Friday, April 1, 2011

A Newbies Guide to How Manchester United Play

I'd like to eventually put together a little 'e-booklet' to impart just enough football knowledge for your average Joe-never-kicked-a-ball to be able to enjoy and discuss a match as much as Joe soccer fan. I'll start off with some rough posts and hopefully after I've gained a few fans and a bit of blogging experience I can go back and make this.

If you have any criticisms, questions, or bits of advice i'd love to hear them please drop me a comment!

One thing keeping people from getting into the soccer when they have little experience of it is that to them it just looks like 22 men running around aimlessly. The truth is a lot different - unless you support Wigan FC -, top level players spend hours and hours practicing tactics until they can play a move without even looking* and thus I'll try and explain very simply some of the common positions and runs players make by describing a typical Manchester United side. Please excuse the rather illogical number system I used! 

Manchester United mostly use a '442' formation (4 defenders, 4 midfielders, 2 forwards). As you can see from the diagram, however, the wingers (8 and 9) often play very high up the pitch whilst the midfielders drop further back to compensate defensively. Some people thus call Sir Alex Ferguson's tactic a '424'. I'll go through the players:

(NB)Each player will usually be marked directly by an opposition one for the vast majority of the game, usually when a 442 plays another this means the 2 defenders central defenders will each be responsible for an opposition forward the wide defenders (full backs) will watch out for the opponents wingers.

  • 3 and 4              Centre backs need acceleration, jumping height, concentration and strength. Vidic and Rio Ferdinand form perhaps the best centre back partnership in the world: Vidic is the 'stopper' closing down, outmuscling the opposition and attacking the ball whilst Rio uses his experience and vision to drop back and block runs and shots in the rare event Vidic doesn't cut the attack out.

  • 2 and 5               Rafael (brazil arrow) and Evra (france arrow) are the quintessential modern fullbacks. They rely on pace and stamina to sprint out of defence and into midfield - allowing the wingers (8 and 9) to push forward into goal scoring postitions. Whilst Rafael usually cuts his runs short and crosses the ball towards the forwards, Evra often performs an 'overlap' whereby he outruns the player marking him and up past his winger to allow the winger an easy pass past his marker.
  • 6                      Central midfields made up of two men will usually have a more defensive player and one with more license to attack. Carrick plays the defensive role, and will drop back into the box to head out crosses or close down wingers that evade the fullbacks.
  • 9 Nani or Valencia. Nani can use both feet equally well and often 'cuts inside' (dribbles into the centre of the pitch towards the box) to take shots or take a short pass to a teammate, he can play on the left or right. Valencia's left foot isn't great but he is insanely fast: sports scientists at the club worked out that if he could maintain his top speed on a 100m track he would outrun Usain Bolt (Seriously!) He uses this to blitz past defenders and crosses or plays a short pass into the middle of the box when he reaches the byline. These wingers benefit from the long aerial passes spread out to them by Rooney and Carrick.
  • 10 Rooney roams all over the pitch, he especially drops into midfield when United need to keep the ball and runs wide to outnumber fullbacks and pull centre backs out of position.
  • 11 Berbatov is a great hold up player: he's incredibly skilled at controlling long passes and good at keeping the ball despite being outnumbered by defenders until support arrives. Chicharito is very different, constantly making runs between defenders pushing them back and thus making space available for his teammates to operate. See how in this video he floats around 3 different markers for the first goal, causing a moments confusion he exploits with a great header. The otherworldly acceleration from deep means that despite his marker having several meters head start over him, the balls in the net before he can even move.

*(Sometimes this leads to players 'passing the ball to noone' - 90% of the time this is due to a player trying to instigate a pre-planned move and his teammate not realising. Soccer's a fast game and inside a noisy stadium communications often break down.)  

I hope this has been helpful to anyone wanting to learn football tactics from scratch, please leave a comment!


  1. Good blog, even I can understand a little bit (:

  2. I hope you like Berbatov, because he's from my hometown!

  3. Seriously? April fools? I love him, my hard drive is full of pictures of him looking cool/smoking. I think he has the best first touch (controlling difficult balls) in the world. His technique is amazing it takes my breath away watching him sometimes, look at this: I couldn't catch that ball with my hands! the defender completely didn't expect him to control that. I think it's Craig Cathcart defending aswell, he used to play for us.

  4. And he scored a hatrick against liverpool, i think everyone loves berbatov :D

  5. i havent really watched Man-U games that much.

  6. Being a yank I usually don't get around to watching soccer/football very much, but reading your post does get me interested. =]

  7. great post, this is a very accurate description.

  8. Thanks for this breakdown! I a quite the noob and it helped a lot.

  9. He's from Bulgaria and so am I :)

  10. thats pretty cool, but arsenal is my fav club!

  11. thanks for breaking this down for us :)

  12. i like your blog. keep up the good work