You know the face. You know the man. You’ve heard the speculation, we all have. Wesley Sneijder. You may be sick of hearing that name.
Whatever your thoughts on the matter, whatever your views on his compatibility with United (I myself summed up my doubts in a June article on this very site), whatever you feel about the price and his age, there is no denying that the diminutive Dutchman is class. World class, in fact. But he remains, essentially, a classic trequartista, and that is where many doubts have arisen.
Here, I will attempt to assess just how United could play him and will try to answer the question many have wondered: “How do you solve a problem like Sneijder?”
The first way in which Sneijder could be deployed would not require a change of system from the end of last season. In this variation, United would play the familiar 4-4-1-1 formation, with Rooney deployed just behind Hernandez and Sneijder merely slotting into one of the central midfield berths.
However, whilst this wouldn’t require a formation change, there are several problems. Sneijder has always been most effective in his career when absolved of defensive responsibilities. In this formation, he couldn’t just roam the field, and would have to have a sense of defensive as well as offensive duties. In this formation, I could see United being over-run in the centre of midfield, especially away from home, as Sneijder would be unwilling to track back.
In this variation of the system, Rooney would revert to his role of 09/10, playing as a lone frontman. In this formation, Sneijder would play in a free role behind Rooney, creating and, hopefully, scoring goals, safe in the knowledge that Carrick and Fletcher were handling all defensive responsibilities behind him. His incisive promptings would release Valencia and Young as well as creating chance after chance for Rooney.
However, for me, the main problem with this idea is that it means dropping Hernandez, a man who had a stunning debut season in England, and breaking up his blossoming partnership with Rooney, something I’m sure Sir Alex will not have considered. For me, the Rooney-Hernandez partnership is the future and should not be broken up.
An intriguing tactical prospect, this formation would see Sneijder, despite being in the defensive midfield two, pushing forward, where he would interchange with Rooney and Young, a nightmare for opposing midfielders and defenders who would have no idea who to mark as the three constantly rotated. All three are positionally astute and could move at will from position to position. Factor in Hernandez’s movement and this formation promises goals by the bucketload, while also allowing Sir Alex’s men to dominate possession and play the measured passing game that has seemingly been slowly adopted since the sale of Ronaldo.
A problem with this is that the final third of the pitch might become simply too congested, with five players in central areas inter-changing and constantly on the move. The United attackers might actually get in each other’s way, constantly filling the space in which Rooney and Sneijder love to operate.
This formation is perhaps the most challenging (but also the most interesting), as it attempts to emulate United’s conquerors in Rome and at Wembley, a Barca side many are calling the finest ever. Carrick would play in the Busquets role, sitting in front of the back four and plying short, sharp, simple passes. Rooney and Sneijder would play in the Xavi and Iniesta roles, as United’s focus changed to holding possession of the ball, dominating the play and waiting for the perfect moment to strike. In this system, Valencia and Young would provide width, as would Evra and Rafael.
However, while this system seems appealing, I would not like to see it used by United, for several reasons, chief among which is that it seems to betray United’s heritage of playing with genuine widemen (Young and Valencia play, but further forward). Also, this formation certainly wouldn’t get the most out of United’s abundance of wingers and, if Sir Alex intended to use this system, it is my firm belief that he would not have signed Ashley Young.
Wesley Sneijder is a world class player, and it would be a joy to watch him week after week at Manchester United. However, I have doubts about whether he could fit into United’s current way of playing, and here I have suggested several ways in which the talented Dutchman could be deployed. In my opinion, the 4-2-3-1 described above would be the best system for United to use should Sneijder join. In fact, even if Sneijder does not join, I believe that United may adopt more of a 4-2-3-1 next season anyway, with Phil Jones potentially playing in place of Sneijder in the team shown above.
I am certainly not the man to choose United’s tactics, and here have simply tried to give some idea of potential systems that could be used should Sneijder join.