While Dimitar Berbatov’s talent has never been in doubt – at least for those supporters of the more patient bent – the player’s role in the Manchester United squad has been routinely questioned. At times Berbatov has seemed the right player, in the wrong club. No longer, with seven goals already this season.
Indeed, the Bulgarian’s outstanding form may cause Sir Alex Ferguson to reconsider his strategy this season when United faces the toughest of challenges, especially in Europe. It’s a question that Ferguson must answer next week, when United travel to Valencia for the first away Champions League fixture of the season.
While Ferguson has vigorously defended the player – he could hardly do otherwise – the manager selected Berbatov to start just once in 10 Champions League matches last season. The player made it off the bench on just five occasions as Wayne Rooney plundered 34 goals in all competitions.
Moreover, for the first time in Berbatov’s career, he started less than 30 matches in all competitions last season. Form and, perhaps more importantly, Ferguson’s tactical approach in deploying Rooney as a lone striker, and not injury, was the cause of Berbatov’s under-use.
While Berbatov’s output in his two seasons at United to date can be brought into question, United’s weaknesses have also prompted Ferguson to deploy three central midfielders in many games. This is especially true away from home, in Europe or against what the Scot considers the toughest opposition.
The United manger’s change of heart this season has resulted in United deploying two strikers in all but one fixture – away to Everton at Goodison Park just over a week ago when Rooney was dropped during the ongoing ‘hooker-gate’ media coverage.
However, in all probability Ferguson’s about-face will change once again when United faces more challenging tasks in the season ahead – starting with Valencia next Wednesday.
What then of Berbatov’s role alongside Wayne Rooney spearheading United’s attack? Hardly known as an impact substitute, Berbatov has thrived this season in starting each of United’s five Premier League fixtures.
When United travel to Valencia something has to give: Ferguson’s typical three-man midfield for a European fixture, Rooney’s place in the team, or indeed, Berbatov’s. It is almost inconceivable that Ferguson will drop the Scouser.
The question remains then: will Ferguson be ready to leave out his leading scorer, risk deploying Paul Scholes in a two-man central midfield away from home, or fudge the issue by pushing Rooney into an unfavourable left-sided role?
With Antonio Valencia injured until at least February, the temptation to push Rooney wide in a 4-3-3 system must be strong, even though it will inevitably blunt the former Evertonian’s goal output. After all, Rooney may have just one club goal since he injured an ankle against Bayern Munich in March but the devastating output of United’s number 10 is only a scoring burst away.
Away from home the system so often had the effect of nullifying Rooney’s better qualities when it was used liberally through the 2008/9 season. The sight of United’s talisman covering Patrice Evra at left back is one central defenders of the world must enjoy the most.
The alternative is to invite Valencia – or any future opposition of strength – to outnumber United’s midfield in 10 days time; it’s a risk that Ferguson has so rarely taken over the past 18 months.
Of course that analysis says much of United’s strength-of-depth in central midfield. While there is no doubting Scholes’ genius, his ability to play Saturday-Wednesday is limited and the relevant stats show that not only does the flame-haired midfielder run less distance than before but his average position is now squarely within the centre circle.
United, effectively, plays with neither a traditional holding player nor creative force in the final third. It’s a problem Ferguson has recognised but through choice or necessity has managed by deploying an addition body in midfield more often than not. It’s a system the manager will almost certainly revert to again this season.
With Berbatov is such wonderful form, the manager will now be forced to decide what – or whom – to sacrifice for the cause.
23 thoughts on “Dimi’s form creates tactical headache”
Nah, just pass the ball to the bulgarian, and he will do the rest
This is why Sir Alex gets paid the big bucks. I don’t envy him having to make these decisions at all. How could he think of leaving out Berbatov and risk blunting the striker’s confidence and form? But how could he contemplate leaving out Rooney? And he must know that playing a 4-4-2 against quality opposition is suicide. At this point in time, moving Rooney to another position seems like the best of a very poor set of options. I’m wondering if Rooney wouldn’t be better deployed as a central midfielder – one meant to support the lone striker – rather than as a left wing?
Good point. Rooney’s versatility seems the most likely aspect to be considered. I’ve always thought Rooney could play as a playmaker/support striker depending on whether we have possesion or not. As such, we’ll have five in midfield when we cede possesion and revert to two strikers with Rooney joining Berb in attack, relieving Fletcher from having to run from deep all the time. Seems the most viable option as it will utilise Rooney’s technique and won’t neccesarily curtail his attacking input. As you said, its a sad sight seeing Rooney cover Pat.
First of all… Ferguson has no one to blame but himself for this problem… had he spent the neccessaries to bring in a quality midfielder, (or 2)… 4-4-2 might not be as risky.
Also… if he’d have put a bit more faith in the twins, they might be more prepared to support a 4-3-3, to offer the width, without neglecting their defensive duties.
Maybe Anderson has been impressing in training and Fergie will use him in a 4-3-3 with Fletcher and, ummmm Park/Gibson… oh blimey…
I’m in agreement with Don Pablo. Stick Rooney in an advanced midfield position behind Berba and have him drop back to crowd the midfield when needed. He’s perfect at harrassing the player on the ball and has enough energy to do that for most of the game. Will probably then see Park and Nani on the wings with Scholes and Fletch alongside Rooney in the middle.
i’m with ‘don pablos’ line of thinking… play 451 with wazza playing centrally behind berba in a mid fieldish role which varies depending on possession.
a 442 will not be all that bad either, if park (key on the defenisve end in european away matches) starts alongside scholes/anderson, fletcher and nani in the middle. i think its workable. this is not gonig to be that big an issue.
I think the best solution would be to play 4-5-1 with Rooney in the number 10 role, almost a 4-4-1-1. Rooney is perhaps the only player who has the skill set to match a young Scholes with his energy, passing, dribbling and shooting.
Bill – lots of people want this. Almost the role Rooney made his name as, the one he plays for England. Fergie really hasn’t deployed Rooney as a number 10 for years though, has he? Doesn’t seem to trust him in the role. Looking at the heatmaps Rooney and Berbatov both playing high up the pitch. Fergie has spoken about number 10 role being wrong for Berba and I agree. We’re now getting the best out of him as a principal striker. But we did the same last season with Rooney too… and that’s a dilemma.
basically fergies put together a fucking mess of a squad and its not possible to have one player in either attack or midfield on form without fucking about with all the others
Am I the only one who yearns for a return to the halcyon days of 2006-2008 where we didn’t really have to think in such rigid formational terms? Where Rooney, Ronaldo, Tevez, Nani, Park, Giggs et al interchanged positions so freely that they became almost impossible to pick up. Now if you stick Rooney (or Berba) in the traditional 10 role, I can just see them getting badgered by an anchor man all game
I suppose sometimes we get caught up in formations, but maybe giving Rooney a free role might be the way forward?
I would play this team comfortably against any team and rotate the Scholes position between Scholes, Anderson and Carrick. The Giggs position can be rotated between himself and Park:
Van der Sar
O’Shea, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra
Nani, Fletcher, Scholes, Giggs
Van der Sar
O’Shea, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra
Park, Fletcher, Carrick, Nani
Why do you think Chicharito will not play?
I think it’s going to be Rangers’ variant with a different bench.
One solution to this problem may be playing 442 but with Ando on the left of midfield. Ando would do his best to tuck in and help the central players, Fletch and Scholes, and prevent them being outnumbered in midfield. Evra would have to get forward as much as possible to ensure that we still have some width on the left and we’re not lop-sided. This would be a dangerous tactic against a team with an attacking right full-back.
However, realistically I think Fergie will go for 433 and play Rooney on the left. Or 4411 with Rooney in the hole but with orders to shut down the opposition’s DM at every opportunity.
Totally agree that Fergie should have found a solution to this problem in the summer.
By all means, play Park on the left (but only if you’re comfortable with United being restricted to attacking down the right flank).
My best 11 and bench at present:
WB RF NV PE
RG PS DF LN
This is the best option imo.
Wingbacks supporting a midfield 3 of Anderson, Scholes and Fletcher
With Rooney Berba Nani upfront.
Exciting line up imo.
Fergie is just gonna play 442 more since it worked against the worst Liverpool team in years
He’s got an excuse now
The article is spot on. It’s not United’s attack that is problematic…it is the midfield. Same thing happened when Keane was ageing and we ended up with Van Nistelroy alone up front. Now it’s happening again. Even if an exceptionally talented player like Rooney has an excellent season (like last year) it’s just not enough to land trophies-except the Micket Mouse Cup! Berbatov is a brilliant player but has his limitations: having 2 central defenders glued to his arse is not his ideal situation. Play another striker around him, giving him the extra space and he’s efficient. And this year we can see desire inhis play as well. However, this won’t last. As soon as Scholes tire, we’ll revert to 3 man midfield and the only option would be to play Rooney up front. What can you achieve with poor central midfielders like Carrick(who has given up playing football), Gibson (anyone who thinks he’s United quality is delusional!), Anderson (can’t decide what he’ll do with his life yet), Hargreaves (perpetually injured)? And we are led to believe that there is nothing to sort out..we may not be football genuises but we aren’t silly either!
Berbatov needs 4-4-2. He has to play behind someone. And that someone shouldn’t be Rooney cos so far he’s been crap. Either he gets his personal stuff in order and some confidence back or lets flog the horny cunt to RM.
I’m not joking. He’s a lightweight striker and all he’s done so far are some good long range passes. Not enough. Bad form = bench time. The one match that could have worked him up enough to get over his comma was against Everton and they sat him so as not to confront raging Evertonians. Well if he can stick his cock in the he can take any stick and be a man. That must have been one of the worst decisions ever by SAF.
i like you, you speak sense
pls join the forum, i think you’ll fit in
Careful Fazal… I think you’re being groomed.