It is no secret that for the big games, Sir Alex likes to deploy a modern and pragmatic 4-5-1 formation in favor of the traditional 4-4-2 he uses for most games in the league. Berbatov’s repeated absence from the starting line-up in the one striker system is not much of a surprise, but Valencia too hampers the working of the formation due to his style of play as the role of the wide players in a 4-5-1 system is different from that in a 4-4-2 formation.
Valencia is a fairly conventional wide player. He may not have a bagful of tricks but what he has in abundance is pace which he very effectively uses to gain half a yard on the defender and deliver accurate crosses. Add to this his sense of responsibility to fulfill his defensive duties and you have a player perfect for the 4-4-2 system to provide assists for the two front men.
However, in the 4-5-1/4-3-3 system, the wide player plays more in a right or left forward role and is required to cut in and make runs into the box to support the center forward. The versatility of players like Cristiano Ronaldo is an added bonus which then allows the front men to switch positions which is a nightmare for the defenders as they are up against a different player every few minutes.
The ex-Wigan star however, likes to stick to the touch-line instead of making forays into the box and his finishing needs work. Another one of the Valencia’s shortcomings is that he is limited to just one position and Sir Alex too has admitted that he is only comfortable on the right-hand side of midfield.
For the away leg against Bayern Munich, he dropped the Ecuadorian and instead chose to play Nani and Park realizing that these two had the ability to switch positions if necessary and tactically provide him the room to maneuver which allows him to use his substitutions wisely, a significant factor in deciding close games.
Furthermore, even while playing as the lone striker, Rooney does a brilliant job of coming in deep to collect the ball, drawing the central defenders with him which leaves the space to be exploited behind them, a tactic which worked spectacularly in the away game against Arsenal (perhaps United’s best performance of the season) and as expected, Nani and Park were the wide players on this occasion too.
Hence, unless Valencia makes some serious adjustments to his game, tireless Park and vastly improved Nani should be the ideal choice.
Dimitar Berbatov’s situation on the other hand is fairly obvious. It is seemingly impossible to find your way into the team if the only position you’re competing for is occupied by Wayne Rooney. To accommodate him, the only possibly way might be to go back to the system in Ronaldo’s time with Rooney coming in from the left but this would seem unthinkable now that we’ve all seen Rooney’s exploits in his new position as a ‘poacher’ in front of the goal.
This coupled with the fact that Berbatov ideally likes to play behind the striker where he can bring other players into the game leaves the manager with little choice but to leave him on the bench.
Hence, Sir Alex’s biggest problem tactically now is to formulate a system into which both the players can fit effectively. One player has failed to rise to the pressure of playing for a club like Manchester United while the other has already made a mark after just one season but to be effective big match players, they both may need to adapt their game.