Park is a tactical swiss-army knife for Fergie
I did this for the most recent Ajax match and since I have a free moment right now, I figured I'd offer up a suggested Manchester United starting XI for our upcoming match versus Norwich City. As discussed in our match preview, Norwich manager Paul Lambert is a very astute tactician -- one that changes the shape of his side on a match-by-match basis. He's even bold enough to make continual shape changes during matches. It'll be difficult for Sir Alex Ferguson to anticipate what tactics his counterpart will deploy at Carrow Road but it may be reasonable to anticipate a 4-4-2 diamond shape -- a narrow one that uses a holding-midfielder, two shuttlers, and a central-attacking-midfielder. However, Lambert has the personnel to switch from this shape into a standard 4-4-2, 4-2-3-1, 4-3-1-2, 4-4-1-1, or even into a shape with a back 3 (e.g. 3-5-2 or 3-4-1-2). He can even make these changes without having to make a substitution due to the versatility in many of his players.
This may be sound arrogant, but I think it would be foolish for Fergie to use reactive tactics against Norwich -- a good side that has performed admirably this season in the Premier League but one that United should still be able to push the initiative against. But I do think that Fergie should deploy players in his preferred 4-4-2/4-4-1-1/4-2-3-1ish shape that are versatile enough to switch positions if a change in shape is needed by United. This could be possible if their Sunday opponents present tactics that are hindering our side. Without further ado, here is my suggested starting XI for today's match against the Canaries:
* Yeah, there's a lot of arrows on going there. The solid arrows are the general player movements while the broken arrows are passes that Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick could swing out wide in order to bring our full-backs into attack. Against Norwich's potential narrow 4-4-2 diamond, this might the constant available space for an outlet ball -- especially against possible high-intensity pressing.
* David de Gea (goalkeeper) - This selection choice should go without having to say anything, especially with the current injury to Anders Lindegaard. The 21-year-old Spaniard has been superb in the past few weeks and he has single-handedly saved United points in the league with his world-class saves while also being the key man in the recent advancement in the Europa League. The only concern in this match will be an obvious one -- can he adequately command his box? Norwich lead the Premier League in goals from both crosses and headers.
* Rio Ferdinand (center-back) - Seemingly first-choice still when fit -- which is never assumed due to his chronic back injury. United certainly miss their captain Nemanja Vidic and he would be ideal in trying to combat Norwich's aerial threat (75% aerial duels won this season). However, Ferdinand should be able to provide leadership in the back and he too is a formidable foe in the air (64% aerial duels won). Ferdinand also plays the role of a covering defender for both his center-back partner and also for the marauding Patrice Evra.
* Jonny Evans (center-back): Evans is a player that has been much maligned in the past but he's arguably been United's best defender this season. He struggled last season in aerial duels (less than 50% aerial duels won) but he's shown incredible improvement this season (68% aerial duels won). Evans has also been very sound positionally and he's been calm on the ball -- a necessary trait in modern football so that teams can work the ball out of the back.
* Phil Jones (right-back): Rafael has shown good form as of late since his recovery from shoulder surgery. He's even my hope to become United's eventual first-choice right-back. However, due to the need to combat Norwich's aerial threat -- despite Rafa being feisty in aerial duels -- Fergie may elect for more height at right-back so that he has more size at the far-post against crosses and also so that he has more height to defend against set-pieces. Chris Smalling is more adequate in aerial duels (71% aerial duels won) in comparison to Jones, however, the latter is better suited in going forward down the touchline. Surging runs forward from a full-back are a tactical necessity against sides that deploy themselves in narrow shapes (see above diagram) as they offer an obvious outlet versus pressure. Jones provides a nice balance between Rafa and Smalling.
* Patrice Evra (left-back): To be quite honest, I prefer Fabio to Evra at the moment. But I know that Evra is undoubtedly Fergie's first-choice right now, despite his questionable form this season. Evra's role as deputising skipper with Vidic out likely keeps him in the lineup too. The Frenchman still does have his strengths though -- he's good at going forward and linking play in attack despite his propensity to being caught out. As for the reasons previously mentioned, we will need that skillset from the full-back position.
* Michael Carrick (central-midfield): The foundation of our midfield at the moment. Hopefully he's rested after his well-deserved break during the recent Europa League ties. Norwich will likely press us with high intensity for long and extended stretches -- something that Carrick has been vulnerable to at times in the past -- but we will need Carrick to be on his game so that he calmly swing balls out to the touchline for our wingers and full-backs. In addition, his positional sense and intelligent reading of the game is vital in protecting our back four.
* Paul Scholes (central-midfield): For similar reasons as described for Carrick, we will need Scholesy's technical ability to quickly move the ball -- especially when Norwich presses. Scholes' close-control is better than Carrick's and so his is range of passing -- hence the nickname 'Sat-Nav' given to him by teammates. If Scholes isn't overrun, he can swing the ball out wide but he can also relieve pressure by sending ambitious long diagonal balls to the flanks. Furthermore, he may be the man to supply passes forward to Rooney so that our talisman can link the midfield and attack.
* Nani (right-winger): When in-form, Nani can be a match-winner. However, he's recently returned from injury and during the recent two matches versus Ajax, he has not shown the same influential form of his early-season showings. We need that man though with the current injury to Antonio Valencia. Nani provides the versatility of being able to play on either flank and Fergie has even hinted strongly recently of his belief that the winger can play through the middle in a free-role behind a striker -- perhaps similar to Gareth Bale's recent role for Tottenham Hotspur. Nani's versatility could be very useful for any tactical shape changes that Fergie may want to make.
* Park Ji-sung (left-winger): Park is any tactician's dream. He's versatile enough to play many roles, he's humble enough to do whatever is asked, and his grit and determination can never be questioned. If United need to switch shape, the Korean can play on either flank or he can play as the most-advanced player in a midfield trio. In the latter role, he can use his energy to link play and also to harass an opponent's deep-lying playmaker. Park's movement is underappreciated as well as he constantly takes up intelligent positions -- this explains a lot for his tendency to constantly score goals in United's 'big' games. In this particular match, his industry could be useful in combating against Norwich's 'shuttlers' while also allowing himself to spring free in attack by moving out wide.
* Wayne Rooney (striker): Our talisman is obviously brilliantly talented, but he's also brilliantly versatile. I'll keep it brief -- but you can read here for more detail on Rooney's importance to United -- Wazza is versatile enough to play as a lead striker, as a withdrawn striker or an 'English number ten', on the flanks as an attacker, or even as a box-to-box midfielder. Hell, who would doubt that he could a job as a full-back?
* Danny Welbeck (striker): The youngster not only possesses endless potential, but also possesses versatility. The lad can play as a striker who drops deep to involve himself or he can influence a match by playing as a wide attacker. If United were to switch to a 4-3-3ish shape, he could do a job as a wide forward.
* The diagram above is an example of how some of United's flexible players could possibly be deployed if a change of shape was deemed necessary by Fergie -- a 4-3-3/4-5-1ish shape that the squad is familiar with. This could potentially be used if United are overrun by certain tactics that Norwich may use.