Tactically Speaking: Bolton could lose the game via the left wing

Posted on September 10, 2011


Table topping Manchester United travel to the Reebok stadium to take on Bolton Wanderers on Saturday. Bolton started strongly against QPR, dismantling them 4-0, and gave a good account of themselves losing narrowly to Manchester City, but were badly outclassed by Liverpool in their last fixture. Owen Coyle would dread another defeat as their next four games see them travel to Aston Villa and Arsenal before welcoming Chelsea – a tough run in.

The corresponding fixture of the previous season saw the teams play out a 2-2 draw, with United needing a 74th minute Michael Owen goal to gain a point. But that was the away-struggling United of the past season. Though they struggled to put away West Brom in the opening fixture, United have roared into form in their last two games absolutely annihilating the North London duo of Tottenham and Arsenal.

Expect tomorrow’s match to have goals. Both sides would be likely to field a 4-4-2 formation and this is where I feel Bolton could lose the game in their left wing. Let’s take a look at the possible lineups.

Ferguson will most probably be handing Javier Hernandez his first start of the season. Ferdinand is likely to partner Phil Jones in defense. Bolton would mostly be sticking with the same line up that started against Liverpool. The likes of Kakuta, Ngog and Sanli would be starting from the bench.

Though both teams are likely to field a 4-4-2 formation, the way they actually go about their business would be completely different. United’s midfielders Cleverly and Anderson usually play as if they are in a midfield diamond, with Anderson darting up frequently to disrupt the opposition’s rhythm. Bolton’s midfield duo Reo-Coker and Muamba are likely to play deeper to counter United’s attacking threat through Cleverly, Nani, Young and Rooney. In the corresponding fixture of previous season, Muamba almost played like a fifth defender, playing just in front of the central defenders. Such is the pace and verve that is with United’s attack that Muamba could end up playing a similar game tomorrow.

United’s main attacking threat has come through their left wing where Evra and Young have combined so devastatingly, a fact Alex Ferguson was keen to stress. With Rooney dropping deep and drifting into the left wing, Young has had the licence to cut in from the wing and wreak havoc – he is the player with the maximum number of assists so far (albeit two of them were in dead-ball situations). Bolton would try to contain the potency of United’s left sided troika through the assured Gretar Steinsson, with United old boy Eagles and Reo-Coker providing assistance.

Though Nani and Smalling have been effective in the last three games, United haven’t focused their attack through their right wing and this is what I fully expect to change tomorrow. Bolton’s left winger Petrov has shown the tendency to stay high up-field and this in-turn forces left-back Paul Robinson to move further up from his zone. With Muamba providing extra defensive cover and Reo-Coker engaged in the opposite wing, expect Nani and Smalling to exploit this completely tomorrow. Cleverly has occasionally drifted to the right to exchange positions with Nani, who in-turn cuts inside to use his left peg.

The other issue Bolton have is with Zat Knight most likely marking Rooney, who could draw the lumbering defender out by dropping deeper. If Coyle makes the folly of asking Knight to mark Rooney, Muamba will most certainly be engaged in providing auxiliary cover which again would expose the left wing. I expect United to win tomorrow’s match at a canter if the teams line-up similar to what has been widely expected. My punt? United to win 3-0.