Since his arrival at United, many fans visiting Old Trafford have left wondering whether the £30million Bulgarian striker they signed from Tottenham has simply been replaced by a man who looks like him and with an uncanny resemblance to Dracula. So while the Red Devils were hoping for a player who could draw blood from his opponents through goals, they have been left questioning why the top man at Tottenham, has stopped doing his thing at Old Trafford.
I chose Saturday’s crunch game against Chelsea to analyse this problem. The weight has been placed, as if it wasn’t before, firmly on Berbatov’s shoulders after Wayne Rooney’s mid-week injury. If the Chelsea game was anything to go by, United fans should be worried. Berbatov was his usual ‘laid back’ self, a style that at times shows as much movement as a sleeping baby. He even had a chance for eternal forgiveness but managed to pass his injury time volley into the welcoming arms of Petr Cech. A waste of £30million? Well, I don’t actually think so.
For me, the problem lies in Sir Alex Ferguson’s tactics. If you look at Berbatov at his best, in his final season at Spur’s, he was partnered by Robbie Keane in a 4-4-2 system. In the opening part of Saturday’s match at Old Trafford, you could see Berbatov popping up in every position other than in the penalty area. For a lone striker, that is never a good thing. Berbatov is creative, he scores pretty goals and makes beautiful ones. At United, he is undone by tactics. United’s 4-3-3 system requires a goal-scorer who anticipates every cross and pass going in the box. A striker who will make over 100 runs a game behind the defence in order to shake them up. That is not the nature of Berba. He is not Wayne Rooney. He cannot pick the ball up anywhere on the pitch and have a real chance of scoring or powering past players to get to the box. However, put him upfront in a 4-4-2 formation, and I have no doubt he will be a top striker.
His touch is almost as good as Thierry Henry’s. Both players can pluck a ball out of the air with sickening ease, and Berbatov has proved he can score goals in the Premier League. In his final season at Spur’s the Bulgarian notched 15 league goals, but more importantly (to back up my point) he also contributed with 11 assists. Wayne Rooney may have 26 league goals this season but he only has 3 assists. Maybe that says something about the qualities needed to be the front man in United’s 4-3-3 system? I certainly think so. He may not look like the typical number.10 but I think Berbatov has all the qualities of a continental number 10. A player who will score goals and also create goals. He is not a Ronaldo or Rooney, but more like a Cantona or Del Piero.
This is precisely the reason why I think United won’t retain their Premier League crown. With Rooney they are formidable, without him they have looked nothing more than good. Bayern Munich will be a true question of their ability to cope without Wazza. After Saturday, I won’t be holding my breath. However, if you do anything, keep one eye on Berbatov and tell me if you think he fits a 4-3-3.