When Manchester United won the league in 2008 and 2009, they played a formation that was quite different to the one they employed last season. The team played a 4-3-3 with Cristiano Ronaldo, Carlos Tevez and Wayne Rooney playing as three interchangeable forwards. With the loss of Ronaldo and Tevez at the start of last season, the formation changed largely to that of a 4-5-1, with three central midfielders and two wingers playing behind the lone front-man in the form of Wayne Rooney. The Ronaldo-Rooney-Tevez triumvirate brought great success to Man Utd, picking up two league titles and a Champions League triumph. This season, Sir Alex Ferguson may just have the personnel to replicate that formula, with Berbatov and Hernandez available for selection. Hernandez is obviously relatively unproven, and Berbatov is yet to find his true form for United, but this has the potential to form a devastating strikeline that would strike fear into the hearts of Premier League defences.
In Manchester United’s first game of the current season, a 4-4-2 formation was employed. It was one that Ferguson also used last season, with two central midfielders, two classic wingers in the form of Nani and Antonio Valencia, and two strikers in Berbatov and Rooney. This might well be the formation that Ferguson uses for the majority of the season, that is as long as Berbatov is firing. If he is not Hernandez could be brought in, or Ferguson could revert back to the 4-5-1 he used last season. The formation worked against Newcastle, but there will be much tougher tasks for Man Utd as they take on the top sides at home and abroad. In this case, and especially in away games, it is probable that Sir Alex will want to have three in the centre of midfield. In this case United could play a 4-5-1, or they could use a 4-3-3.
The latter formation could prove to be a potent attacking force for Man Utd this season. Javier Hernandez has pace to burn and could operate anywhere in a front three. Dimitar Berbatov is probably most suited to a central striking role, with his first touch and ability to hold up the ball a great asset going forward. The Bulgarian is no slouch however, and he has the ability to pick out killer passes so he could also interchange within a front three. In the Ronaldo-Rooney-Tevez trio, Rooney was given a free role, and although he scored less goals he also set more up, and was able to use his energy to greater effect. With three midfielders behind them, Rooney, Berbatov and Hernandez would have license to concentrate solely on attack, and few defences would fancy their chances of holding out.
The formation does have its drawbacks however. Tevez and Ronaldo were tremendously gifted players and are not easily replaced, there is no guarantee that the formation with different personnel would enjoy the same success. Hernandez looks a great talent but is still unproven, whilst Berbatov has tremendous ability but does not always perform. Rooney, playing as a lone striker last season, scored more goals in that position. The formation might also lack width, if Ferguson did select these three forwards it is unlikely that he would also pick Nani and Valencia and this could pose its own problems.
Sir Alex Ferguson has lots of options this season, something he perhaps lacked somewhat last term. As of yet we do not know what formation he is going to settle on, but the 4-3-3 will definitely be worth a try, if it plays as well as it looks on paper, Manchester United could have a fearsome frontline this season.