Diamond shines, United too
Irish wingman George Best was the architect of Manchester United's first title of the post Munich era and wide men have bombed down the flanks for the English side, and with much success, for close to five decades now.
The wide men in a flat midfield have been the United's signature men and superstars — Best, Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo. So when United, for the third straight game this season, started with a midfield diamond -- two central players are anchored by a defensive shield with an advanced player at the forward tip — against Braga in the Champions League, it represented a break from tradition.
Be that as it may, the diamond is also a canny response to United's current difficulties. Without a genuine ball-winning presence, the side was repeatedly getting overrun in central areas. Four men patrolling the influential strip instead of two gives United a better shot at exercising control through possession. In the EPL game against Newcastle, the first of three games (all of which they won) the diamond made its appearance, United had 78 per cent possession in 15 minutes and were 2-0 up before the Magpies could respond.
The diamond, theoretically, would also allow them to compete better against hard-pressing sides like Barcelona or even Athletic Bilbao, who knocked them out of the Europa League last season. Against such opponents, the two-man central midfield often lacked passing options, and the wingers suffered from a lack of service.
Also, the diamond allows Sir Alex Ferguson to field several of his attacking options simultaneously — against Braga, Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie, Javier Hernandez, Shinji Kagawa and Tom Cleverley all started. The presence of a shield in front of a depleted defense would also have appealed. With traditional wingers like Ashley Young, Antonio Valencia and Nani available, the coach can flatten his midfield into a regular 4-4-2 if he so wishes, investing the side with an element of unpredictability. Whether the diamond can retain its cutting edge against more organised sides will be known when United face Chelsea on Saturday, but that Sir Alex can still spring a surprise, after more than 25 years in charge, is surely to his credit.
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