While my superstitious self can now almost safely assume that Owen Hargreaves is indeed coming over to Old Trafford, some bookies have already gone to the extent of putting odds of him becoming the player of the season 2007/08 at 50/1.
The question however, is how he will feature in the team next season.
While his role as a holding midfielder is well documented, the question of how Sir Alex will use him to fit into the United setup will figure prominently. His pace and box-to-box approach will definitely bring that bite and aggression into the midfield that we’ve been missing for a long time. We also think when Scholes slowly gets phased out of the United first XI, we will be left with the midfield duo of OH and Carrick.
However next season, when Scholes will still be expected to play a big role in the United setup, we might see situations where some tough tactical decisions might be needed to make the system work. Will that system work from a results perspective, but come at the cost of the style and attacking verve that characterized our play this season?
Let’s take the first scenario, where we have OH, Carrick and Scholes play in midfield. Assuming a four man defence, we will be left with three attacking men to contend with. Rooney and Ronaldo will get the nod, and the left wing will be occupied by Giggs or Park or whoever comes in over the summer.
Now here’s the thing: If we were to bring in a winger like say, Nani then we would be playing a 4-5-1/4-3-3 system where the wingers would be expected to cut in to provide Rooney some service. Rooney on his own has shown a tendency to get frustrated when not provided adequate service. However this system might yet work if we modify it to a 4-2-3-1 (where Scholes plays in the hole behind the striker) with the front four interchanging. This would probably be the best solution.
The other case would be the acquisition of a striker. This would in essence mean shunting Rooney to the wing, where he is least effective, and the striker who comes in then should show more mobility by being able to switch around with the other three (we’re still talking 4-2-3-1 here) A good finisher who doesn’t show much movement might seriously inhibit the effectiveness of this system. Also where will all this leave Rossi? That’s something to ponder.
The third scenario would be getting both a striker and a winger. Then the effectiveness of 4-2-3-1 would be seriously hindered until either Rooney or Scholes is kept out. In all the cases above we assume the constants that are OH and Carrick playing at the middle of the park, by virtue of being the most expensive purchases in recent times. So obviously they are going to get maximum playing time.
A ‘European system’ might allow United to boss the midfield, but will we be able to see the attacking urgency with this new midfield import? It is something worth thinking about before going out to the market to buy either a winger or a striker. In the long term however, a 4-2-3-1 system might best work out with Rooney playing in the hole behind the striker (be it Rossi or whoever we buy), and two wingers to flank them.
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