The fans in the Bernabeu may have given in to the odd bout of impatient whistling, the home defence may have been exposed with worryingly familiar frequency and Ruud van Nistelrooy may have spurned a hatful of chances before notching the goal that proved to be the winner, but there was enough in Real Madrid’s 2-1 win over Werder Bremen in the Champions League on Tuesday night to suggest that Bernd Schuster’s post-Capello revolution is well underway.

Mindful of the Madridistas’ disdainful attitude towards the defensive tactics of his predecessor, Schuster arrived at the Bernabeu promising to create a team capable of a brand of fluid, attacking football more in keeping with the traditions of Puskas, Gento, Di Stefano and co.

The key difference against Bremen was one of shape. Whereas Capello favoured a 4-2-3-1 with Diarra and Emerson (who has now been shipped off to Milan) protecting the back four and van Nistelrooy ploughing a lone furrow up front, Schuster fielded a 4-1-3-2, with Fernando Gago the sole holding midfielder, Raul alongside van Nistelrooy up front, Wesley Schneijder and Gonzalo Higuain attacking from the flanks, and Guti setting the pace in the middle.

The tactical shift made for more cohesive use of the ball in the final third, with Schneijder, Guti and Higuain linking up well with Raul to provide chances for van Nistelrooy. Raul seems to relish being restored to the role of centre forward, and he turned in a tigrish, industrious performance illuminated by some wonderful touches.

Playing with no less than three attacking midfielders enabled Madrid to introduce all manner of different patterns to their play, and with Bremen’s central defenders and central midfielders preoccupied, there was plenty of room on the flanks for full-backs Sergio Ramos and the impressive Brazilian Marcelo to exploit.

Typically, Madrid were often caught short at the back, and with the impish, artful Diego prompting in midfield, Bremen went close on occasion. But then, that is the beauty of Madrid, as it is with Brazil. They exist to play attacking football, and when it clicks – as it did on occasion here – it is wonderful to behold.

And with Diarra, Gabriel Heinze, Royston Drenthe, Arjen Robben, Julio Baptista, Robinho and Javier Saviola also in the squad, this might just be the season that Madrid add another European Cup to the nine they have already won in such sparkling style.

The King is dead! Long live the King! Rooney is out, Tevez comes in! Simple, n’est-ce pas? Maybe not as simple as you’d think.

Manchester United began their opening fixture against Reading with the 4-2-3-1 formation that many commentators expected them to adopt this season. Carrick and Scholes sat deep in midfield, Evra and Ronaldo attacked from the flanks and Giggs played in support of Wayne Rooney up front.

This! – cried The Mirror, in the wake of the signings of Nani and Anderson – is Fergie’s vision of United’s future. Carrick and Hargreaves in midfield, Nani, Anderson and Ronaldo just ahead of them, Rooney in attack.

As far as I’m concerned, they’ve all got it wrong. Including Fergie.

The 4-2-3-1 requires certain types of player, all of which United possess. The key is in fitting them all together. Observe the following, hastily scrabbled together diagram:



I’ve used ‘old-fashioned’ shirt numbers, because they will help me to embellish my point(s). In this system, the two central midfielders sit deep in front of the back four. The number 4 is responsible for winning the ball and breaking up opposition attacks. It’s the number 8’s job to get on the ball, pick out a team-mate and set the team’s attacks in motion.

The wingers (number 7 and number 11) play further forward than mere ‘wide midfielders’. It is their job to a) attack the goal directly and b) create chances for the strikers. The presence of the deep-lying central midfielders enables the full-backs to push forward alternately (it can be dangerous if both do so at the same time), so the wingers are not required to hug the touchline like wingers of old.

Crucial to this formation are the two forwards (number 9 and number 10). The number 9’s role is fairly conventional. He is the goal-getter and target man, but he must also be skilled at holding the ball up and playing with his back to goal.

The number 10 is the man who brings it all together. He is the metronome which sets the pace for the entire team, and he needs to be on the ball as often as possible. With the central midfielders sitting deep and the number 9 pushing the opposition centre halves as close to their own goal as possible, he has the run of the pitch to create magic. And that is exactly why he is in the team.

To my mind, such a system would suit a United first eleven that looked like this:

1. Edwin van der Sar
2. Gary Neville
3. Patrice Evra
4. Owen Hargreaves
5. Nemanja Vidic
6. Rio Ferdinand
7. Cristiano Ronaldo
8. Paul Scholes/Michael Carrick
9. Louis Saha
10. Wayne Rooney/Carlos Tevez
11. Ryan Giggs

And there it is. Ferguson – despite having bestowed the number 10 shirt upon Wayne Rooney before the season began – is playing Rooney as the number 9. This is not a position he suits.

Any idiot could tell you that Rooney is at his most dangerous when he receives the ball in deep areas and then heads for goal. Working the line on his own – as he did until Michael Duberry’s untimely intervention against Reading – is not what he’s cut out for. Yes, he will provide moments of inspiration, but that’s despite, rather than because of, the formation.

Rooney is good enough to have a team crafted around him, but English football has tended to look scornfully at attacking players who demand a free role. Rooney is a natural playmaker, not a goalscorer, and playing him as an old-fashioned centre forward takes all the joy out of his game.

United will undoubtedly miss Rooney, but they have as good a replacement as you could possibly wish for in Carlos Tevez. The player who really makes the 4-2-3-1 tick is Louis Saha, and it is his currently unavailability – rather than Rooney’s – which makes Alex Ferguson’s decision to sell both Alan Smith (who played the number 9 role so admirably in the 7-1 demolition of Roma) and Guiseppe Rossi seem foolhardy.