While more often than not this season, David Moyes has gotten his tactics all wrong in big matches, yesterday against Bayern Munich at Old Trafford he got his team sheet spot on. Moyes received praise for his use of Danny Welbeck in the 1-1 Champions League quarterfinal first leg draw but to me it is a sign of what Moyes was missing during the season and the problems created by the forced inclusion of the expensive and volatile Robin van Persie.
For an English attacking player, Welbeck is a rarity — technically gifted, tactically savvy, and tireless in his work on and off the ball. Following an outstanding 2011-12 season, the Manchester United forward found himself somewhat unexpectedly in Roy Hodgson’s plans for the Euro 2012 finals. In that tournament, Welbeck showcased all his assets and was arguably the Three Lions best attacking player.
It is understandable why Sir Alex Ferguson spent big money that same summer on Van Persie. The reigning Premier League player of the year, the Arsenal man provided instant dividends for Ferguson in his last season as a professional manager. But the signing no doubt set Welbeck’s development back.
While it allowed United to claim the 2012-13 Premier League title (ironically on the same points total that they accumulated finishing second a year earlier), the place in the side Welbeck had claimed the previous season was lost. Throughout much of the season, he was limited to mop-up duty or cup matches. Like many other young English players in recent years, Welbeck seemed to be stagnating or even regressing just as he hit 22.
This season Van Persie has been often injured and when he’s fit, prone to sulking. The Red Devils are struggling to even qualify for Europa League soccer and are having their worst league season since before the Premier League era began.
From a tactical perspective, having a forward who runs as much as Welbeck does, can push wide, is comfortable on the ball and tracks back is a dream. Yesterday, Moyes set up his team in what looked to be a 4-5-1 formation, which allowed Welbeck to drift more into the wide areas and link up with the midfield more comfortably. He also played brilliantly off of Wayne Rooney.
This sort of formation suits Welbeck’s talents. He is tactically astute yet needs an open style of play to excel. With Moyes finally showing the willingness to experiment tactically to accommodate the talent at his disposal perhaps thanks to yet another Van Persie injury, Welbeck could be headed for an elongated run in the side as the Red Devils wind down a disappointing season.