While he’s chewing his gum, he’s constantly thinking. Thinking. Thinking. He’s got things on his mind; the next substitution, the opposition’s tactics. “Doesn’t Darron Gibson look a bit like that guy off Snow Patrol?” He’s then mulling over whether his 4-4-2 was really the way forward for such a fixture; directing Wayne to the left flank…planning ways to exact revenge at Mike Phelan after that infamous Facebook prank.
For Sir Alex, life is never so simple. Thoughts ravage his cerebrum for as much as it can endure. Problems arise; he’ll usually deal with them. Well, most of the time.
He has a new, fresh conundrum to face and that’s deciding how to utilise the talents of Dimitar Berbatov, Javier Hernandez and Wayne Rooney correctly. However, others would be envious of Sir Alex’s latest conundrum rather than feeling sorry for him; this head-scratcher is a good problem to have and such strength up front is one to be resented. But back to the question – how does Sir Alex utilise the trio and can he do so effectively?
Hernandez, such a revelation for United this season that not even the optimist of all optimists could foresee such consistency, has started most games of late and has created an excellent understanding with Wayne Rooney. Unfair on Berbatov, you might think, considering he is the favourite to land the golden boot this season. But Hernandez has settled in quickly and has been similarly clinical. It’s difficult to quite put into words of the impact he’s had thus far – get this, 10 out of 14 of his attempts on target in the Premier League have found the back of the net.
<figure 1> The diagram above gives the impression of the type of player Hernandez is – a ‘poacher’. It’s encouraging, and so far his predatory instincts in the box have earned comparisons to Ruud van Nistelrooy. But he’s more than just a poacher. 4 of Javier Hernadez’s ten goals have come from his head. It’s not about length in his case that is the reason behind his success in the air; it’s all about movement (and positional awareness.) What separates him from past poachers (the type which are nowadays regarded as ’extinct’) is his great pace and ability to drop deep.
Pitch Diagram via the official Premier League website
But Berbatov has an extended case consisting of not just his remarkable goal tally. You could argue, as I would personally, that the partnership of Rooney and the Bulgarian is slightly more effective than the Rooney-Hernandez. Like the Mexican, Berbatov is playing higher while Rooney drops deep – if this wasn’t the case, perhaps Berbatov would not have scored as many goals. A further argument would be that the former Leverkusen man can drop elsewhere and alternate with his partner and link up play as successfully as he does. That’s just by observation, of course, but what is certain is that for either to get a place in the starting line up, they must simply get the best out of Rooney. Love him or loathe him, it is the Englishman that the team is partly built around.
The days of Rooney scoring 34 goals a season are over – for now. His real position is that of a no.10, the one he is playing as currently. He likes to roam like his fellow trequartista’s; he is for Manchester United what Francesco Totti was to Roma (no pun intended). Perhaps this is where the problem lies; both Hernandez and Berbatov compliment his type so well that choosing between the two is one problem has no consensus and no solution. You can’t play all three, can you?
Hypothetically, you could. But that would be a risk which could backfire purely because there would be no real structure. Having posed a question on Twitter about our strike force, one suggested that United experiment with this very shape.
If Rooney was to play in his trequartista role with the two forwards ahead of him, questions will be of the capabilities of United’s midfield. Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick might be able to do the job defensively, but that would leave a huge gap in the centre of the park and Darren Fletcher as central midfielder would be far too ambitious as United will then be up against it when the opposition have the ball in the final third. So you can scratch that one off.
In United’s most recent game against Bolton, it was Berbatov who had scored the winner in a game heading for a 0-0 draw; and it should be noted that he did replace Javier Hernandez straight after half time. In that game, going against the couple that preceded it, Hernandez was starved of action and was quite forlorn. Part of that could be put down to the midfield who had struggled to create in the opening 45 but what could happen now is that Berbatov’s goal could just mean that he will start for the Red Devils’ in their next game. Certainly, there is little room for error. It seems that Sir Alex has made his mind up – that he would rotate between Hernandez and Berbatov to partner Rooney.
Rotation is the correct policy. What’s more, the approach seems to work. There is always going to be a division in opinion, and even if you could make a really good case for an individual it should be recognised that the other could also make an equally good case on the pitch. It’s all about competition, and here at Old Trafford, it’s fierce. The decision of who starts is the interpretation of the manager, conceived by his observation. And that approach couldn’t be any more correct.
The divide in opinion
Having asked what others think on Twitter about the situation, the responses received were interesting; not least because it did give a sense that the opinion of an individual isn’t particularly shared by another. Below, I try to respond to some of the suggestions I received.
FiveCantonas: “Rooney and Hernandez against big teams, Berbatov and Rooney against fast teams (to over simplify).”
jonssonmufc: “I think it all depends on who we are up against. In a game we are supposed to be by far the better team, Berba/Roo should start.”
WayneH7: “Berba would my no 1 all the time, build the team around him. He needs to play all the time, he’s our best striker.”
The opinions of the above seem to suggest conflicting views. Two talk of how the duopoly (if we can call it that) of Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov is perhaps better suited against teams of lower status; while ‘WayneH7’ believes Berbatov must be a permanent fixture in the side. Neither point is quite conclusive. As I had concluded in the article, it’s all interpretational and observational – and looking at these tweets I find myself strangely agreeing, nodding. You see, no matter who partners whom it’s one of those when you simply ‘don’t mind’.