If William Shakespeare were to deliver a discourse on football tactics (and there is no evidence to suggest he never did), his opening gambit would surely be ai???Whatai??i??s in a formation? That which we call a 4-4-1-1 could easily be represented as a 4-2-3-1ai???. Formations are simply a way of representing a playerai??i??s position in reference to his teammates. It is the playerai??i??s role that is of importance ai??i??to the team, to the manager and to the spectators.

When we talk of Manchester United, the mind conjures up images of flying wingers, 2 central midfielders, an attacking midfielder (trequartista) and an out-and-out striker. Think Eric Cantona and the heydays of the early 90ai??i??s or David Beckham supplying Ruud Van Nistelrooy with a pinpoint cross from his traditional wide right position. It is not difficult to comprehend, nor is it an overstatement to say that Man United have exploited the 4-4-2 more than any of their English counterparts.

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But 4-4-2 hasnai??i??t always been Sir Alexai??i??s go-to formation. He may not be regarded as a tactical chameleon, but after 25+ years at United, it is safe to assume that Sir Alex knows the best side and shape to play with, with the players at hand. Exceptional talents have, at times, forced Fergieai??i??s hand and led to the United team lining up in a less conventional way. Cristiano Ronaldoai??i??s 42-goal season is the perfect example of one player dictating the teamai??i??s structure.

There is also a school of thought that believes that the 1995-96 title-winning side’s formation, consisting of Cantona, Giggs, Sharpe, Keane and Butt, could be best described be as a 4-2-3-1. And when you look closer, itai??i??s easy to see why. Giggs and Sharpe were not wide midfielders, but traditional wingers who looked to break forward and supply crosses from advanced positions. Keane and Butt were the midfield generals, sitting deeper, breaking up play and moving the ball forward. Cantona was the last piece of this jigsaw, playing between the oppositionai??i??s midfield and defence. If one were to pen down these observations on a blank canvas, would it not turn out to be a 4-2-3-1 by todayai??i??s standards?

Tactical innovation has always been present at Manchester United, lurking in the shadows of its more conspicuous cousins, Quick, fast-paced attacks and efficient yet solid defending. During the successful 2006-09 period, Man United often lined-up with Ronaldo, Rooney and Tevez as theAi??front-menAi??with all three given the license to interchange and roam freely. Sir Alex rightly understood that restricting the above mentioned trio to specific positions on the field would amount to a criminal under-use of their abilities. He set them free from the shackles of a rigid team structure, and they soared.

Ferguson and United will be back stronger and better next season!

What will be Alex Ferguson's master-plan?

Manchester United

The notion that Man United has always played a 4-4-2 is a misnomer, as we have seen United play many different formations over the last few years. At the same time, traditional wingers will always have a place at Old Trafford because there is simply no substitute for quality crossing and dribbling. The competitiveness of modern football ensures that all teams must have various playing styles or risk being predictable and second-guessed. As a result, versatile players are the need of the hour and will be highly sought after.

On Shinji Kagawa And Nick Powell

It must have come as pleasant surprise to its fans when Manchester United announced the official signing of Japanese international Shinji Kagawa from Bundesliga champions Borussia Dortmund on 22nd June 2012. Itai??i??s not usual for Manchester United to do transfer-business so early on in the window, and when they do, itai??i??s usually a young prospect signed for the future. True, the rumour-mill was already abuzz with news of Kagawa heading to Old Trafford, but you donai??i??t believe it till you see it.

Nick Powell is a more traditional United signing, an 18-year old attacking midfielder signed for the future. Talented as he is, it will be a huge surprise to see Powell in the first team straightaway. A loan move to a Premier League team would be an ideal scenario for him.

So what does the 23-year Shinji Kagawa bring to the table? A mobile, explosive yet creative presence in the final third is what United sorely lack, and Kagawa checks all the boxes. Quick, two-footed , with a keen eye for a killer-ball and a proven goal-scoring track-record, Kagawa should not find it too difficult to break into the first team. Once again, the question isnai??i??t where will he play but what role he will take up.

Man Unitedai??i??s Achilles Heel In The Last Two Seasons

If the last 2 seasons are anything to go by, United once again proved they are ‘flat-track bullies’; in that they found it easier to play against sides technically inferior to them. It was against quality sides that United struggled to get going, mainly because the opposition figured out a way to choke Unitedai??i??s main creative outlet in the final third ai??i?? Wayne Rooney. This resulted in the central midfielders having to take on the creative burden and push forward, leaving huge gaps in front of a young and inexperienced defense. With no designated defensive midfielder, or spoiler if you will, to screen the back four, opponents could easily break forward in numbers and overwhelm the defense.

The game-plan was out there for everyone to see. Surround Rooney and choke the supply, force United to overcompensate thereby opening up space and kill them on the counter.The 3-0 tonking at the hands of Newcastle at the start of 2012 is the right match to see this game-plan being executed flawlessly. Tiote, Gutierrez and Cabayeai??i??s tireless running and pressing unhinged Unitedai??i??s ageing midfield and with Rooney covered, Newcastle could play a direct game with their two big strikers upfront.

Kagawa In The David Silva Role?

Kagawa is best utilized playing ai???in the holeai???, a position that is already occupied at Old Trafford. As a few Youtube clips will undoubtedly prove, Kagawaai??i??s bread and butter is collecting the ball between the lines and slipping through a neat pass to the wide men or the striker. But what if this threat were to come not from the centre, but from the flanks? For Japan, Kagawa often starts out wide left since Keisuke Honda is the designated trequartista for the national team. His natural game with the ball is to drift to the centre, where he combines with Honda for Japan.

Shinji Kagawa - In the David Silva role?

Manchester United

With a host of continental sides (Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, B. Dortmund) moving to a 4-2-3-1 successfully, it will not be a surprise to see Kagawa start on either side of Rooney in the attacking band of ai???3ai???. Sir Alex might have to sacrifice a winger for an attacking midfielder, but it makes sense. A double trequartista threat is the most sensible way to break down stubborn defenses. The opposition holding midfielder can no longer concentrate only on Rooney and man-mark him – Kagawaai??i??s threat would be too serious to leave unattended. And with his natural drift to the centre, Kagawa, in tandem with Rooney, would effectively be creating an overload on the opposition midfielders, forcing them back and giving his own fullbacks space to motor into.

If you were to cast an eye across town and examine Manchester Cityai??i??s title winning squad, the above mentioned observations hold true, to a point. City has taken it to another level, by replacing both wingers with attacking midfielders. Silva and Nasri both like to play centrally after starting out wide, Aguero likes to drop back and drift out to the wings and Dzeko/Balotelli is the target man. Dare we say it, but itai??i??s possible that Sir Alex might have drawn inspiration from those noisy neighbours!

Anticipating The Start Of Next Season

In conclusion, the 4-4-2 is not dead at Old Trafford. No, far from it. There will be times when having 2 strikers on the field will be more important than one. But for succeeding in the Champions League, it may not be enough and hence, variety in attack will be crucial.Ai??The signings of Kagawa and Powell may not necessarily herald in a new age of attacking football, but will be a throwback to the 2007 and 2008 seasons. With versatile players like Young, Nani and Rooney already at the club, the arrival of this talented duo will add to Unitedai??i??s options and allow Sir Alex to be flexible with his team.What this might result in is a fluid front four (Welbeck up top), capable of exchanging places and creating a mess of the opponents marking schema. They will also bring in some much-needed energy and mobility and we might get used to seeing a Man United team pressing the opposition and trying to win the ball higher up the pitch.

Quick, attacking football ai??i?? but with a dash of Tactical nous.

~ Written by Parth ~

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8 Responses to “Manchester United Corner : How Will Shinji Kagawa Fit In?”

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  1. P says:

    Really good article. Thank you

  2. scribe says:

    There are still too many unknowns for me. Kagawa’s effectiveness on the left is questionable and a well known conundrum in Japan. Contrary to the optimistic outcry you hear in the west on how “Kagawa can play on the left for their national team”, they have yet to figure out how to tap into Kagawa’s ability in that position.

    So why do they play Kagawa there, I hear you ask. 2 reasons. First, Honda is too good in the middle and their side is built around him. Second, Kagawa is arguably their best player (or second best after Honda) so they are obliged to have them both on the pitch. Moreover, they don’t really have a proper left winger.

    United have no such problems. In terms of the overall effectiveness of deploying somebody on the left, Kagawa is a step down from the existing wide players. Everybody is overestimating Kagawa’s ability on the left. There is only 1 position where Kagawa would already be the best player at United, and that’s behind the striker. In every other position he would be the second best, or likely worse. Then the question everybody has been asking emerges: what about Rooney? Or more to the point, Welbeck?

    So this puzzle is far from finished.

    • Parth says:

      You are spot on with your comment. The article was simply a theory put forward, not a definitive answer. Only Fergie knows, and since we are not likely to get an answer from him, conjecture and optimism seem to be our next best options.

      Like you said, It will be very interesting to see how Kagawa settles in and is allowed to operate, without disturbing the rest of the side.

  3. Aravind says:

    I am so excited to see how our warm-up games go on and what tactical approach will be put forth by Sir Alex. But based upon the above theory, it looks like we will have enough wingers warming the bench (Nani, Young, Park, Giggs and Valencia (occasionally can be used as Attacking defender)). I am still worried about our mid-field.
    Anderson – Not sure when he will be fit. Looks like another Owen Hage in mould. Even if he is on field, his previous energetic runs, passes and one touch balls are missing. Letting the ball back to opponent is what seen. I think Barcelona totally chocked him in the Champions league final in 2009. He has not recovered his moral boost after that..
    Tom Cleverly – showed lot of promise in early 2011. Got into miserable injury spells..hope he will be again to his best
    Michael Carrick – Aging legs. Still has the vision to provide passes. But lack of goal from mid-fielder, very worrying part. Most worrying of his midfield is majority of his balls passes are more accurate to his team defenders rather than to his wingers or to strikers. But still saw some improvement in 2011 session.
    Scholes – No words to describe. But his battery charge is less. Already missing his strong tackles and thunders strike toward opposition goal. Can miss of such in coming session also.
    Fletcher – Not sure, when he will return. Even If he does so, can we expect same Fletcher ? big question mark.
    And all our remaining mid-fielders are without much match experience (Pogba, Norwood and lot to add)
    Even in one way I am happy with Kajawa arrival can see different approach how he play behind our strikers, sad on our strikers are going to warm up the bench also. But I except 1 or 2 singing in mid-field. I don’t except any high profile signing like spending millions and millions to get player, atleast a signing a quality player who is going hold the midfield and pass the ball up front not back to our defenders.
    Let see how Sir Alex put his plan on.

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