Manchester United: 5 Formations Sir Alex Ferguson Has to Choose from
One thing that football fans absolutely love to do is come up with their own formations and styles of play for the sides they follow.
These line-ups range from the surprisingly effective-looking, to the shockingly bizarre.
Never more has the question of how Sir Alex Ferguson should be sending out his players at the start of a match been more of a hot topic than it is right now.
With the addition of both Shinji Kagawa and Robin van Persie to the Manchester United side, things have been drastically altered in regards to the first-team hierarchy at United.
It isn't often—in fact, I can't recall any example in recent memory—that Fergie has brought in two players in the same transfer window that shot right to the very top tier of the United dressing room in terms of pedigree.
Having two players of this standard come in is both a blessing and a curse.
Obviously, it's fantastic for any side to have as many world-class talents as possible coming out in their colours every weekend.
However, it does (initially, at least) cause a nightmare tactically for a manager, who will always be more than likely forced to drop a regular first-teamer in their place.
So how many new formations does Fergie have to play with now? And can they incorporate all the "best" players?
This somewhat classic United formation has served the side well over the years—but will it work with the current crop of players?
Certainly there are issues with this way of playing that had previously been such a staple of the United way of living.
Kagawa is already somewhat under-utilised in the formation United are going with so far this season, and a 4-4-2 would only restrict him more.
One would have to assume that Rooney and RVP are the two front men for this one, with Antonio Valencia and Nani on the wings.
Kagawa would then slot into the centre with either Phil Jones or Michael Carrick in a defensive role.
Although this does allow the Japanese international to get forward to a degree, he will always have to be aware that Rooney and RVP are the first line of attack, followed secondly by the two wingers, and then lastlyby himself.
This probably also isn't the way that Van Persie is going to want to play.
RVP is not a man that has had to make the most of strike-partners over the years. The Dutchman likes to play more as a centre forward than an out-and-out striker, and with Rooney alongside him this hampers that desire somewhat.
In theory, this should be a perfect formation, as it includes United's "big four"—RVP, Rooney, Kagawa and Valencia.
However, with two of those four men playing in a role that they are less than comfortable with, is it really worth it? I think the answer is no.
This formation is close to, but not exactly the same as what United have been employing with RVP up front so far this campaign.
Again this is the type of formation that would work fine if it wasn't for the fact that Fergie will be wanting to incorporate as many of his best players into the same team all at once.
The biggest issues raised here are the fact that Rooney will be competing for a place either with RVP or with Kagawa in the attacking midfield role.
This way, it would be impossible for all three of the men to be playing at the same time under this line-up.
The key difference between this and a 4-3-3 (or 4-3-2-1) is that it eliminates the Tom Cleverley role from the team in favour of adding an extra defensive midfield slot.
Jones and Carrick are both able players, but do we really want to be playing someone like Carrick—who is coming the end of his time at the top level—ahead of a burgeoning young talent like Cleverley?
This formation would work, but at a cost to young players for the future missing from the team.
It's really just a question of whether or not Fergie is happy to let that happen. Eventually, the absence of Rooney or Kagawa from a side could come back to bite United.
This is the formation that Sir Alex has been sending his team out with so far this campaign.
It allows new front man Van Persie to be the spearhead of the United attack, and has already seen the Dutchman scoring four times in just over two matches.
This kind of formation is perfect for a player like RVP, but where does it leave Rooney?
In all honesty, Wayne is versatile enough that he could quite easily slot in to almost any attacking role within the formation. The real question is, will Fergie want to change Rooney's style of play to accommodate Van Persie?
Not only that, but as good as Rooney may be out on the wing or even in a central midfield role, is he good enough to keep the likes of Antonio Valencia and Tom Cleverely—players whose natural positions he would be challenging for—out of the team?
In regards to Valencia, I don't think so. The Ecuadorian is one of the best right-sided wingers in the world today, and Rooney will not be able to just stroll into the team in his place.
Rooney probably is good enough to get in the side ahead of Cleverely, but do United really want one of their future stars lacking game-time at such an important stage of his career?
Putting Rooney into the Michael Carrick role would also not work at all. United need somebody bolstering up that midfield, and Rooney—however much of a change he would make to his game—will always be far too attacking to slot in there.
Who knows, though, maybe he and Fergie can work something out. This formation is probably one of the strongest United has, and it would be made all the more efficient if Wayne could find a place in the side that works for him.
As it is, RVP and his attacking teammates have scored six times in just two matches using this sort of formation. Now, if only the defence could get their act together!
5-4-1 (Or 3-6-1)
Okay, this one is really out there, but hear me out.
In essence this is just as much a 5-4-1 as it is a 3-6-1.
And what's more, this formation would allow United to play Rooney, Kagawa, RVP and Valencia all at the same time, and ALL in positions they are comfortable with playing.
Obviously you have your three centre backs—Nemanja Vidic, Jonny Evans and Rio Ferdinand (or even Chris Smalling). But then whereas a 3-4-3 only really allows for two central midfielders, this formation provides the opportunity for so much more.
Two defensive midfielders (Carrick and Jones) sit right behind an offensive pairing (Rooney and Kagawa), who play right off the main centre forward (RVP).
Then you have your two players who are going to run themselves ragged every week. The full-backs in this formation are included as part of the 6, but in reality they are all-round players. That is to say they have the defensive duties of a right- or left-back, while at the same time the offensive duties of a winger.
Valencia has shown in preseason that he is more than capable of playing right-back, and we all know how talented the Ecuadorian is with his abilities on the wing.
This formation allows him to incorporate all of those talents into one. His partner at full-back would then of course be either Patrice Evra, or more likely in the near future, Alexander Buttner.
The idea of Rooney and Kagawa both feeding into RVP is mouth-watering from a goal scoring point of view. Plus it allows Kagawa to play a much more attacking role (as is his nature) than he is doing right now for the Red Devils.
I proposed this formation yesterday in an article about how Manchester United can improve their defence, and it didn't go down all that well.
In truth it was more of an afterthought, and once again the same applies here.
There is a way that United can make this work (again pushing Valencia in a role which sees him carrying both defensive and offensive duties), but it would take a lot of work and getting used to.
This is the kind of formation that could rip sides at the lower end of the table apart, but would fall very short when it comes to taking on any of the big boys.
Still, if Fergie wants to ever try it out at home to the likes of Norwich or QPR, then it could bring prosperous results.
But in reality, what would be the point of that?
This would never be an answer for the Reds.
So Which Works Best?
Well there are some decent formations to pick from here, and I think ultimately it comes down to two.
The current 4-3-3 that United are working with at the moment, and the 4-5-1 which would see a drastic change in some players' positions, but would also accommodate United's best four players into the side.
Each has their pros and cons.
The 4-3-3 doesn't allow Wayne Rooney a guaranteed place in the side. The 26-year-old has been United's talisman pretty much since he arrived at Old Trafford in 2004, and dropping him from the picture altogether just seems like a stupid idea—both professionally and personally.
It's also a formation that starves Shinji Kagawa somewhat of the ability to burst forward and carve out real attacking chances.
I wrote an article a while back about how Kagawa was not really the next Paul Scholes (a role that I believe will be filled by Tom Cleverley), but it seems as though Sir Alex sees it differently, changing the Japanese international's game around and making him more of a passer and possession maintainer than an attacking midfielder.
It does, however, allow RVP the freedom of the lone centre forward role, and lets Antonio Valencia have free reign of the right side of the midfield.
The 5-4-1 also has both good and bad aspects. The worst being that it completely cuts Cleverley's role out of the team altogether.
However, it also allows for a triangle-like striker partnership of Rooney, Kagawa and RVP, as well as having Valencia fill in as a roaming full-back on the right.
The question is, does Valencia have the fitness to maintain this every match?
The formation also allows an extra centre-back to start in defence, which means that Jonny Evans would almost certainly regain his place in the United side after such a great season last time around.
All in all, I would say that the 5-4-1 is probably United's best option in a perfect world. But then, this is Fergie we are talking about.
It is highly unlikely that he is going to make such a drastic change to the style that United exhibit overnight.
United fans should therefore expect to see the 4-3-3 continued to be utilised for the most part of the coming year.
In reality, this is far from a bad thing. If the defence can sort their problems out then this will work fantastically for the Red Devils.
The only problem then is what to do with Rooney.