Man Utd Focus - Reds' defence tightens up as Ferguson deploys diamond formation
Manchester United recovered from the setback of a home defeat against Tottenham to record an excellent 3-0 victory over Newcastle at St James' Park. The defensive problems that were in evidence against Spurs were eased thanks to stronger performances throughout United's backline, coupled with Sir Alex Ferguson's narrow diamond formation that gave added protection to the defence, partly through its attacking intent.
Rio Ferdinand, in the spotlight following his omission from the England squad, turned in an excellent performance that brings into question the wisdom of his continued absence from the national side. The 33-year-old was superb at Anfield in United's recent victory over rivals Liverpool, and was impressive once again in another difficult away fixture. England travel to Warsaw next week to take on a dangerous Poland side, a game in which Ferdinand's experience could have proved useful.
Ferguson will be delighted however that his centre-back does not have to contend with the added rigours of international duty, and now has a two week break to ready himself for a run of league games that includes a trip to Stamford Bridge and a home clash against Arsenal. The manager will also be delighted with the performance of opening goal scorer Jonny Evans alongside Ferdinand, with both players providing real presence at the back.
Additionally, Patrice Evra and Rafael da Silva were much improved from the previous league outing against Spurs, having both completed 90 minutes of Champions League action against CFR Cluj during midweek. The midfield unit was narrower thanks to a lack of starting wingers, which could have adversely affected the full-backs who are used to having wide players in front of them. The change in formation was effectively adapted to however, and United benefitted from packing the middle of the pitch and dictating play for much of the game.
Ferguson successfully deployed a diamond in midfield against Cluj, and decided to do so again at the Sports Direct Arena. The danger against the Magpies lay in the threat represented by Demba Ba and Papiss Cissé in getting on the end of crosses, as the Reds' narrow midfield enabled Newcastle to make use of the space out wide. It was a tactic the home side tried to make the most of by attempting almost 40 crosses into the box, but despite a couple of scares, United generally stood firm and kept the clean sheet.
The strong base that the defence built was capitalised upon by the playmaking abilities of the visitors' forward players, which took the game to the opponent and the pressure off the defence. The likes of Michael Carrick, Shinji Kagawa and Tom Cleverley are all comfortable on the ball, whilst Danny Welbeck was supported by the hard-working Wayne Rooney at the head of the diamond, and a dangerously roaming Robin van Persie.
The formation could also see Paul Scholes pushed further forward when in the team, closer to the position in which he began his career, but poses the problem of where to fit Antonio Valencia in the side, one of United's star performers over the past few campaigns.
It appears though that the diamond could feature prominently for United this season, especially in Europe where control of the midfield area is vital. Ferguson has the players at his disposal to make the system work, whilst indulging the old adage that attack is the best form of defence.
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