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Manchester United: How to Solve United's Striker Dilemma

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Manchester United: How to Solve United's Striker Dilemma
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Manchester United would not have won their midweek UEFA Champions League match against Braga were it not for the excellence of Javier Hernandez.

Hernandez was dominant in attack—netting two goals in the Red Devils' come-from-behind victory—and showed why he must be considered a key attacking option throughout the year for Manchester United.

His performance caught the attention of manager Sir Alex Ferguson, who stated after the match that the 24-year-old Mexican international has provided him with a couple of selection issues regarding United's attack this season.

Per BBC Sport:

The boy is improving all the time. He is fantastic in training and he's always practicing.

His goal rate for us is fantastic. For his second goal, he bends around the back of the defender. It's a great ball from Tom Cleverley but his moment is terrific.

He's given me a problem—but that's a good thing.

Given the commendation that Hernandez receives from Ferguson, you'd expect that he was starting every week for the Red Devils and was their go-to option in attack this season, but in reality, the striker is an eternity away from a regular starting appearance, it seems.

Chicharito is fourth in line at Old Trafford as far as strikers go and has played just 134 minutes in the English Premier League this season (per Transfermarkt).

But through his excellent performance in the biggest tournament of the season, he might well have staked his claim for a more regular starting position. In his own words, he has given manager Sir Alex Ferguson a "problem" about whom to play and whom to leave out.

So how do United fix their striker problem? How do they best use the likes of Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie, Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez this season—committing to the best possible lineup without sacrificing the involvement of one player or another throughout the season?

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First of all, the Red Devils and their fans must understand they have an abundance of riches. Some squads will have one world-class striker, maybe even two, but United currently have four star strikers in their lineup—all of whom are capable of thriving in both English and European competitions.

Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie need no introduction. They are both proven talents, the two highest goal-scorers in the Premier League last season, and are forming a combination as the most fearsome striker duo in the league.

Danny Welbeck is an England international, a big-game player to whom the Three Lions so often turn for inspiration and immediate impact.

And then there's Javier Hernandez, an international starter for Mexico who has proven once again that he can become a genuine top striker in world football.

Four stars in their own right at the same club.

It's an embarrassment of riches for the Red Devils, who have players on their substitute bench who start for their respective countries.

But the answer to handling all four stars in the one squad certainly doesn't come down to selling one of them off in the January transfer window for a good price.

I'm sure that United could get a good price for Welbeck or Hernandez, who you could argue they don't need every week this year, but selling them off in order to create regular playing time for Rooney and Van Persie is not the answer.

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Any squad needs a number of attacking options due to the fact there will be injuries, suspensions, international duties and a number of domestic competitions, and for United to suggest that they don't need a strong squad to thrive in all of these areas would be both naive and ignorant—which they are not.

They know they need a deep squad and, if the players are still happy, they would no doubt love to keep them at Old Trafford for as long as possible.

This will mean that a rotation policy will be enacted—most likely meaning that all four players will not see the minutes that they would like to every single week.

There will be times when Van Persie is rested for Welbeck, and there will be times when Rooney is started as a substitute. This is natural in a squad blessed with attacking riches like United are at the present moment.

This is simply what has to happen this season.

But in terms of formation, the shift toward the "diamond formation" (essentially a 4-1-2-1-2) will be the best thing for United to keep their attacking stars thriving and is the most effective formation to get as many of their best players on the field at the one time.

The diamond formation will be better than the 4-2-3-1 or even the 4-4-2 in that it allows for a trio of attacking options rather than just the lone striker being tracked by the central attacking midfielder, or the trequartista, as they are commonly called.

As Bleacher Report's Sam Tighe states when expertly breaking down when discussing this diamond formation,

Fergie's diamond is good for a number of reasons. It negates the lack of a compromising midfielder, provides high levels of possession and allows him to play Rooney, Cleverley, Kagawa and Robin van Persie in the same side without hiccups.

Now apply those player names to read three of United's four striker options—and potentially without sacrificing Shinji Kagawa from their starting lineup.

Van Persie and Rooney could both play as the top point of the diamond, in behind the two strikers, which would allow for Welbeck and Hernandez to receive more playing time than they would have in a 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1.

A potential Manchester United starting XI with the diamond.
There is one fewer striker in attack—because he is in midfield—which means that Van Persie could play up front with Hernandez or Rooney with Welbeck, with the other in behind sparking more attacking chances and creativity.

The issue then becomes what to do with United's star summer signing in Shinji Kagawa, who filled that in-behind role beautifully for Borussia Dortmund last year.

You could play him in behind with Rooney and Van Persie up top, but that negates any significant involvement from Welbeck or Hernandez.

The most logical assumption is that Kagawa would drift out to the left flank on paper, and during the actual game would shift between left wing and the middle with whoever is playing in the center. Think of the way in which Lukas Podolski and Santi Cazorla play at Arsenal when Podolski is named out on the left—similar to that.

Having said that and not wanting to over-complicate things too much, Kagawa on the left means that Antonio Valencia, Ashley Young and he are all left fighing for one starting position out on the right wing. That is likely to result in reduced minutes for all three, but in particular for Nani, who seems behind Young and Valencia in the pecking order.

Is the diamond formation good for Manchester United?

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Despite all of this, the diamond formation is the most effective way for Sir Alex Ferguson to get his best attacking team on the pitch at the same time without sacrificing his midfield dominance and creativity—both in the middle and on the wings.

Players will miss out and rotation will be needed, but that's part and parcel of playing for a strong and successful club like Manchester United.

The competition will be healthy for the players also—forcing them to play their best and continue to impress both on the pitch and the training ground.

But more importantly, it will allow for Rooney, Van Persie, Valencia, Kagawa and potentially even the game-winning Hernandez to play in the same lineup at the same time—a truly scary and formidable sight for Premier League and Champions League opponents this season.

 

How would you solve Manchester United's current striker problem?

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