Sir Alex Ferguson is using diamond formation for the first time in his illustrious 25-year-career at Manchester United. This is a new system completely alien to the playing style of the Old Trafford based club and if it clicks, Sir Alex wishes to persist with it, even going against tradition and history.
Diamond formation is nothing new in modern football. Top clubs across the Europe, the likes of Real Madrid, Inter Milan, and Barcelona have all used this formation in recent years. Even English clubs like Chelsea have used the system before under their previous manager Carlo Ancelotti.
Manchester United embodies the traditional English culture of playing speedy wingers on the flanks and is more comfortable with a 4-4-2 system and its subtle modifications.
Therefore, this is completely new to them and understandably several questions arise now. Why Ferguson all of a sudden has decided to use such a system at Manchester United? What are the possible pros and cons of this formation? And finally, will it at all do any good to The Red Devils in the long run?
The biggest strength of Sir Alex Ferguson is his ability to adapt to the changing times. Probably, that’s why he has been so successful even in modern era where football has evolved by leaps and bounds. After two European Cup final defeats at the hands of Barcelona and last season’s debacle, he probably has felt the need to mould his team away from typical British flavour.
Secondly, this is probably the best system he could adopt with the current resources he has. The Scot doesn’t have any combative midfielder in his ranks, someone like Roy Keane or Patrick Vieira. The midfielders he possesses are mostly ball playing midfielders rather than robust tacklers. This formation allows the deep lying playmakers to dictate the pace of the game without even going for rash tackles.
Manchester United faced problems in the last few seasons against teams playing with high tempo. The deep lying playmakers hardly face comfort facing robust midfielders who with their boisterous energy are always looking to close them down. For example, Tottenham Hotspur played with high tempo and higher up the pitch against Manchester United at Old Trafford and completely dominated the first half.
This formation allows a team to have more ball possession. It was first used against Newcastle in the Capital One Cup tie where Manchester United effectively nullified the combined threats of Cheick Tiote and Yohan Cabaye. That’s why it is ideal for players like Michael Carrick and Paul Scholes who love to dictate the tempo of the game from deep, without making nasty tackles.
So far Rooney has been deployed at the top of the diamond apex supporting two strikers up front, while the sides of the diamond are usually taken up by Cleverley, Anderson, Fletcher or even Valencia. Shinji Kagawa remains the only enigma. The former Dortmund player loves to play at the hole. It is where he delivers his best for the club and everywhere he has played so far. On the other hand, Rooney can equally play as a striker beside Dutchman Robin van Persie but he brings so much to the game when playing behind the strikers that curtailing his creative role won’t be a good option for Ferguson.
Perhaps the biggest test will come when the Red Devils will face a side playing 4-3-3 which is yet to be tested. A team with an efficient three man midfield can exploit the gaps. However, it does not spell the end of the traditional 4-4-2 completely but surely it will definitely help make Sir Alex’s side an unpredictable force, especially in Europe.
Since, this formation negates the role of traditional wingers, it helps the full backs to get closer to the central defenders as a result of which the defence gets hardly stretched and scoring goals becomes difficult at times.
To conclude, this is a welcome relief from the traditional 4-4-2 system. Manchester United have produced so many great wingers over the years – the likes of Best, Beckham, Giggs and Ronaldo etc – this may come as a surprise but that’s only a part of the evolutionary process and Sir Alex Ferguson is the last person on earth you would expect to shy away from adapting to newer tactics.