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Ferguson Out-Smarts Wenger Once More With Tactical Masterstroke

The seven recognized Manchester United defenders that Sir Alex Ferguson selected to start against Arsenal all played vital, versatile roles in the Reds clinical win.

With so many injuries decimating his options on the wings, and lack of combative and creative players in the center, Sir Alex chose three defenders to occupy unfamiliar positions in the midfield to aid the United attack and add stability to the defense as well. Thankfully for him, Ferguson’s brave risk panned out as United are in the Semifinal of the FA Cup, but it was down to the players he selected being able to implement and carry out his game plan in a wide variety of positions.

First look at the starting XI, it looked as though Ferguson was playing for a draw and was putting 10 players behind the ball to deny Arsenal any chances of penetration with a slim hope of catching them on the counterattack. To a certain extent that is exactly what happened, but it is how it happened was the most captivating. Essentially, Sir Alex went with four players – Wes Brown, John O’Shea and the da Silva twins – that have played right-back this season, but, obviously, only one of them could play there, which was the former of the four.

O’Shea has showed over his 12-year United career that he is a very effective versatile player, by playing in a host of positions, including as goalkeeper, but Fabio and Rafael also showed that their instinctive athletic ability along with their hunger to succeed allow them to be just as influential in other positions.

If any of the United players went down injured, and had to be replaced, there were a host of players that Sir Alex could have shifted into their position without losing the shape of the formation. That type of utility player is exactly what Sir Alex always looks for when selecting his starting XI, which ultimately led to Dimitar Berbatov being on the bench, and Wayne Rooney, who was perhaps the most influential, starting the match.

He started the game off level with Javier Hernandez in the United attack, but Rooney slowly drifted further back to help nullify Arsenal’s three-man center midfield combination of Jack Wilshere, Denilson and Abou Diaby. The way Rooney dropped back to get the ball from the defenders, or win it back from either of those three was impressive, and was all over the pitch sticking in challenges.

After Ryan Giggs came on for Rafael, Rooney shifted to the left-side of the midfield, and bombarded down the either wing or through the midfield getting on the end of at least two long balls from Scholes – after constantly running around springing the United attack for the first 75 minutes.


The match started with a 4-4-2 with O’Shea, Darron Gibson being flanked by the twins in the midfield, but within 20 minutes that formation morphed into a 4-1-3-1-1. O’Shea dropped back to stay just a few yards above the back-four to prevent a driving runs, like the ones that happened against Liverpool and Chelsea, by Wilshere or Diaby.

With Ferguson seeing the trouble that Rafael and Fabio were causing Bacary Sagna and Kieran Gibbs on the wings, so he pushed them farther forward and dropped Rooney back to play along side Gibson. The Gaffer stayed with that formation for much of the match, even after the introduction of Antonio Valencia, but when Giggs came on with 25 minutes or so to go, United switch the formation again.

A 4-5-1 formation was the way United would end the match with Giggs operating behind Chicharito, and Rooney pushed out wide to the left flank, but it did not hinder the way United defended or attacked Arsenal.

Like any risk in life, Sir Alex Ferguson’s masterstroke could have very easily blew up in his face, but, thankfully, it worked out as he and Manchester United will avoid another negative media onslaught – hopefully.

Submitted by The United Religion



  1. Sid

    March 13, 2011 at 7:29 pm

    Yes the tactical masterstroke of playing like the away team and having 8 men behind the ball allthe time.

    Do one with your ill conceived tripe and brown nosing of that sad petulant bully

  2. nicky

    March 13, 2011 at 7:59 pm

    I agree that having 8 behind the ball was the real key, coupled with our problem, this season, of being unable to turn that key. During the Summer pre-season training, it will be imperative that a tactical solution be found to deal with this shortcoming. Otherwise opponents will suss us out as many have done, by way of packed defences.
    One other comment on the match, which didn’t affect the result but could have affected a players future, was the appalling assaults (not merely fouls) by Scholes in the few minutes he was on the pitch. How the “Fergie Ref” failed a second yellow (and thereby a red) I do not know. I only hope this dangerous thug retires at the end of the season. I think his latest yellow is his 9th or 10th of the season.

    • Mike

      March 13, 2011 at 10:18 pm

      Not forgetting the way Rooney kicked Sagna up in the air when the ball had gone out of play and the ref didn’t even have a word with him. Still it’s OT and refs treat Ferguson so badly……………one actually had the audacity to give a bad decision against them once. Ironic really that the two goal scorers should have both been serving a ban for red card offences in previous games.

  3. john

    March 13, 2011 at 8:13 pm

    only 1 man would have the balls to do that and that is SIR ALEX FERGUSON

  4. Charlie

    March 13, 2011 at 8:48 pm

    LMAO, the balls to play with 7 defenders at home, very brave. That is the difference between successful teams and great teams. Successful teams do not care how they win as long as they win. Great teams, the ones that are remembered, win in style and have the mentality that winning is nothing if you don’t entertain your loyal fans. George Best will be turning in his grave.

  5. Mike

    March 13, 2011 at 10:15 pm

    Tactical master stroke…’re clearly on medication. Half as many shots, less possession, less territorial advantage, a lower percentage of successful tackles and successful passes and the goalkeeper wins man of the match. So absolutely everything went to plan then, let the other team have loads more shots and hope your goalkeeper has a brilliant game. If that’s good tactics then I trust you’ll admit that Ferguson gets it wrong most other times then. Joker.

  6. brad

    March 13, 2011 at 10:28 pm

    isnt it funny when people like this write blogs.
    This tit probably sat down for hours writing this one out in the hope that people would read hes work and think he makes a good point only for us lot to shoot him back down to earth…

    Idiot, i dont really have to say much as the guys above have summed it up perfectly

  7. black jesus

    March 13, 2011 at 11:20 pm

    The media and some Arsenal supporters tirade of BULLYING ARSENAL and Wenger is insensitive and heartless.
    I aver, wholeheartedly, that ARSENAL are run, second to none. Superlative.
    I FACT that AFC have NOT won silverware for 5 years and counting cannot be denied. But it is not like FC have been inthe doldrums in that period.

    3 times runners up in finals, always in the top 4 is enough to to give creedance for that period in AFC’s history.

    To be rational, the club are trying hard. They are not a Man U, Chelsea or MAn City. They are not trigger happy in the transfer market.

    They will win silverware when they deserve to win silverware. All clubs have the same realistic approach i HOPE. But soem clubs tend to try and buy their silverware. Good luck to them.

    Wenger needs to be admired and respected. Not ridiculed. Note well…..He will end up winning much more more. This is just the new begiining of silverware for AFC.

  8. Alex

    March 14, 2011 at 1:49 am

    the injury problems that united had were worse than those of arsenal in the midfield area. United played with defenders in the middle because they had little choice.
    Raf and Fabio were hardly behind the ball all the time and were always getting forward.
    Arsenal had more chances, but they didnt have a lot more obvious chances. Rafael had that great chance in the first half (by far the only good chance of the game until the 1st goal). Hernandez and fabio had free headers in the box during the game. Rooney and Giggs both wasted opportunities and Almunia had to play well to stop hernandez getting United a 3rd goal.
    United were 2-0 up after 46 minutes, why shouldnt they sit behind the ball, let arsenal have possession and try to defend. Wouldn’t most teams do that? They had a 2 goal cushion and an important game on Tuesday to think about.
    Arsenal fans also need to stop complaining of Scholes and his bad tackles, have you seen your disciplinary record this year? Worse than United, in fact, worse than most teams.
    And before you use the excuses of ref decisions against arsenal and for united – you have had more decisions when it comes to free kicks this year also.

    Ferguson had injuries and an eye on tuesdays game so he played what he could, and set out to counter attack and hope his players were more clinical than arsenal players. Before 1-0 you didn’t dominate (more possession without chances isn’t dominating!!!!) and after we had the goal the chances went both ways until the 2nd goal, once that came, there was no reason to not sit behind the ball. Hope van der sar has a brilliant game? He’s a brilliant keeper. There is nothing to hope. We trust in him.

    Ferguson got his tactics right. Tactics only ever go so far remember. Yes it could have ended in an Arsenal win if arsenal players had been more clinical and united less, it could have been 5-0 to united if we had been more clinical too.
    For what he had, his tactics were well and worked. That doesn’t mean he will enter every game with those tactics. It fit the circumstances.

    The only stat which truely matters is the number of goals. Funny how when they lost to barcelona they didn’t care about possession/shots stats – they just insisted they were in it because of the score line (which is true). Now they’re the ones with the greater stats in a game suddenly they become important once more.


  9. abel

    March 14, 2011 at 5:28 am

    Truth is it hurts, when u r beaten by MANURE at their weakest. Worse still we it seems far from over. Guys i am hurting and i dont have a solution.

  10. Charlie

    March 14, 2011 at 3:01 pm

    How could Manure win 5-0 with 4 shots ? Arsenal dominated from the start and deserved to win just as Barcelona deserved to beat Arsenal but our finishing let us down. You cannot claim that the Manure injuries were worse, Nani, Anderson and Park compared to Song, Fabregas and Walcott with Valencia and Ramsey just returning. The fact is the tactics employed by Man U are what inferior teams employ to contain superior opposition.

  11. Alex

    March 14, 2011 at 4:19 pm

    giggs had it taken off infront of your goal by wilshere. we missed 3 open free headers (dont count as shots) and a few other times. shots and chances are different things completely.
    if you watch the game you will see arsenal not have a decent chance before united scoring, then a few chances went both ways until uniteds second. after that, yes you had the better chances, but that doesn’t mean you deserved to win. we had the chance to sit on a 2 goal lead and not waste a ton of energy and risk being open at the back.
    are you forgetting ferdinand, carrick and fletcher for injuries btw???? and if you read what i said, i claimed united had more injuries in midfield therefore had to play defenders instead – read what i say before commenting. so that’s park, anderson, nani, carrick, fletcher injured from united’s midfield (could add a certain owen hargreaves if you wanted to be picky).
    inferior teams? top of the league. last years runners up. played arsenal twice this year, won twice. how exactly are united an inferior team?
    who has the better keeper? united
    who has the better defense? united
    who has the better midfield? arsenal
    who has the better forwards? united

    one area in which arsenal have more quality than united. and that’s debatable even then (valencia, nani are both great with the ball. giggs and scholes too just a pity theyre so old now)

    manchester united have been superior to arsenal for a long time now. look at the head to head stats, then compare the amount of trophies for the past 5 years. arsenal don’t come close in either. and hold on, that last trophy of yours, isn’t that the fa cup final you got completely OUTPLAYED and DOMINATED but won on penalties?
    oh wait, yes, it was.

    so does that mean you didn’t deserve that FA CUP, and your gap without silverware should be even longer?

  12. David

    March 15, 2011 at 1:29 am

    bitter arsenal fans. why am i not surprised. pathetic & can never admit that their manager has lost the plot #6years turd burglars

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