vs. Manchester United – the role of Jordan Henderson


Can’t agree strongly enough with the shouts for Jordan Henderson to be selected – he’s been performing to a consistently high level all season long and his energy and mobility will be crucial in disrupting United’s swift movement of the ball. I’ve been particularly impressed by him on the occasions when he’s actually been deployed as the most advanced of our midfield trio but I can’t quite work out where best to utilise him this weekend.

I think we have an interesting tactical decision to make in this game. I see Man U strengths, in terms of goal-scoring pressure, as crosses into the box from the final third or passes down the channel or over an advancing defence from Carrick.

‘lucoltom’ talks about the importance of Carrick and the wide-men to United’s game – distribution from the back isn’t a particularly strong element to their play and, given how deadly their attack tends to be, the emphasis is upon providing the attackers with the ball is key. The fall-back option, when the opposition have numbers back, is obviously to bring Evra and Scholes/Cleverly into play, have Van Persie drop deep, and probe for options – I’m quite comfortable in us dealing with this Plan B provided Downing plays on the right to track Evra’s constant movement and we stand up to the advanced midfielder and remain organised behind…we can’t afford to start over-committing to challenges on Scholes/Cleverly which will either leave gaps or offer them countless cheap free-kicks.

The XI for me is in no doubt – Wisdom and Henderson will play, and Sturridge will get his league debut. Hernandez’s presence at the top of play will mean Lucas will be deligated the job of constantly monitoring Van Persie’s dropping-off of play – the resultant danger being that we’re one-on-one in the wide areas and asking Lucas’ partner to both back up the full-backs and keep an eye on United’s second midfielder (Scholes/Cleverly)…again, if play has slowed down and we get organised, we’ll be fine here but we’ll have to remain constantly aware of cross-field balls when they’re moving from back to front quickly. As I said above, Downing will need to be on the right to track Evra – given that RAWK is my main footballing-read, and other issues preside, I tend to think he’s underrated and provides a constant outlet and therefore functional threat. That leaves the advanced midfielder, Sturridge, and Suarez. Now, in almost all variations of our system that I’ve imagined over the last week or so, Sturridge has been ‘inside-right’ and Suarez in the middle, but I think that, for this match, we should put Sturridge in the middle and have him get straight to Carrick every time we lose the ball – given the difficulty that Vidic had with Torres, I also think that having Sturridge in the centre (Vidic being left-centre) is a decent offensive strategy. Needless to say, Suarez will provide a constant menace on the ‘inside-left’, defensively, I think we can afford to ‘carry’ him a little more there than we could vs. Evra or Carrick.

The only question remains, for me, as to which of Gerrard and Henderson to use in with Lucas, and which to use further forward. I guess, in the front foot, I’d rather see Henderson further forward with Gerrard attacking from deep – with the direct nature of United’s play, and the need to be aware of the wide-threat, I’d be tempted to have Henderson’s energy provided a bit deeper in the field – I tend to think we’ll be more defensively organised with Gerrard ‘returning late’ (and seeking Scholes/Carrick) than we would Henderson (who I’d be more inclined to rely on snuffing out wide-play as the ball arrives).

It’s a great shame that we’re without Jose Enrique – I think we’ve seen signs that a right-side of Johnson/Downing can provide a real threat and, in weeks to come, a right-side of Enrique/Suarez steaming infield like two very different trains will be exciting.

As always, you prefer to think about football as a game of playing to your strengths but I just think, given the deadliness of their attack (only enhanced since Van Persie’s addition), we’ve got to be wary. In March 2009 we played a blinder, with Lucas constantly helping the full-backs by providing a double-up on Ronaldo – after stopping them playing we were able to grow into our own threat and took our chances in a memorable victory. I don’t tend to see United as a side requiring as much of a ‘rhythm’ as that Tevez/Rooney/Ronaldo season – I don’t see a ‘stride’ that we must
Sknock them out of in order to take control of our own…it’s more the case that they’ll provide a constant threat and the danger will come in intermittent waves. We’ve got to be alive to that and confident that the power of Sturridge, unpredictability of Suarez, and the danger of Gerrard, Downing, and Johnson from outside the box, provide sufficient firepower of our own.

We often really turn it up early on in games against United – getting at them with a lot of energy. I think assured measures of confidence and organisation are key to this one, and think that affording United with footballing respect is anything but a defeatist attitude in this particular unique meeting.

Imported from RAWK as part of broader discussion: http://www.redandwhitekop.com/forum/index.php?topic=301808.msg11262072#msg11262072


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