Berbatov Critics Proven Right

Dimitar Berbatov Manchester United 2009/10

Last week in the build-up to the English Premier League’s most anticipated match of the season, there were many in the press and blogosphere that openly questioned Dimitar Berbatov’s ability to replace Wayne Rooney as an effective lone striker. I, myself, wrote an article arguing that Rooney’s ankle injury made the EPL Chelsea’s title to lose, the crux of which was based on Berbatov’s inability to fill the English star’s boots. Another brave soul wrote a brilliant article suggesting Sir Alex Ferguson need not simply insert Berbatov for Rooney, but rather employ a unique 4-2-4-0 with no true striker, of which, again, the focal point was that the lanky Bulgarian can be a liability rather than an asset in a single striker setup.  Both articles met their fair share of criticism, but it is my opinion that we share the last laugh.

While I am sure there will remain many Berbatov-lovers who will defend him to the death, anyone who watched Chelsea’s 2-1 win over United can see that the £31 million man failed in his big chance to save United’s domestic campaign and prove his critics wrong.  United now need Chelsea to slip up and no longer control their own destiny.  No one can deny that the Red Devils gave an overall lethargic performance at Old Trafford on Saturday, and a lot of that starts at the top of the attack with Berbatov.

My argument against, and most critics’ arguments against, the man they call ‘Berba’ is his low work rate.  And in a match where Rooney, who embodies and personifies relentless determination, is missing, the lone striker in Ferguson’s 4-5-1 setup HAS to work at a very high rate to get into whatever space a tight, organized Chelsea defense is going to allow.

I do not get to watch every Manchester United match, much less every United match which Berbatov starts, but what has always been glaringly clear and extremely frustrating is how little he runs across the back line.  Rather, he often just walks or lightly jogs between the two center-backs as the attack is building either from the wings or through the middle.  In the few instances where Berbatov decides to move, he attracts the attention of defenders because they know how brilliant he is on the ball.  He is known to drop deep to start an attack, often doing so with great success, but in a lone striker formation this type of play can be counter-productive.  Rather, it is Berbatov’s lack of horizontal movement that made easy pickings for top-class defenders John Terry and Alex all afternoon.

Please fast forward to 20:02 (or so) of this video which shows Alan Hansen’s analysis of why Berbatov often proves ineffective without another striker doing a lot of the running for him, sparing you anymore of my anti-Berbatov diatribe.

Hansen makes it abundantly clear that those little pockets that naturally open up between fullback and center-back were never exploited, nay, never even thought of by Berbatov.  It just isn’t in his game.  Obviously, Rooney is a special player who, quite literally, possesses every quality a footballer needs to be the best in the world. No one is expecting Berbatov to slide in and become Wayne Rooney, but his sluggish style may prove decisive in United’s quest for silverware sans Rooney.

I will never argue that Dimitar Berbatov is not worthy of praise for his incredible ball skills and precision passing for a big man, but his low work rate disqualifies him from the discussion of top EPL strikers, because this is a league defined by fast, frenetic tempo of play, and the Bulgarian’s lethargic, slower pace to the game (I believe) would suit him better in Serie A.  In the end, he never truly tested Chelsea’s defense, and for his one true chance in the match, deep in stoppage time, he mishit and blew a potential equalizer. Overall, an average display from a player whose team were desperate for a man-of-the-match performance.

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21 thoughts on “Berbatov Critics Proven Right”

  1. I don’t think he was worth the price.
    I don’t think he’s made to play as a lone striker.
    He didn’t play well on Saturday (though he was far from the most disappointing).
    Yet . . . I still don’t get all of the Berba-hate. I just don’t.
    Berbatov is MAGIC!

    1. Honestly, Joel. It is not “Berba-hate” it is just critiquing his place in a United squad.

      And, unfortunately for him (although not that unfortunate) is that price tag. Like someone else stated before on this site, if he were a 10 million pound signing, he wouldn’t get so much flak. Also, I personally don’t like lazy players. Okay, not lazy… leisurely.

    2. If you judge Berbatov on his lack of ability as a target man you shouldn’t be commenting on football as you simply don’t have a sufficient knowledge of the sport.

      I think for most people football is as simple as “anybody that doesn’t score goals sucks”. It’s a pretty stupid oversimplification but it is the reason why so many good players in various positions are overlooked.

      How many awards do defenders or goalkeepers get and how many people appreciate them for what they contribute to the team as opposed to strikers?

      The average football pundit has an IQ in double digits and the average football author an IQ in single digits.

      Heres a crazy idea. Maybe Alex Ferguson actually knows something about football and maybe he knows how to buy players and take advantage of them as best he can!

      Problem with United at the moment is if Rooney is injured Berbatov has to play as single striker. United need another target man and then make Berba AM.

      1. Tyson – this has nothing to do with him not scoring and everything to do with his lack of movement. This article was a follow-up of an article that stated with Rooney out and Berbatov forced to a lone striker role, United would lose the EPL.

        And yes, Ferguson does know something about football. This is why Berbatov sits on the bench, as tacit acknowledgement by Fergie that Berba isn’t good enough to start. What else am I supposed to conclude from his not being selected with Rooney healthy?

        1. Uh, Berba sits on the bench because he’s been injured all year (and still is). He is running less because he’s injured. Getting a friggin’ clue. And how many of those Rooney goals was Berba at the heart of? Plenty. How many goals has Rooney created for Berba – not many. Different players that complement each other. But what a ridiculous article.

  2. Most United fans realized that he’s not a target man and that isn’t what Fergie bought him for. People see striker and immediately lambast Berba for not having Tevez or Rooney’s workrate. I’ve always said that he’s best as an AM or SS, but not as the guy that you’re looking to feed an incisive through pass to.

    I don’t know why Fergie keeps playing him in that position instead of having someone faster up there playing off of him. Hell, through Nani, Valencia, or Obertan in an SS roll. I feel like things may have gone differently if Giggs hadn’t been the guy playing up there with him but what’s done is done.

    As for this “last laugh” business, Berba has a low workrate…and the sky is blue. Not exactly a revelation. Berba critics have looked for any and everything that they could to discount Berba’s ability to contribute to the team and this was just another convenient opportunity to do so again.

  3. This article is just more of the anti-berbatov tripe that were sick of hearing. The author admits he hasn’t watched that many of Uniteds matches which is a shame because his workrates been pretty good over the last couple of months. He had a poor game against chelsea but so did the whole team. He got very little service. This happens to a lot of good strikers. chelsea are a good team. Seems like lazy journalism to lay the blame at berbatovs door when the whole team played so badly.

    1. SW – I’m not completely blaming Berbatov whatsoever. I stated he had an average game when they needed a big one. And he missed big opportunities (e.g., Lampard’s tackle on him in open space in the box, and scuffed shot at the end).

      “He got very little service.” That’s primarily due to him not finding the proper space.

      Oh, and I promise you world, this will be my last Berbatov piece, just thought it was a critical component to United’s loss. That’s all.

      1. Berbatov received no service. There was a lot more to blame for our loss than Berba.

        THE critical components of our loss were more likely Scholes and Giggs. The former fired the odd laser-accurate pass to the wing and then threw in some rash tackles and got dispossed and the latter couldn’t seem to stop passing the ball to Chelsea’s players.

  4. Just because Man Utd lost does not mean you were right. It happens. You made a prediction and Chelsea won. Berba could just have easily scored a goal and you would have been completely wrong. I think it is in poor form to let your ego get in the way and write an entire article gloating that you were right, pretty much a big f* you to all the readers who disagreed. Whether or not the commenters for your last post were wrong, foul, or what have you, you have to be above that. You’re not winning any points here.

  5. perhaps allen hanson should have doen a special on all the times berbatov has actully ran into clever space, when all that was needed would be a simple pass, in which he’d atleast be able to have a shot on target, but for only the pass to go to rooney (in a less thretning possition) or valencia on the wing, it has happened repeatedly over the last two seasons and if you have watched all of uniteds games during this period, you’d hav knoticed this.
    There is also the matter of all his clever through balls/ passes being wasted through other united players incompatance getting in the way, scuffing their shots and whatnot, so allen hansons punditry is a complete joke

    1. Petzl is spot on. ManU’s mid-field is its Achilles heel. Where is the quality? Why has Ferguson not gone out and gotten ONE play making midfielder who is not five or more years past his prime? Giggs and Scholes did not get to their mid-thirties overnight. Ferguson must play five in the midfield against the top sides else he gets overrun, which is why Berbatov winds up a lone striker – a position that does not suit his considerable skills. And where was Nani? Rooney is out and ManU’s other main goal creating player is on the bench? (Note that he created ManU’s only goal when he came on.) Rooney’s been scoring goals by the bushel but 90+ percent of them have come off crosses from the wings. Berba got almost no service and he’s a bum? I don’t think so.

  6. I’m not sure where this spirited defense of Berbatov is coming from. No one is claiming that Berbatov is a bad player, but a £30 striker? Sorry, for £30, you have to expect a striker to score. Maybe if Sir Alex asked nicely, Aston Vila could part with Emile Heskey for £30m — what a bargain!

    1. Not if the chairman of said striker’s former team is adamant about extracting as much cash out of the purchasing club as he can, and won’t budge on the asking price.

      We overpay for everyone and clearly (I hope) you see the difference between Heskey and Berbatov’s styles of play.

  7. As a Spurs fan, who watched Brebatov regularly, I can tell you he doesnt suit English football. Now with the likes of the top 3 playing fast counter attacking footy,and usually with 1 striker its not for Berba. When he was a Spurs we played very slow build up which suited both him and Keano as neither is quick.
    If you allowed us the ball we were very good because that pair could keep it. However keeping the ball and pretty passing doesnt always end with a goal. I still think he can do a job for United but he needs someone to play with. He needs someone to share the litttle flick ons and quality touches with, etc…

  8. quite frankly, he doesn’t fit united. if someone could just get him to run more, he’d be a great mid-fielder.

  9. Love him or hate him… you gotta admit he didn’t get it done against Chelsea. He had opportunities and missed. It seemed like a great chance to show everyone he was ready for the moment, but it didn’t happen.

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