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Alex Ferguson Should Use European Tactics in England

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 05:  Sir Alex Ferguson manager of Manchester United looks on prior to the Barclays Premier League match between West Ham United and Manchester United at Upton Park on December 5, 2009 in London, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
nigel smithCorrespondent IDecember 6, 2009

Another Saturday, another United four goal romp against a Premiership also-ran.

United's destruction of West Ham, following the 4-1 blitz of Portsmouth, satisfied all of Sir Alex's requirements. Chelsea's evening defeat at Manchester City and the reduction to two points of the front-runners' lead over the champions gave Ferguson his best weekend of the campaign so far.

United went to Upton Park hoping to keep the pressure on Carlo Ancelotti's team but perhaps wary of West Ham who regularly provide the champions with a searching examination of their credentials.

Yet, there must have been smiles aplenty in the away dressing room when Sir Alex spied the West Ham team sheet. Spineless was the only apt description. Green was present in goal but hardly at peak fitness, but that was where the home side's good news ended. There was no sight of the England international defender Upson, the midfield dynamo Noble, nor the robust Cole up front.

If the home fans feared the worst, they were not to be disappointed. Once United had taken the measure of West Ham and understood that individual Red mistakes were the greatest menace to a successful outcome to the match, the slaughter began in earnest.

Scholes, who had prefaced the contest by admitting publicly that he might no longer be good enough for the United first 11, ran proceedings from a deep position. The veteran was ably supported by the enterprise of Gibson, the craft of Giggs, and the energetic bursts of Anderson and Valencia.

Rooney looked, on occasions, to be struggling as United's lone front man, reduced to snap shots from distance but once West Ham began to concede the midfield and defend ever-deeper, the result was never in doubt.

United's first goal, a trademark Scholes bullet from distance, broke Claret and Blue hearts just on the stroke of half time.

United's second, a crisp strike from Gibson topped a flowing demonstration of United's offensive power. Further goals from Valencia and Rooney were accomplished with the ease of training ground manoeuvres against a dispirited home team which looked increasingly for the salvation of the referee's final whistle.

Whilst United's performance left much to admire and was arguably the best of the season, it also underlined a tactical retreat on the part of Sir Alex which augurs well for the future.

Whether by force of injury or design, the manager again abandoned the orthodox 4-4-2 and deployed instead a five-man midfield against West Ham.

The formation looked conservative against limited opposition, but only on paper. United played to their strengths and with the midfield bristling with energy, goals and purpose and Rooney, a willing lone ranger up front, United ran amok.

It is to be hoped that the manager retains the 4-5-1 formation against the string of Premiership middleweights and make-weights they will encounter in league contests over the next two months.

With Nani a ghostly presence these days, Park slipping below the radar, Berbatov still to ignite in Red, and Owen offering little more than brief reminders of his form of five years ago, United's chances of silverware may rest on the manager's willingness to stick with what works.

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