Manchester United: How Their Tactics Will Change with David Moyes as Manager
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The breach left by Alex Ferguson’s retirement did not linger, as Manchester United announced Thursday that it had agreed to terms on a contract with Everton Manager David Moyes, who will take charge of one of the world’s most famous soccer clubs beginning July 1. Moyes, 50, was known to be Ferguson’s choice to replace him. Ferguson and Moyes, who are Scottish, have had a warm relationship over the years, with Ferguson at one point approaching Moyes about potentially joining United as an assistant.
Moyes, while not yet in the elite class of Ferguson and his 13 EPL titles, has done a fine job with Everton in his 11 years there. Despite dealing with relatively low finances, the soon-to-be ex-Everton manager has earned the Toffees seven top-eight finishes, with his side looking poised to do so again this season (they currently sit in sixth place).
In addition, he has willed the club into Europe four times and earned a strong reputation of developing and getting the best out of his players. Under the Scot, Wayne Rooney grew from a youth team player to a first-team prodigy, and Marouane Fellaini and Leighton Baines have blossomed into two of the league's best players at their respective positions.
Though Moyes will obviously not have the same players at his disposal next season, it is likely that he will keep the same tactics that made Everton so successful. It should be noted that this doesn't mean completely getting rid of Sir Alex's tactics, as they have proved extremely successful during his tenure and for the current squad (i.e. counterattacking play).
Where Moyes' tactical beliefs shift from that of Ferguson's is in his desire for tough, gritty football, often carried out by a very big, physical starting XI. While United can certainly get physical as well with the likes of Nemanja Vidic and Paul Scholes, their main focus is on playing "pretty" soccer.
Sir Alex's squads have always scored plenty of goals and retained much possession, controlling the tempo of the game on command. Moyes' teams focus on defense first, often grinding out inspiring one-goal victories that come completely against the run of play. The difference in the mindsets of the two clubs can be shown by their respective goal differences for this season—plus-42 for United compared to a plus-14 for Everton.
In essence, these stingy Everton wins come from two things: stingy defense, as mentioned before, and strong aerial play. Moyes will have a more technically gifted group at United but will likely try to utilize midfielders and forwards who carry these qualities. One of Everton's best players in recent years, Tim Cahill, perfectly fit this mold, scoring 26 of his 47 goals through 2010 on his head (via Zonal Marking).
With Cahill gone, Marouane Fellaini has taken his spot as an attacking midfielder, at the very least matching the Aussie's heading ability with aerial prowess of his own. In fact, the Belgian took advantage of an aerially weak Michael Carrick to head home a goal and earn Everton a win vs. United on the first day of the season.
Moyes' affinity to aerially strong and defensively adept midfielders and strikers points to a strong campaign to keep the unsettled Wayne Rooney at United (Daily Mail), and a rude awakening for Shinji Kagawa. The flimsy Japanese international is extremely skilled on the ball but struggles to keep up with the physical nature of the EPL.
If Rooney decides to stick around, expect him to replace Kagawa due to his greater strength and greater defensive value.
Everton, under Moyes, have also been known to cross frequently, with Steven Pienaar and Leighton Baines using their sweet left foots to supply the ball to Marouane Fellaini and Nikica Jelavic. United's crossing from their wing-backs Rafael and Patrice Evra has been solid this year. However, Ashley Young, Nani and especially Antonio Valencia have failed to feed Robin van Persie with any sort of consistency.
If Moyes continues to value crossing, it is possible he could use Rooney and Danny Welbeck on the wings—two technically skilled players who meet this criteria while flourishing in the air as well. Per WhoScored, Danny Welbeck's pass success rate of 86.4 percent led that of Nani, Ashley Young and Antonio Valenica—United's wingers.
Rooney, meanwhile, has played extremely well on his time on the wing this season.
Following Moyes' defensive style of play, and affinity for aerial threats and good passers of the ball, something like the lineup shown below is a definite possibility for the coming season (via BBC Sport Squad Selector).
While a five-defender set seems against United's attacking culture, Rafael and Evra would have very large attacking roles, often working as midfielders to overlap Rooney and Welbeck, respectively, and supply Robin van Persie the ball.
In addition, Phil Jones would be an ideal central midfielder for Moyes, with extreme versatility and skill on both sides of the pitch.
Ultimately, there will probably be some changes when Moyes takes the reins at United,some of which may seem like a far cry from the fluid attacking style that Sir Alex implemented in his 27 years at the club.
Is Moyes a good fit for United?
After signing a six-year deal with the club (h/t CNN), however, it looks like Moyes will be at Old Trafford for the long haul.
And that's the way it should be.
(All stats and info via ESPN FC)
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