Seven league games down the line and the new-look United have exposed their supporters to a wide spectrum of performances, from orgasmic to anti-climatic within weeks. Sir Alex has seen the summit stolen from their clutches as the other team from Manchester enjoys their time under the sun. Ita��s not as though Fergie would be losing any sleep over Citya��s two point lead at the top, nor should he at this embryonic stage of the season. However there could be need of some introspection closer to home, perhaps.

After the swashbuckling and awe-inspiring initial few weeks of the season that saw the Red Devils gather accolades from supporters and critics alike, there has been an apparent drop in quality – the a�?X Factora��. Fergusona��s United have now played ten games in total this season including the League, Carling cup and Champions League fixtures and with six wins and four draws, no one can really fault with the end results. Ita��s not as though Fergiea��s sides have been abysmal and been battered left, right and center, but thata�?s not how things work at Old Trafford anyways – small chinks are analyzed and tiny wrinkles need ironing out.

Last season too United were clinical in their approach often punching above their weight and getting results with sheer resolve and grit even though the performances left a lot to be desired. But the second half showing at Wembley in this seasona��s Charity Shield against Mancinia��s Citizens sprang a million buds of hopes among the United fan base, and the cocoons bust into tiny butterflies of imaginations as the Red Devils continued on their mesmerizing brand of football.


Cleverley and Anderson


The supporters were buzzing with excitement and anticipation before every matchday as Arsene Wengera��s Gunners were made to look as ordinary as a pub side. Fergusona��s red army had hit a purple patch although if one looked closely there were question marks emerging at the back with the shot against count rising alarmingly.

Now with the subsequent games showing up Uniteda��s frailties in defense and furthermore the cost of playing expansive football, Ferguson opted for more assured and sedate approach in the North-West derby, excising the need for serenity rather than the gung-ho approach of the initial weeks.

Although the rather sterile and perhaps negative outlook got the Old Trafford club an important point, there seemed a lot of discontent among the fans, possibly displeasure if anything else at not having a real go at their hated rivals. The gaffera��s team selection rose more than a few eyebrows and although the reasoning behind the cautious approach was well documented, fans would rather have their team play beautiful football than sit back and absorb the pressure.

For Sir Alex the dilemma is two-fold – attack with caution and defend without losing the cutting edge. To put it simply, it is about finding the right mix and unearth the perfect balance.

The impending return of Tom Cleverley and Nemanja Vidic

Ita��s no secret that the Red Devils hit top gear with youngsters Tom Cleverley and Anderson sharing the midfield responsibility. Although at the start of the season the pairing wouldna��t have been first choice in the minds of the supporters, their pairing seemed to gel and the duo brought out the best in the other.

Cynics would argue that the sample size wasna��t large enough to test the credentials of the pairing and maybe we are jumping the gun a bit, but on the showing Anderson seemed to flourish with Cleverleya��s presence alongside him and vice versa. The young Englishman, Cleverley is perhaps the most mobile central midfield player in United first team at the moment and always provides an option for the likes of Anderson to pass, by making himself available all the time.

Although his best work has undoubtedly been done near the oppositiona��s penalty area, Cleverley doesna��t shy away from his defensive duties. Anderson would pull the strings from deep as Tom linked up with the strikers and wide men with deadly effect. Defensively the duo took turns to help their team out and in general United saw the ball for larger periods, retained it well and in dangerous positions.

Right now, the preferred Ando-Fletcher combination seems a wee bit disjointed to put it mildly, offensively Fletcher doesna��t offer much and Anderson too hasna��t done wonders lately. Ita��s rather unfair to blame one for the failings of the other, as a combination though, the duo have flattered to deceive at best. The much-criticized Michael Carrick has seen his game-time reduced lately even though his performances, first against Bolton at the Reebok and then against Basel at Old Trafford was fair enough. Carrick usually comes into his own as the season progresses and that should come as a relief for the fans and the manager going forward.


First team for the home games, 4-4-1-1 with the Ando-Cleverley axis


With captain Vidica��s comeback imminent, Uniteda��s defensive woes are bound to ease. There isna��t a better out-and-out defender out there on the British shores and perhaps not even off it. Right Back Rafael has started training as well and that should serve as another fillip.

At Old Trafford Ferguson would more than likely go for the juggler against even the toughest of oppositions as illustrated by his selection against the Gunners and Villas Boasa�� Chelsea . 4-4-2 with attack-minded wingers, galloping fullbacks and a midfield combo that errs on the side of aggression than caution would perhaps be the order of the day.

Clearly, Ando and Cleverley have to be at the heart of a side with ambitions to outplay and outscore the opposition.

Tough away trips in the league and European games

Away from the comforts of Old Trafford and at daunting venues like Anfield, Etihad Stadium et al, United will look to be more compact. Silence the partisan home crowd, get into the match and give it their almighty go in the final stages.

As much as the fans would like their side to try and attack the opposition in their own backyard, one must not lose sight of the quality our rivals have in their ranks. There are a lot of good sides in the Premier League and on their own turf you cana��t just play them off the park. Similarly in European competitions, especially in the later stages, there would be a case of adding steel to the lineup and shifting the focus from outscoring to outmaneuvering the opposition.

Sir Alex would perhaps look to switch to a 4-5-1 yet again as he did last weekend at Merseyside in bigger battles that lay ahead. However unlike the game against Liverpool, United cannot afford to look so blunt and devoid of any real creativity while shifting to a single striker formation. It has to be said that the balance didna��t seem right as Danny Welbeck didna��t receive enough support from midfield and wide men for large durations of the contest.

Wayne Rooneya��s absence from the starting lineup could possibly have been another factor in Uniteda��s disjointed look. Ita��s fair to say that if and when Fergusona��s decides to go with a lone man upfront Rooney would be his preferred choice. Ryan Giggs has often been handed over the role of the floater behind the lone man upfront and although the veteran Welshman has had his moments, United need to look for a better option.

Tom Cleverley could yet again come in handy in this role; he has all the tools needed to be a perfect foil to Rooney and the duo could work well in tandem. Anderson should fill in the play makera��s role from deep, this will give him the chance to use his passing skills and also go on his customary runs from midfield. Michael Carrick or Darren Fletcher would be an ideal foil for the dynamism of the Brazilian and would help shield the back four from getting overrun.

As far as the wide attackers go, Luis Nani should be nailed on for the right wing on most occasions, he is one stand-out player, and a match-winner in his own right. Although Valenciaa��s industry and Parka��s sheer grit and determination comes in handy against opposition wide players.


Possible X1 for those tough away days


Ferguson knows better than anyone about the players at his disposal and the qualities of each individual in his ranks. At times though getting the perfect blend could potentially be the most difficult task even for the great Scot himself. As the Manchester Derby approaches bigger and enormous than it has ever been, Ferguson would yet again find himself with a few difficult questions to answer, butA�nothing that he hasna��t already faced or replied to before. Trust the gaffer to find the solution and change the game in his favor. No need for panic but certainly some food for thought.

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