Manchester United would not have won their latest Champions League Group H encounter against Portuguese side Braga at Old Trafford if it was not for the excellence of Javier Hernandez.
Hernandez was the lifesaver – bagging a brace in United’s comeback victory – and showed why he must still be considered a key attacking option for Manchester United this year.
His tireless performance not only caught the attention of the Old Trafford faithful but also of manager Sir Alex Ferguson, who stated after the match that the 24-year-old Mexican international striker has given him some selection dilemma ahead of Sunday’s crunch match against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
As per Manchester United’s official site, Sir Alex Fergsuon said:
“Chicharito has given me a good problem. He’s got me thinking, I must say that. He and van Persie and Rooney and Welbeck… I don’t know what to do with them to be honest with you.
“The boy is improving all the time. He has a great enthusiasm for the game, he trains magnificently, he practices all the time and his goal ratio is fantastic.
“It was a great ball from Tom Cleverley for the second goal but Chicharito’s movement in behind the defender for the second goal was terrific.”
Given the praise he receives from his manager and his fellow team-mates, the work-rate he puts on the pitch and the attitude he shows on and off the field, everyone would expect Hernandez was starting week-in-week-out for the Red Devils and would be their top choice striker after his dream debut season in the Premier League, but in reality, Chicharito is below Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck in the pecking order at Old Trafford as far as the strikers go and has just made four starts this season (only one in the Premier League).
But after Tuesday night’s man-of-the-match performance, he has surely thrown his hat into the ring for some more regular playing time this term. In his own words he has given the gaffer a ‘problem’ or a ‘selection dilemma’ about whom to play and whom to leave out on the bench.
So, how can United fix their striker dilemma? How can they keep all the four strikers happy at the same time? Which formation should they use?
Without any doubts, Manchester United have one of the best – if not the best – strikeforce in the world. Some squads will have one or maybe even two world-class strikers, but the Red Devils currently have four star strikers in their squad – all of whom are capable of winning the game single-handedly in both domestic and European competitions.
Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie need no introduction. They are both proven strikers, the top two goal-scorers in the Premier League last season and have scored a total of 362 goals (combined) between them. The duo are also forming one of the most fearsome and dangerous striker partnerships in the league.
Danny Welbeck, the local lad who has come off age in the last couple of seasons, a big-game player and an England regular to whom both the Red Devils and the Three Lions have turn for some inspiration and immediate impact in the past year or so. And then there’s Javier Hernandez, a regular goal-scorer for Mexico, who after Tuesday night’s excellent performance has once again shown everyone that he has the talent in him to become of the top strikers in the world.
They all are stars in their own right and it’s sad to see players who regularly start for their respective countries, on the bench for United. But the answer to handing four star strikers in one squad isn’t selling one of them for a good price in the next transfer window. There is no doubt that United could get a good price for Welbeck or Hernandez but selling them in order to create regular playing time for Rooney and Van Persie is not the answer.
Keeping in mind, the fact that there will be injuries, suspensions, international duties and a number of competitions to play in, a squad needs lot of depth and a number of attacking options, and for United to say that they don’t need a strong squad would be too ignorant. Sir Alex knows it very well that they need to have a lot of depth in their squad – like they had when they won the treble in 99 – and if he is able to keep the players happy, then why sell them?
This means that a rotation policy will be used, meaning that all four strikers will not get the minutes that they would love to every week. There will be times when United’s blockbuster summer signing – Van Persie is rested for Welbeck, and there will also be times when Rooney starts from the bench. This is nothing new in a squad that is blessed with so much of attacking talent. This is what has to happen this season in order to keep all four of them happy at the same time.
In terms of formation, the shift towards the new ‘diamond formation’ (4-1-2-1-2) is the best thing for United to keep their strikers happy as it helps to get most of their best attacking players on the pitch at the same time. The diamond formation is better than the commonly used 4-4-2 or the 4-2-3-1 as it allows for three attacking options rather than two or just the lone striker in the later two formations.
In the new formation, Van Persie and Rooney could both play at the top of the diamond, in behind the two strikers. That would allow Welbeck and Hernandez to get some more playing time than they would have got in a 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1. Three strikers start in this formation with one playing behind the two in a very advance midfield role and also creating the link between the midfield and the attack. It means that Van Persie could play up front with Hernandez and Rooney behind them or Rooney with Welbeck and Van Persie behind them creating more chances.
Now talking about what happens to United’s second star signing of the summer – Shinji Kagawa. He was very successful at Dortmund last season playing in the hole behind the striker in this case Robert Lewandowski and he could do the same by playing at the top of diamond with Rooney and Van Persie up front. But that would decrease the involvement of Welbeck and Hernandez.
With Kagawa being very versatile and comfortable with the ball on either foot, the most logical solution is to play him on the left side of the diamond and allow him to drift in the middle with the full-back overlapping. Similar to what Andres Iniesta does for Spain or Barcelona whenever he is played out on the left. Kagawa on the left means that Antonia Valencia, Ashley Young and Nani are all left fighting for one starting position on the right side of the diamond. That means less playing time for all three, especially Nani, who looks like is behind Valencia and Young in the pecking order.
After saying all this, the diamond formation is best formation suited for United’s current squad. Its the most effective way for Sir Alex to get his best attacking players on the pitch at the same time without sacrificing the dominance and creativity in the midfield and on the wings.
Players won’t play each week and will be rotated regularly, but that’s part and parcel of playing football at the highest level and especially at a club like Manchester United. This will create a competition for places and it will be healthy for the players also, as they will have to be at their best at all times and continue to impress the manager both on the pitch during the games and in training.