Manchester United: 5 Tactical Options to Include Rooney and RVP in the Team
Six games into the season, and Sir Alex Ferguson still hasn't made up his mind—how can Manchester United play Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie together in a formation that suits their other peripherals?
Should Fergie look at how Cesare Prandelli set his Italians up at Euro 2012, take a leaf out of his fierce rival's book, or stick to the tried, trusted and successful?
Here are five tactical options for the Red Devils to consider when looking at slotting them in side by side, along with their positive and negative impacts on the team.
Isn't the answer simple? If you've got two world-class strikers, and you want to play them together, why not just stick them in a 4-4-2?
Because this is the mistake Sir Alex Ferguson made last season. Whether it was 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1 (with Wayne Rooney in a support striker role,) Manchester United were outpossessed away from home and in the UEFA Champions League.
The signing of Shinji Kagawa was a significant move toward retaining the ball, and he simply doesn't fit in a 4-4-2. He's physically weak and can't play a pure central midfield role, while stuffing him out on the wing is a waste of his talent just outside the penalty area.
This is an option for 40 percent of the Red Devils' home games, but it should never be used against highly competent opposition or against any three-man midfield in Europe.
Positives: Out-and-out strikers in Rooney and Robin van Persie can do the damage.
Negatives: Ball retention a huge issue, midfield fatigue another.
4-4-2 (Wide Diamond)
The 4-4-2 diamond comes in two forms: wide and narrow. The differences are obvious, but they will be outlined in this article regardless.
The wide diamond uses two players on each touchline who are comfortable in a flat(ish) position on the field. That meaning they're not out-and-out wingers, but more wide midfielders.
Manchester United have several players comfortable in this role which is a rarity, the obvious being Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia.
Shinji Kagawa would operate behind the two strikers in his trequartista role, while a holding midfielder could screen the back four and recycle possession.
This is an option for Sir Alex Ferguson, but the main issue remains the space in front of the anchor and behind the No. 10.
Positives: Rooney and Robin van Persie play as pure strikers, Kagawa plays "in the hole" and the flanks are well protected.
Negatives: Possible issue with ball retention, gaping spaces in the middle when caught high up in the field.
4-4-2 (Narrow Diamond)
The 4-4-2 narrow diamond was used by Italy in Euro 2012. Like every formation, it has its strengths and weaknesses, but this one could suit Manchester United at times.
Shinji Kagawa stays happy in his No. 10 role, doing little defensive work and seeing an awful lot of the ball. The other three midfielders—one holder, two "shuttlers"—play simple passes, run the channels and link the play.
The energy levels of Anderson, Phil Jones and Tom Cleverley would be absolutely ideal here, while Michael Carrick or Paul Scholes can hold the base of the diamond without breaking a sweat.
Expansive full-backs would be allowed almost free reign of the touchline, and we know Rafael and Alexander Buttner need no invitation to come forward. Carrick's screening duties will see him cover the holes.
Positives: Dynamic attacking options, flying full-backs and a high-energy midfield with two pure strikers.
Negatives: All the wingers are left on the bench.
The 4-2-3-1 is the de facto best formation in world football, and it is currently being used by Sir Alex Ferguson at times.
With two holding midfielders and a No. 10, ball possession is easy to maintain, and Manchester United have the perfect players to control the game using this method.
The full-backs have license to push on, as they benefit from two deep midfielders, while the wingers enjoy an advanced starting position and the opportunity to cut inside and look for the net.
Of course, it only finds room for one out-and-out striker, so out of the two, Sir Alex Ferguson has typically opted for Robin van Persie. This leaves Wayne Rooney with a role on either wing. Can he do it? Yes. Is he happy doing it? Hmm...
Positives: Solid, controlling, expansive.
Negatives: An unhappy Rooney?
While the 3-5-2 achieves mixed results for Roberto Mancini's Manchester City, it's a formation that is cropping up across the globe and proving itself.
Manchester United could look at this setup with some intrigue, and with the players at their disposal, it could be a bold but sensational adjustment.
Antonio Valencia has all the skills to function as a top-tier right wing-back should he be asked, while Rafael, obviously, could fulfil that role with ease.
Shinji Kagawa still gets his glamorous role in attacking midfield, while Wayne Rooney fulfils a versatile role that can vaguely be described as a "second striker." In truth, he'd be all over the pitch, much like he was last season in United's 4-4-1-1, and that means Robin van Persie is the pure striker.
The last two spots in midfield can be filled by a combination of one holder (Paul Scholes or Michael Carrick) and one high-energy player (Tom Cleverley or Phil Jones).
Positives: Doesn't neglect the wingers too badly, allows Rooney a free role with RvP given a poacher's role. Kagawa still plays as a No. 10, and the defensive three would be solid.
Negatives: Nani, Ashley Young would be restricted to impact roles from the bench unless featuring centrally. Injuries to the central defensive corp make this unworkable in the short term.
Most of the negatives listed in this article could actually equate to positives—what's the harm in having strength in depth and options off the bench?
With a squad this size, three or four different formations present themselves as possibilities to Sir Alex Ferguson.
Out of those listed (and some others not,) I would lean toward the 4-2-3-1 (for its familiarity factor) or the narrow midfield diamond. United have all they need to make the Euro 2012 Italy-esque formation work, but consistently leaving out his wingers will be an issue for Fergie.
The 3-5-2, as suggested, could be excellent, but with the injuries to Nemanja Vidic, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling, it's impossible to implement it this season.
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