Manchester United: A Touch of Serie A Could Pay Dividends in Defence

Oliver Wilson@@Juice_WilsonContributor IIIMarch 23, 2017

NORWICH, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 17: Sir Alex Ferguson, manager of Manchester United looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between Norwich City and Manchester United at Carrow Road on November 17, 2012 in Norwich, England.  (Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)
Christopher Lee/Getty Images

There's no questioning Manchester United's now immortalized manager Sir Alex Ferguson.  The Premier League's most successful manager has won 12 Premier League titles, two Champions League titles and five FA Cups, and that's only skimming the surface of the silverware accumulated by the Scottish manager.

With United sitting in the position they're most accustomed to—at the top of the Premier table—few would bet against its being there, or thereabouts, come the end of the 2012 season.

There is, however, a worrying problem that has hampered United in their last five games and could be a real thorn in the side of their title challenge: their ability to keep a clean sheet.

In fact, it's not just their last five games that have been a problem for Sir Alex's men. United have kept just two clean sheets in the Premier League this season—during a 4-0 win against Wigan and a 3-0 win at Newcastle—and have fallen behind first in their last five League outings.

So does Sir Alex need to think about changing his tactics, or his selection? Is there a possibility that the all-knowing Fergie could pick up a tip or two from somewhere else in Europe?

The Old Lady of Italian football, Juventus, masterminded a unbeaten 2011 season and have performed head and shoulders above the majority of their opponents faced this year so far. While United may have a better squad then Juventus, they could benefit from adopting Antonio Conte's 3-2-2-1-2.

With three centre-backs, two wing-backs, two central midfielders, an attacking midfielder and two strikers, United could find a defensive solidarity that has eluded them this season but still have the width and attacking prowess that has gotten them to the top of the Premier League and through to the knockout stages of the Champions League.

The reason for the change is two-part, with the first, and most obvious one, being United's inability to keep a clean sheet. The two wing-backs providing cover for United on the flanks would still provide the defensive cover on the wings, while the middle three centre-backs would pride the solidarity needed in the middle of the opposition's final third. The two central midfielders would obviously provide cover to an extent in this regard.

The second reason for the change is the formation's ability to play Shinji Kagawa, Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie all in their preferred roles on the pitch at once.

Kagawa looked fantastic for the Red Devils since his arrival from Borussia Dortmund in the summer, and he played the role of link man in the middle of the park to give RVP and the United forwards great service from the centre of the pitch.

In the new formation, Kagawa can sit behind Van Persie and Rooney rather than forcing Ferguson to decide between two of the three players in the usual 4-2-3-1 system the Red Devils play.

Few United fans would argue that the following formation wouldn't be a mouthwatering prospect:


                                    Rooney                       RVP


                                    Cleverly                      Scholes

Valencia                                                                                              Rafael

                        Jones               Vidic                Smalling

                                                De Gea


With one substitution—let's say Scholes for Evra—the formation can be moved to the classic United 4-3-2-1, with Smalling moving out to the right-back position, Valencia pushing into the left midfield role and Rooney or Kagawa dropping off to play alongside Cleverly in the heart of the midfield.

It could be worth testing, especially when you look at the success Juventus have had with the formation against Chelsea in the Champions league—or even the success Roberto Martinez had with his far less formidable squad of players in the latter part of last season.

It could be a way for United to finally secure a few more clean sheets without losing the options they have in their forward line.