How David Moyes Can Salvage Man United’s Season

By Mohamed Boru

I realized at some point last year that I’d been writing predominantly about football, Man United to be specific and decided to diversify and cater for the non-football audience as well. Given how shitty United have been since then, it seems a timely decision in hindsight. But things have deteriorated so drastically that writing about United seems one of the few cathartic avenues left to relieve some of the angst.

The transition to new management has left us in an unfamiliar position of strife and a plethora of reasons have been given in an attempt to explain the sudden mediocrity. Of these reasons – poor squad made worse by lack of signings, the leeching Glazers, lack of motivation among the players et al – I believe that it’s the manager’s tactics that are largely to blame for the poor performances and results. Allow me to explain.

Whereas United has always been a team that likes to move the ball wide and whip in crosses, Fergie has always mixed it up ensuring that we also create chances through the middle. It would be a stretch to claim United have been entertaining for the last three years but the football was bearable and challenged for trophies right until the end of the season. Under David Moyes, our idea of attacking play has been to get the ball out wide to Evra and Valencia for them to cross it in. Not occasionally but almost always. We’ve largely avoided attacking through the middle as though there’s some magical crater that suddenly appears outside the opponent’s box when in possession to suck in our players and the ball. This is bad enough without factoring in Evra and Valencia’s poor crossing. The result has been limp performances from United where we create very little in games.


Down but not out: United can yet steady the ship (c/0

You may say that the lack of midfield options has forced this archaic style of play on Moyes but Fergie managed the same players to the league championship a few months back. And it’s not like anyone told Moyes to dither with signings in the summer anyway. But looking back, you notice a clear pattern where Moyes’ teams almost exclusively attack through the wings. It’s no surprise that Leighton Baines was one of Everton’s best players last season and explains Moyes’ desperation in trying to sign him in the summer.

The easiest solution to the dearth of options in midfield would be to sign players that would see us change our style of play but let’s face it, that’s not going to happen. Moyes was brought in primarily because he was consistently ‘successful’ without spending much at Everton. Since we probably won’t be signing anyone as Moyes himself admitted and the Glazer’s won’t sack him for the poor results, it’s time the manager stops sulking and makes the most of what he has got.

One way to steady the ship would be to ditch 4-4-2, not because it can’t work but because we don’t have the players for that system. Man City play with a 4-4-2 but they’ve got two dynamic central midfielders and effective wide players. At United, we not only lack good central midfielders but wingers as well. What we have are a number of good defenders, world class attackers and fullbacks who are arguably better at attacking than defending.

A good system that would maximize on this squad imbalance and possibly bring out the best in our players is 3-5-2. We have five central defenders and of these, Evans, Vidic and Smalling deserve to be starters at center back. Phil Jones can arguably be added to that category as well. Playing three center backs – with one playing as a Sweeper – would in one move guarantee playing time for our good young defenders and shore up the defence. Since Moyes must get his crosses, Evra and Rafael can play as wingbacks sans the priority to defend that fullbacks have. I’ve got no doubt that Rafael would absolutely kill this role. Valencia can deputize for him with Buttner as Evra’s understudy.

In midfield, the problems we’ve faced have been lack of dynamic midfielders to allow us to play two in the middle as we’d like to and finding a position for Shinji Kagawa. Playing three in the middle would allow us to have a double pivot of Fletcher and Carrick with Kagawa playmaking ahead of the duo. The extra player in the middle would see us win the midfield battle. Kagawa would also create chances from the middle and reduce our over-reliance on wing play. Adnan Januzaj has also indicated that he sees himself as a playmaker in the long run and depending on form, he’d share this position with Shinji.

Upfront, Rooney won’t have to drop deep as he’s been doing, with a playmaker tasked with creating operating behind him. Essentially, this would leave us with two world class out-and-out strikers whose sole aim is to score goals. Having Rooney and RVP stay high up the pitch will force opposing center backs and even fullbacks to drop deep and hand us territorial advantage. Kagawa would keep their defensive midfielder busy denying the latter a chance to assist his defenders. To add to the numerical advantage, Fletcher can join in attack safe in the knowledge that Carrick and three center backs are covering him. United would thus line up as shown below:


How United would line up in a 3-5-2 formation (Excuse the numbers :o)

All this seems a long shot though, but if our form is to improve, something has to give. Moyes could do worse than try out this system until the end of the season when he’ll presumably buy players and build the team to his liking. Juventus are successfully implementing the 3-5-2 in Serie A where Pirlo, Vidal and Marchisio/Pogba provide technique, industry and creativity as Lichtsteiner and Kwadwo Asamoah bomb up and down the wings. There’s no reason why the aforementioned trio of Carrick, Fletcher and Kagawa can’t replicate this for us. If anything we have better strikers and potentially better wingbacks. Add the good form shown by Moyes’ teams in the second half of the season and we might just salvage a season that is slowly turning into a tragicomedy.

About the Author

Galimo Askumo
An explorer, an infomaniac and a hippie. I got tired of wanting to read detailed, long form articles on various topics that interest me so I decided to write about them. My username is an ode to the last two known members of my family tree which goes back 11 generations.

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  1. Mwanake wa 90 (@Kimjobil)

    i dont know if moyes is capable of such radical changes, but i must say i am a bit convinced by your would work in theory, changing formation might improve things.but with the morale the players are in,well…i dont know.lets see what the january transfer window brings us.

    • panoramicdon

      I believe the confidence of the players is low because of the poor form. Poor form is a consequence of poor tactics. Address the tactics and the confidence of the players will be sorted

  2. loso

    i also thought moyes was a good motivator during his Everton days?United fans walking away with 4 mins plus additional time to play during the fergie era was unheard of but i think they know that once u score against United this season you just need to keep shape and they won’t hurt you.

    • panoramicdon

      I believe he was a good motivator as he wouldn’t achieve as much as he did if he couldn’t get the players on his side. I think in time he’ll get the players to trust his methods and play for him. He needs a group of players he’s signed who are loyal to him as well as clearing out the deadwood in the squad.

      • loso

        true deadwood and some veteran players too like rio

  3. loso

    a 3-5-2 would work moha and carrick can play the pirlo role but we need atleast one very mobile box to box midfielder too somewhat to do the dirty work and i do not think fletch is ever going to better his 08-10 seasons form,plus coentrao would be a good addition to the team he can also play in the midfield as in his benfica days or as a wing back then when defending we can have two banks of 4 with rooney able to drop since its in his nature.I also think we should improve on our pressing we give opponents far too much space.

    • panoramicdon

      Fletch may yet return to his best since he’s only 29. His touch and passing has been as good as before the illness. If he’s fully recovered, no reason he can’t go back to his mobile self. I agree, Coentrao would be an upgrade on Evra. Apparently we might sign him in this window. Our pressing can be better but we close down much better than under Fergie. We’ve scored 3 maybe 4 goals from Valencia/Welbeck pressing and winning the ball high up the pitch.

  4. FutbolTriangle

    Interesting solution. My question though is, would a 3-5-2 work in England as well as it does in Italy? The football culture is different, and in Italy, the main thread of reasoning is pack the midfield which has come at the expense of width. Its why full backs are predominant — they can provide width without necessarily having to worry about encountering it.

    Secondly, even if the 3-5-2 were to be implemented, I would prefer Phil Jones in the midfield to provide the energy. In your suggestion, none of the players provides the sort of energetic dynamism in midfield that an Arturo Vidal/Claudio Marchisio/Paul Pogba does for Juventus. It ensures Pirlo isn’t overran in midfield and if United were to revert to 3-5-2, Carrick would have to function as the regista. He would thus need that energetic force shield that Pirlo enjoys.

    • panoramicdon

      Brendan Rodgers and Roberto Martinez have used 3-5-2 to varying levels of success at times this season. The system will negate width as you say but we don’t have players who can give us meaningful width. At the end of the season he can revert to type if he signs players.

      As for the second point, Fletcher used to be known for his aggression and stamina. If he’s recovered fully, no reason he shouldn’t still have that in his locker. Jones too is a good option there as you rightfully mentioned.

    • loso

      “a 3-5-2 would work moha ,carrick can play the pirlo role but we need at least one very mobile box to box midfielder to do the dirty work ” as i had said above.

  5. loso

    waiting on mike to tell us why 352 would not work in the Epl

    • FutbolTriangle

      Because constantly exposing a wing back to the twin threats of winger and full back will underwhelm the system. Manchester City tried it last season. Whereas they managed to retain possession and win the midfield battle, a simple ball out to the wing undid them.

      Wigan also used a somewhat 3-4-3/3-4-2-1 formation last season but were constantly caught out wide. Consider the game which relegated them (against Arsenal) and Santi Cazorla’s clever movement from wide saw him notch four assists. If he cut in, Sagna could overlap. It completely left the left-wing back confused as whether to stick or go.

      Also, as most teams play with 1 striker nowadays, a 3 man defence against one striker is a bit superfluous.

      • loso

        “When you play a 4-3-3, you rely a lot on the full-backs to get high up the pitch. You shouldn’t look at a system as away to win a football match, it is the players that play the system. Maynor [Figueroa], Gary [Caldwell] and Antolin [Alcaraz] have been so solid with a back three, and it allows [other] players to be high up the pitch, like the wing-backs. They aren’t full-backs that need to get deep and then forward to give us an extra man, they are in positions where they can do both a little bit better, and we can be a little bit more solid.

        “The difference is the width that we get…before, we had to compromise a little bit, when you want to be very attack-minded, the full-backs have to push on, so you leave two players at the back. Now you’re still pushing the wing-backs on, but you’ve still got three players at the back, plus probably a midfielder. In the West Brom game, as Paul Scharner will tell you, we were attacking with seven, eight, nine players and they were surprised it, and that’s what the system gives you, without being weak at the back.

        “It suits our players. When you’ve got a Jean Beausejour who is a specialist in that position, you take advantage of that. The back three gives you that. Then there’s the energy we’ve got in midfield, players who can play between lines like Shaun Maloney and Jordi Gomez. It’s so difficult to play against…there’s a few clubs playing it around Europe now, Napoli are one: they play it with Cavani, Hamsik and Lavezzi…this is the advantage of this system – it goes where the danger is…it’s not in defensive lines, it’s not working as a unit of four, it’s not man-marking.”

        • panoramicdon

          Best argument for the system so far. Perfectly put

      • panoramicdon

        There’s that risk of being caught out wide but you have an extra CB to pull wide when needed. Two CB’s can cover the striker or a CM can drop to assist. Don’t forget the opponent has to deal with two world class CF’s. Our strikers can drift wide and create an overload against the fullback. While there are some vulnerabilities with the system, the strengths of the system outweighs them. They’ll have more to worry about than we do

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