What’s The Matter With … Man Utd without wingers?
Of the big guns in the Premier League, Tottenham aside, there does seem to be a growing shift in moving away from out-and-out wingers and if anything is going to prevent Manchester United winning the title, this may be it.
Since the start of the Premier League era, Sir Alex Ferguson has always had wingers capable of changing games, particularly with pace on the counter attack, namely Andrei Kanchelskis, Ryan Giggs and Cristiano Ronaldo.
He does still have similar options now, but there appears a growing reluctance to call upon Antonio Valencia, Ashley Young or Nani and like other clubs, Sir Alex is tinkering with playing midfielders out wide who traditionally ply their trade more centrally.
Man Utd won at Stamford Bridge earlier this season with Valencia and Young in the wide areas, with the same pairing also involved in the 3-2 win at the Etihad over Man City.
However, with Young injured, Sir Alex has preferred to play Danny Welbeck, Tom Cleverly or Shinji Kagawa wide of late, rather than Valencia, who has lost a bit of spark, or Nani, who seems to be just generally out of favour.
These players can do jobs in these changed roles, but against Tottenham it was obvious that Man Utd lost some major attacking impetus and almost conceded that they were not the best team.
When a team is top of the Premier League, managers should be saying “we are the best, you adapt your game to beat us”.
Although tactical astuteness is becoming a bigger part of the modern game, it was a major surprise that Sir Alex set up to nullify Spurs’ biggest threats, instead of picking the best 11 that played to their strengths.
Phil Jones was picked as a second holding midfielder to offer Rafael added protection in coping with Gareth Bale, while Robin van Persie was often isolated in attack.
The result was that Man Utd only managed two shots on target, their lowest count of the season, and the problem was that they lacked pace in midfield without natural wingers to orchestrate any relevant counter attacks.
Man Utd remain 1/3 to win the Premier League, but their lead at the top may start to eradicate if Sir Alex perseveres with this new look. The hope among the Red Devil fans will be that this was a one-off just to cope with Tottenham’s added threat in the wide areas.
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