Hands up who plays second guess Sir Alex on match days? Or even before match days? Come on, let’s see those hands. We all do it. For some there’s actually a betting league based on how many of Sir Alex’s XI chosen you predicted. For others it’s a chance to moan that he’s lost it, referring to a particular player being in/out. Of course what usually happens is the player you’ve moaned about has a belter and every RT’s you.
This next few hundred words is going to be based entirely on what I’d like, and in no way based on being “in the know”, it’s an un-educated guess you might say.
Against Madrid I’d like to see wingers with a difference. Not inverted wingers like Silva and Nasri. Not False Wingers like Stewart Downing. I’m thinking young, feisty, aggressive, attacking players who can beat a man, stick in a cross, press high up the pitch but have the energy and application to track back and support their full back, to offer greater solidity.
I want to see full backs as wingers. There, I said it. I want to use at least 6 defenders against Madrid. Call me a pussy but that’s what I’d love to see. I say at least because after his last two performances at centre mid I’d consider putting Jones in as well.
It’s worked before, against Arsenal a few years ago the twins played the wings and John O’Shea helped to run the midfield. It was a game where injuries and rotation forced the hand of Sir Alex, but a game United won comfortably – looking completely secure when defending and counter attacking with alarming speed and frequency.
I’d argue we’re now in a similar situation. Young is injured, Giggs is old enough to be some WAG’s grandfather – not that it stops him picking out some magnificent passes still – would you want him starting against Madrid? Nani, well Nani is an enigma wrapped in a mystery but he’s not played regularly for a while or impressed for longer.
Lastly, there’s Tony V, who you could argue is the most injured of the lot because he’s got an injury of confidence. Being a one trick pony is fine when it’s a really good one trick and you don’t just believe you can win your battle with the full back – but you know you’ll destroy them. That was the old Antonio Valencia. Whatever has happened to his confidence, I only hope it recovers soon, because Marcello isn’t the full back for it to stay missing against.
Since our wingers have been fairly redundant for one reason or another lately, others have had to provide the width, unorthodoxly that’s been Kagawa, Welbeck and Rooney sometimes drifting, but mostly it’s been the full backs bombing forward. For all the doubts about Evra defensively, and some have been raised, he has covered up a gaping lack of width at times this season with fantastic runs and some genuinely quality end product. Rafael is a box to box marvel, and looks considerably more confident of beating his man than Valencia down the right. He’s also more confident coming in side and can play the ball to an extent with his left foot.
Now you could argue that the way United lined up against Spurs will probably be how they’ll go against Madrid, certainly in shape even if personnel change, but given the number of chances Spurs had, even with some great defending, I’d be worried against Madrid and that wand of Ronaldo’s. There’s nothing to say that doubling up full backs would stop Madrid creating anything, they’re far too good a team for that, and I’m not advocating backs to the wall because that leaves you vulnerable to counter attack and away goals at home.
But I do genuinely believe that a lineup that has Rafael at right wing ahead of Smalling or Jones stands far more chance of getting a result against Madrid. Whether Buttner should get the left slot would depend entirely on giving him at least a game there against Fulham and seeing how he looked – he certainly seems to have confidence in his game, even if defensively suspect, something that wouldn’t be an issue at left wing as he’d still be far more competent than most at defending from that position.
With greater protection on the wings, Madrid would be forced into a congested centre of the pitch, where a packed midfield and the solid defensive unit of Vidic and Ferdinand can, with the help of Carrick limit Madrid’s chances. Counter attacks against United would be less of an issue as the two would provide genuine width, meaning Smalling/Jones & Evra would have less need to push forward, and Buttner and Rafael are used to bombing back when an attack breaks down.
If Buttner is considered too soon, too defensive a line-up, or just not quite good enough yet to play Madrid then having Kagawa or Rooney on the left and drifting in is an option, if the correct protection is given to Evra by the CM’s if Ramos pushes forward. Having both full backs as wingers means that with RVP a certain pick up front, and the Carrick & Cleverley partnership working like a dream, you would need to drop either Rooney or Kagawa and you could argue that the qualities they bring far outweigh Buttner on the left.
Is it a perfect solution? Would Sir Alex try or even consider it? Is it actually the ramblings of a madman? If half of it comes true and Rafael plays the wing I’ll be happy.