opposite play-maker (Yann M'vila, Sami Khedira, Michael Essien).
Football as a sport is changing, and it remains to be seen how Manchester United respond to this era. Would it continue to stick to its 4-4-2 or change in order to move with the times?