Manchester United’s attack took on another guise against Stoke City as Sir Alex Ferguson attempts to find the ideal way of accommodating the offensive options at his disposal. The Scot has hit the headlines regarding his stance on Rio Ferdinand’s decision not to wear a Kick It Out anti-racism T-shirt, but it is the quest to perfect his forward line that will likely give the manager a bigger headache as his side heads into a run of tricky Premier League games.
Ferguson lined up his team on Saturday containing three strikers in a formation that resembled a fairly straightforward 4-4-2, with Danny Welbeck starting out wide on the left. Antonio Valencia stuck to the right wing alongside a central pairing of Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick, leaving Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney with freedom to roam and interchange positions with Welbeck.
The young Englishman poses a threat when coming in from wide positions, but is not consistently effective on the left wing, a position that does not get the most out of his ability to pass and move in tight spaces. The advantage that he does give the side is a fluidity in drifting inside when one of his fellow strikers pulls out wide, as van Persie did in setting up Rooney with a pinpoint cross for United’s equaliser.
Valencia’s threat was realised when he centered for the goal that gave United the lead, with van Persie meeting the ball as all three of United’s strikers looked to get on the end of the Ecuadorian’s wing play. Rooney then turned provider for Welbeck with a devastating cross from the right, who showed a finisher’s instinct to burst into the box and head home, vindicating the manager’s team selection.
Despite Stoke’s impressive start at Old Trafford, the deposed champions will however face sterner tests both in the Premier League and on the continent. Players such as Shinji Kagawa, Tom Cleverley and Anderson will also be looking to break into the side, giving Ferguson options that are perhaps more suited to the diamond formation that was effective in away fixtures against CFR Cluj and Newcastle. The manager is therefore blessed with a number of systems to fall back on, but must hone his players to perform well in and adapt to the different variations.
United head to Stamford Bridge next weekend before hosting Arsenal at Old Trafford, followed by trips to Villa Park and Carrow Road. Champions League fixtures and another tie at Chelsea in the League Cup punctuate a tricky end to the Autumn period for the Reds, who will be hoping that their front players can continue to build their understanding and alleviate the pressure from a defence that is not currently looking steadfast.
As other players return to the fold, Ferguson will be under pressure to select the right combinations to deliver victories to the club. The manager needs to find the ideal solution for imposing his side onto stronger opposition that will be encountered as the season progresses.
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