Crerand in Midfield

17/06/2024 12:29

Crerand in Midfield


Scot, Patrick ‘Paddy' Crerand, was the central midfield general that broke the half back line at Manchester United, but who played alongside him in midfield often defies analysis. A center half, flanked by a right half, and a left half, was how teams shaped up until the end of the Matt Busby era at United. The earliest successful variant being that of Dick Duckworth, Charlie Roberts, and Scot, Alex Bell, in the Ernest Mangnall managed side that won the league title in 1908 and 1911, as well as the 1909 F.A. Cup Final, 1-0, against Bristol City; (GK) Harry Moger, (RB)  George Stacey, (LB) Vince Hayes, (RH) Dick Duckworth, (CH) Charlie Roberts (c), (LH) Alex Bell, (RW) Billy Meredith, (IR) Harold Halse, (CF) Jimmy Turnbull, (IL) Sandy Turnbull (1), (LW) George Wall.

 The line held throughout the First and Second World Wars, with John Anderson, Allenby Chilton, and Henry Cockburn, of the team that won the 1948 F.A. Cup Final, 4-2, against Blackpool; (GK) Jack Crompton, (RB) Johnny Carey (c), (LB) John Aston, (RH) John Anderson, (CH) Allenby Chilton, (LH) Henry Cockburn, (RW) Jimmy Delaney, (IR) Johnny Morris, (CF) Jack Rowley, (IL) Stan Pearson, (LW) Charlie Mitten. Scot, Busby, began to field the youngsters known as ‘The Busby Babes’, with Eddie Colman, Mark Jones, and Duncan Edwards, the half back line that won the championship in 1955-56 and 1956-57, after the class of ‘48 had finally become champions in 1951-52, although with Don Gibson at right half, after being runners up in 1946-47, 1947-48, 1948-49, and 1950-51.

 Though Edwards replaced Jackie Blanchflower at left half, Busby’s selecting him at center half, before the emergence of Mark Jones, and afterwards as an inside forward, demonstrated the versatility needed by a player in the period when there weren’t any substitutes, and flexibility had to be demonstrated by the eleven pitchside. Blanchflower’s pricelessness was as a left sided defender who could be deployed successfully as an attacking midfielder. In 27 starts in 1953-54 he scored 13 goals, 10 in 29 games in 1954-55, 3 in 18 in 1955-56, and with a further 11 starts in 1956-57, barely missing out on a title winners’ medal.

While United looked like winning the championship again in 1957-58, with Blanchflower on 18 starts for the season’s campaign, the club was devastated by an aircrash at Munich airport, Germany, as the squad returned from qualifying for a European Champions Cup semi-final against Real Madrid, drawing 3-3 with Red Star Belgrade. Reserve full back, Geoff Bent, England captain, and left back, Roger Byrne, right wing-half, midfielder Eddie Colman, left half, Duncan Edwards, who died 15 days later, center half, Mark Jones, left winger, David Pegg, center forward, Tommy Taylor, and Irish inside forward, Liam 'Billy' Whelan, all lost their lives, while right winger, Johnny Berry, and Northern Irish inside forward, Blanchflower, were too badly injured ever to play again.

 After the single outfield substitute was introduced in 1965-66, and additionally the substitute ‘keeper in 1987, the onus was upon the flexible utility of the player on the bench, whereas before the spotlight had been on those fielded, irrespective of injury, that is, the quality of the players selected had to allow for flexibility, epitomized by Blanchflower, and also Edwards, who could play at center half, as he did in the lost 1957 F.A. Cup Final, 1-2, to Aston Villa, when injury to ‘keeper Ray Wood resulted in Jackie’s taking over between the goalposts, as well as at center forward. (GK) Ray Wood, (RB) Bill Foulkes, (LB) Roger Byrne (c), (RH) Eddie Colman, (CH) Jackie Blanchflower, (LH) Duncan Edwards, (RW) Johnny Berry, (IR) Liam Whelan, (CF) Tommy Taylor, (IL) Bobby Charlton, (LW) David Pegg. Roger Byrne, left back, as a left winger in 1951-52, scored 7 times. 

What this meant for tactics and strategy was important, especially as what the Italians called sistema, that is, the English system, was changing from a half back line to twin central defenders, and a hard man in midfield. While the European teams adopted the libero, or 'free back', after the fashion of the Italian catenaccio, with the ‘sweeper’ playing behind the back four of twin center backs and two full backs, having freedom to move into midfield, or support the attack, soccer in England came to be based on a holding player in midfield, ahead of two central defenders, and the right and left full backs.

The role of sweeper was exemplified by Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer, captain in their 1974 World Cup Final defeat of Holland, 2-1, with center forward, Gerd Müller, Bomber der Nation, the decisive goal, on 43 minutes, at Olympiastadion, Munich. Central midfielder, Rainer Bonhof, released by right winger, Jürgen Grabowski, pass right footed, close by the touchline, inside his own half. Bonhof racing down the right, past sweeper, Arie Haan, right footed cross-pass, right of the 18 yard box, to Müller at the right corner of the penalty area. Gerd knocking the ball behind him, while the Dutch defenders surge ahead of him, stepping back for the ball, swiveling, and left back, Ruud Krol, turning back also, stretching his left leg to block, but Gerd’s right boot, striking the ball low, along the ground, into the left corner of the net, in an otherwise game of clumsy defending and two penalties.

 What remained of the United squad, bolstered by Stan Crowther for £18,000, right half for Villa in the ‘57 F.A. Cup Final, and inside right from Blackpool, Ernie Taylor, for £6,000, lost the F.A. Cup Final of 1958 to Bolton Wanderers, 0-2, with a half back line of Goodwin, Cope, and Crowther, after defeat to Real Madrid in the semi-final of the European Cup, 1-3 away in the first leg and 2-2 at Old Trafford, 3-5 on aggregate; (GK) Harry Gregg, (RB) Bill Foulkes (c), (LB) Ian Greaves, (RH) Freddie Goodwin, (CH) Ron Cope, (LH) Stan Crowther, (RW) Alex Dawson, (IR) Ernie Taylor, (CF) Bobby Charlton, (IL) Dennis Viollet, (LW) Colin Webster.

 The inaugural F.A. Youth Cup was won in 1952-53 by United against Wolves, 7-1 at home and 2-2 in the second leg away, 9-3 on aggregate, with Cope at center half as captain, alongside right half Coleman and left half Edwards. The Youth Academy won again against West Ham in 1956-57, 3-2 at Upton Park, 5-0 at home, 8-2 on aggregate, giving the club the first five F.A. Youth Cups, and enough young talent to carry the club to the ’58 F.A. Cup Final and runners up in the 1958-59 championship; (GK) David Gaskell, (RB) Barry Smith, (LB) Ray Maddison, (RH) Bob English, (CH) Reg Holland, (LH) Harold Bratt, (RW) Kenny Morgans (1), (IR) Nobby Lawton (1), (CF) Alex Dawson (3), (IL) Mark Pearson (2), (LW) Reg Hunter (1).

 Wales’ Morgans, captain of the 1957 F.A. Youth Cup Final winning side, made 13 starts in 1957-58, and Pearson 8,  while Scot, Dawson, 5 goals in 12 starts was at outside right in the '58 F.A. Cup Final, and scored 4 times in 11 starts in '58-59, while Pearson would net 3 times in 10 starts in 59-60, to Dawson’s 15 in 22, who’d tally 16 in 28 to Pearson’s 7 in 27 in 1960-61. Lawton would notch 6 in 20 starts to Pearson’s 1 in 17 and Dawson’s 2 in 4 in 1961-62, and would make another 12 starts in 1962-63 as ‘the Busby Babes' continued to carry the torch for their fallen predecessors.

The club  wouldn’t win the F.A. Youth Cup again until 1964, with the first leg away, 1-1, at Swindon Town’s County Ground, followed by the home leg at ‘the Theater of Dreams’, 4-1, 5-2 on aggregate; (GK) Jimmy Rimmer, (RB) Alan Duff, (LB) Bobby Noble (c), (RH) Peter McBride, (CH) David Farrar, (LH) John Fitzpatrick, (RW) Willie Anderson, (IR) George Best (1), (CF) David Sadler (3), (IL) Albert Kinsey, (LW) John Aston (1).

 Wilf would go on to be part of Busby’s coaching staff in charge of the reserve team, after a career ending leg break, causing Maurice Setters’ transfer from West Brom in January 1960 for £30,000, who’d score 12 goals in 159 league appearances, before transferred to Stoke City for £30,000, with his final game against Villa at home, 7-0, on October 24th, 1964. By then the team were on their way to winning the league title of 1964-65, with Nobby Stiles at left half. Although the permanence of the half back line seemed unchallengeable, especially after a glance at the program sheet, where names and positions invariably indicated the full backs as wing backs, and left and right halves as wing halves, the winning of the 1966 World Cup at London’s national Wembley Stadium, by Alf Ramsey’s ‘wingless wonders’, 2-2, and 4-2 a.e.t., against Germany, with a 4-4-2 formation, clarified the issue; (GK) Gordon Banks, (RB) George Cohen, (LB) Ray Wilson, (DM) Nobby Stiles, (CB) Jack Charlton, (CB) Bobby Moore (c), (RM) Alan Ball, (CF) Roger Hunt, (AM) Bobby Charlton, (SS) Geoff Hurst (3), (LM) Martin Peters (1).

Before his demise at Munich, Duncan Edwards was widely held to be the greatest of his generation. At left half he was amongst the top 33% of 10% left sided people in the population as a whole. Of the 3000 eligible to be selected at left half, left back, or left wing, in every million, Duncan was viewed as the best in his position, that is, one of a thousand in a million, or one in a million. As left sided players are at a premium, it makes no sense to confine them to defensive duties, while psychological studies show the left sided use the right side of their brain, that is, the creative side, which underscores the value of the left half as a creative midfielder, rather than a stopper center back. The advent of the utility midfield player, as substitute from 1965-66, gave further impetus to the freeing of the left half into midfield, as coaches experimented, with an inside forward dropping back to make a midfield pair.

In United’s case Bobby Charlton, former left wing, categorized as a deep-lying center forward, behind twin strikers, renowned for his long-range shooting. Brother Jack at Leeds United, and captain, Bobby Moore of West Ham, were the center backs in England’s World Cup win, with Bobby Charlton in the same role he had with United, while myopic Nobby Stiles was the rugged tackling ball distributor in midfield, whose loss of a contact lens was often cited as the reason for some rather horrendous lunges at moving objects on the pitch identifiable by shirt color alone. Nobby would continue at left half for the 1966-67 league title success, and the 1968 European Cup Final defeat of Benfica, 1-1, and 4-1 a.e.t., at Wembley; (GK) Alex Stepney, (RB) Shay Brennan, (LB) Tony Dunne, (RH) Pat Crerand, (CH) Bill Foulkes, (LH) Nobby Stiles, (RW) George Best (1), (CB) David Sadler, (AM) Bobby Charlton (2), (CF) Brian Kidd (1), (LW) John Aston.

The most telling observation is of David Sadler, who like Jackie Blanchflower could play center back, or center forward, as well as anywhere across the midfield, indicated on the program sheet as being a center back, tacitly accepting that Crerand and Stiles, as right half and left half, were central midfielders, rather than defenders alongside center back, Bill Foulkes, former right back, pressed into service there after the Munich aircrash. However, as Sadler could play in midfield, or at center forward, labels were misleading. United could play a half back line of Crerand, Foulkes and Stiles, or a center back pairing of Foulkes and Sadler, with Stiles in midfield, or Sadler and Stiles, or Sadler as a second striker (SS), or as a midfielder, even during a game, underlining the cleverness of manager, Sir Matt Busby, knighted by queen Elizabeth II after the European Cup win, as Sir Alf Ramsey was knighted, subsequent to his managing England to the World Cup, utilizing the players on the field fluidly, and without recourse to substitutions.

 If Sadler played in midfield, it’d be alongside Crerand, with center back duties devolving upon Stiles, presupposing the flexibility of the half back line, and similarly if David played as a second striker, Crerand and Charlton would be the midfield, or Crerand, Charlton and Stiles, if Foulkes wasn’t under any pressure. Busby’s formula made for a fluid pattern of play, owing a lot to his experience with Blanchflower and Edwards in the left half role, as either could play in central defence, run the midfield, and attack as a second striker. Busby retired after the 1968-69 term, which was disappointing in that the side failed to beat South America’s champions, Estudiantes de La Plata of Argentina, in the 1968 Intercontinental Cup Final, held between the winners of the Copa Libertadores and the European Cup, defeated in the first away leg, 0-1, and drawing the home leg, 1-1, despite a Crerand right footed free kick, on 90 minutes, right midfield, just inside the Estudiantes' half, finding right winger, Willie Morgan, edge of the left corner of the penalty area, right footed shot to ‘keeper, Alberto José Poletti’s left, bottom right corner of the net, losing, 1-2 on aggregate; (GK) Alex Stepney, (RB) Shay Brennan, (LB) Tony Dunne, (RH) Pat Crerand, (CH) Bill Foulkes, (LH) David Sadler, (RW) Willie Morgan (1), (SS) Brian Kidd, (AM) Bobby Charlton (c), (CF) Denis Law (C. Sartori, 44 mins), (LW) George Best. Also failing to progress beyond the semi-final stage of that season’s European Cup, the team lost to Italian Serie A club A.C. Milan at the San Siro stadium, 0-2, before winning at home, 1-0; (GK) Jimmy Rimmer, (RB) Shay Brennan, (LB) Francis Burns, (RH) Pat Crerand, (CH) Bill Foulkes, (LH) Nobby Stiles, (RW) Willie Morgan, (SS) Denis Law, (AM) Bobby Charlton (1), (CF) Brian Kidd, (LW) George Best..

 Best, wriggling past two Milan defenders on the right of the ‘D’, edging the ball past them with the outside of his right boot, inside the 18 yard box, prodding it wider right and forward to Charlton, running in, elevating his shot, narrow angle, right of the penalty area, close to the goal line, back of the net, 70 minutes, followed by a Law goal, disallowed, a yard out, right of the goalmouth, turning in a similar low cross shot, from the right side of the 18 yard box, ball yards over the line, ‘keeper Fabio Cudicini beaten, back in play, back heeled, by Cudicini, French referee Machin turning, a blind eye, 1-2 on aggregate.

 Busby was replaced by Wilf McGuinness for 1969-70, and Scot, Ian Ure, arrived from Arsenal to replace Bill Foulkes as a partner for Sadler in central defence for £80,000, effectively signaling the end of the half back line, as more than a nominative concept, relating to right sided defensive midfielders, and left sided creative midfielders, in favor of twinned center halves. Foulkes appeared on only three occasions for Wilf, and his last before retirement, age 37, was in a defeat, 1-4, to Southampton at Old Trafford on August 16th, 1969. McGuinness, in fact, revolutionized the sistema at United, where wingers were henceforth understood to be midfield players, as distinct from defenders, that is, center backs and full backs, and forwards. 

 Success on the field didn’t transpire, with the team failing to progress beyond the semi-final stage in the League Cup, losing to Manchester City, 1-2 at Maine Road; (GK) Alex Stepney, (RB) Paul Edwards, (LB) Tony Dunne, (RH) Francis Burns, (CH) Ian Ure, (LH) David Sadler, (RW) George Best, (CF) Brian Kidd, (AM) Bobby Charlton (1), (DM) Nobby Stiles, (LW) John Aston. Although Charlton leveled the score, after Kidd, wide and deep on the right, inside the City half, lofted a ball with his left boot that right back, Tony Book, center of the 18 yard box, tried to trap, but inadvertently played into the path of Bobby instead, running in right of the penalty area, left foot strike, 1-1, on 66 minutes, the team drew 2-2 at home; (GK) Alex Stepney, (RB) Paul Edwards (1), (LB) Tony Dunne, (RH) Nobby Stiles, (CH) Ian Ure, (LH) David Sadler, (RW) Willie Morgan, (CM) Pat Crerand, (AM) Bobby Charlton (1), (CF) Denis Law (1), (LW) George Best.

Ure, inside his own half, center circle, left footed pass forward to Crerand, left of center midfield, outside of his right boot, between Alan Oakes, nearer, in a central position, relative to the ‘D’ of the City 18 yard box, and center back, Mike Doyle, further off, in positional terms, relative to the right edge of the 'D', finds Paul Edwards, nudges the ball past left back, Glyn Pardoe, runs on into the 18 yard box, right of the 'D', level with the right edge of the penalty area, ball struck, right footed, top right corner of the net, on 23 minutes, 1-1. Ure, again inside his own half, left of the center circle, left foot pass to Best, inside the center circle. Best surges forward into the City half, shrugs off pursuing striker, Ian Bowyer, wins the ball off his right boot in a tackle with midfielder, Alan Oakes, shoots right footed from outside the 18 yard box, left of its right corner, ‘keeper Joe Corrigan parries, can’t hold. Law, inside the penalty area, pounces on 60 minutes, left footed strike, 2-1, but 3-4 on aggregate. Similarly, in the F.A. cup semi-final, the team lost a third replay, 0-1, with ‘The King’, as goal scoring legend, Law, was known to the die hard terraced fans at the Stretford End, benched for the single goal affair; (GK) Alex Stepney, (RB) Paul Edwards, (LB) Tony Dunne, (RH) Pat Crerand, (CH) David Sadler, (LH) Nobby Stiles, (RW) Willie Morgan, (CF) Brian Kidd, (AM) Bobby Charlton, (CM) Carlo Sartori (D. Law, 61 mins), (LW) George Best.

 There was a chance of silverware for the Old Trafford trophy cabinet straightaway in 1970-71, with the club reaching the Final of the Watney Mann Invitation Cup, contested four times from 1970-73, pre-season, before discontinued, sponsored by the brewery, and known as the Watney Cup, held for teams scoring most goals in each of the four divisions of the Football League the previous season, who had not been promoted, or admitted to a European competition.

 Two teams from each division took part, that is, eight participants, in a knockout format, each match a one-off, with no replays. The final took place at the home ground of one of the finalists, rather than a neutral venue. In the August 5th, 1970, semi-final, United defeated Second Division, Hull City, on penalties, 4-3, a.e.t., 1-1, the first ever penalty shoot out in English soccer, with Denis Law equalizing on 78 minutes an 11th minute headed opener from Chris Chilton, later substituted by Stuart Pearson, who’d be United’s center forward during their Second Division championship winning season of 1974-75, bought for £200,000 by then Scots’ manager, Tommy Docherty, after the club were relegated in 1973-74, and scoring 17 goals, as the team returned to the First Division; (GK) Alex Stepney, (RB) Paul Edwards, (LB) Tony Dunne, (CM) Pat Crerand, (CB) Ian Ure, (CB) David Sadler, (RW) Willie Morgan, (SS) Denis Law (1), (AM) Bobby Charlton, (CF) Brian Kidd, (LW) George Best. City goalkeeper, Ian McKechnie, turned from hero to villain in front of Bunkers Hill at Boothferry Road, saving from fellow Scot, Law,  but hitting Stepney’s bar as ‘The Tigers’ outfield players bottled it and Ian was forced to step up. Best, Kidd, and Charlton completed their spot kicks successfully, 3-3, before Denis’ failure, but Hull striker, Ken Wagstaffe, also failed, leaving Morgan to ensure that McKechnie had no one to talk to in the dressing room afterwards.

 The Final took place on August 8th, 1970, at The Baseball Ground; (GK) Alex Stepney, (RB) Paul Edwards, (LB) Tony Dunne, (CM) Pat Crerand, (CB) Ian Ure, (CB) David Sadler, (RW) Willie Morgan (N. Stiles, 57 mins), (SS) Denis Law (J. Fitzpatrick, 25 mins), (AM) Bobby Charlton, (CF) Brian Kidd, (LW) George Best (1). Fitzpatrick, winning a tackle, left footed, with Wales’ midfielder Alan Durban, edge of the ‘D’, center, ball breaks to Best, on 32 minutes, a yard or so in front of the penalty spot, left footed strike, despite left back John Robson’s attempt at a block, low into the bottom left corner of the net, 1-2, but not enough. Derby manager, Brian Clough, secured his first trophy, 4-1.

 The club 18th in the league, failed to beat Aston Villa in the 1970-71 League Cup semi-final at home, despite a 44th minute equalizer from Kidd, beginning the move on the right, a pass through the legs of Stonehouse referee, David Smith, to Stiles, Kidd runs on into the 18 yard box. Stiles to Sartori, right touchline, a high ball from Carlo, left footed, header at the edge of the 18 yard box, Scots' right back, Charlie Aitken, towards Brian, rather than cleared upfield, leapt at by the striker, right corner of the penalty area, struck off the ground, left footed scissors-kick, screamer, 1-1, far left corner of the net; (GK) Jimmy Rimmer, (RB) John Fitzpatrick, (LB) Tony Dunne, (RH) Pat Crerand, (CH) Ian Ure, (LH) David Sadler, (RW) Willie Morgan, (CF) Brian Kidd (1), (AM) Bobby Charlton, (SS) Denis Law, (LW) George Best.
It was 1-2 at Villa Park, despite taking a 14th minute lead through Kidd; (GK) Jimmy Rimmer, (RB) John Fitzpatrick, (LB) Tony Dunne, (RH) Pat Crerand, (CH) Ian Ure, (LH) David Sadler, (RW) Willie Morgan, (CF) Brian Kidd (1), (AM) Bobby Charlton, (SS) Denis Law, (LW) George Best.

 A long, hoofed ball, from the right full back position, by the United 18 yard box, bouncing ahead of Brian, deep inside the Villa half, between central defenders, Fred Turnbull and Brian Tiler. Kidd gets ahead of the ball, shielding it, back to the Villa goal. Tiler kicks at the ball, hits Kidd in the chest, appeals for a handball. Kidd shapes to go out wider on the right, ball on his right boot, instead turns inside Turnbull, ball on his left boot, right corner of the 18 yard box, easing the ball past Fred, with the outside of his left boot, allowing the ball to run on, then passing the ball back, with his right boot, again onto his left, pushing the ball ahead of him, past the lunging form of Tiler, racing on, nudges the ball, left of diving ‘keeper, John Dunn, by the penalty spot, left footed strike low, along the turf, left side of the net, 1-0. Losing 2-3 on aggregate meant a brief return to the manager’s reins for Busby from December 29th, 1970, before the appointment of Leicester City’s Frank O’ Farrell for 1971-72.

  McGuinness had begun the 1970-71 season’s campaign with a defeat, 0-1, to Leeds United, fielding a side containing seven defenders, including the ‘keeper, which was indication enough that there’d be problems ahead; (GK) Alex Stepney, (RB) Paul Edwards, (LB) Tony Dunne (CM) Pat Crerand, (CB) Ian Ure, (CB) David Sadler, (DM) John Fitzpatrick, (DM) Nobby Stiles (A. Gowling, 46 mins), (AM) Bobby Charlton, (CF) Brian Kidd, (SS) George Best. Only Northern Ireland's Best, Charlton, and Kidd weren’t recognizably concerned with defence, and in the following 0-0 home draw with Chelsea, center forward Kidd was replaced by Scots’ right wing, Morgan, brought for £110,000 from Burnley for 1968-69, after John Aston, son of John Aston, left back in the ‘48 F.A. Cup Final winning team, was carried off before half time by coach, Wilf McGuinness, and trainer, Jack Crompton, in the course of a 0-0 draw at Manchester City’s Maine Road, on August 17th, 1968, suffering from a leg break; (GK) Alex Stepney, (RB) Frank Kopel, (LB) Tony Dunne (RH) John Fitzpatrick, (CH) David Sadler, (LH) Nobby Stiles, (RW) George Best, (SS) Alan Gowling, (AM) Bobby Charlton (c), (CF) Brian Kidd (LW) John Aston (F. Burns, 45 mins.). 

 Crerand was initially replaced by Scot, Fitzpatrick, as invariably the first seven players on Wilf’s team sheet were defensive, while his disciplining of legendary contributors, Charlton, for example, made to do 10 press ups, and his inclusion of try outs, for example, Scots' right back Willie Watson, in preference to seasoned campaigners, didn’t serve his cause. Although Scot, Francis Burns, who’d featured in six of the European games, as the club progressed to the '68 Final, was restored to favor, defeat at St James’ Park, Newcastle, 0-1, on October 31st, 1970, suggested Wilf’s teams were too defensive to create anything for the forward line;  (GK) Jimmy Rimmer, (RB) Paul Edwards, (LB) Tony Dunne, (DM) John Fitzpatrick, (CB) Steve James, (CB) David Sadler, (RW) George Best, (DM) Francis Burns, (AM) Bobby Charlton, (CF) Brian Kidd, (LW) John Aston.

What seemed to have obsessively attracted McGuinness was the idea that the right back, for example, Paul, together with a defensive half back line, for example, Sadler, Foulkes, and Stiles, where Stiles, or whoever was selected at left half, in fact had the left back role, leaving Dunne, for example, or Fitzpatrick, nominally at left back, as sweeper. Whereas Busby had thought of it as an option, within the fluid interchangeability he’d conceived, for example, Sadler moving from center back to center forward, with Paul moving to center back, while Fitzpatrick, and/or Burns, in the side selected to play Newcastle, that is, moving to full back/sweeper, Wilf’s selecting of upwards of seven defensive outfield players suggested the libero as basic to his thinking as a coach.

For a while Watson replaced Paul Edwards at right back, while Italian inside forward, Carlo Sartori, and Gowling were given their chance. Crerand was restored to the team for the game on December 19th, 1970, at home to Arsenal; (GK) Jimmy Rimmer, (RB) Willie Watson, (LB) Tony Dunne, (CM) Pat Crerand, (CB) Steve James, (CB) John Fitzpatrick, (RW) Willie Morgan, (CM) Carlo Sartori, (AM) Bobby Charlton, (CF) Brian Kidd, (SS) George Best.

A crossfield move begun by Charlton, right, deep in his own half, long ball, right footed to Sartori, left wing, moving out of the United half up the left touchline, level with the left corner of the 18 yard box, cross right footed, Kidd back-heading the ball on, left edge of the penalty area, left winger George Armstrong trying to hoof the ball clear, rebounds to Best off the legs of center back, Peter Simpson. Best stabs the ball towards the goalmouth, stifled by the defenders, trying to control the ball again, kicked away by right back, Pat Rice, not far enough. Sartori, running in right of the penalty area, before left back, Bob McNab to Carlo's left can react; left foot, on 41 minutes, high into the right side of the net, 1-3.

 It was mene tekel upharsin for McGuinness, with the club 18th, following a draw, 4-4 against Derby County at their Baseball ground, on  December 26th, 1970; (GK) Jimmy Rimmer, (RB) John Fitzpatrick, (LB) Tony Dunne, (CM) Pat Crerand, (CB) Ian Ure, (CB) David Sadler, (RW) Willie Morgan, (SS) Denis Law (2), (AM) Bobby Charlton, (CF) Brian Kidd (1),  (LW) George Best (1).

.  At 0-2 Law headed a goal, on 55 minutes, into the top left corner of the net from a Morgan cross, to the right of the 18 yard box, and outside of it, that found Law, center of the 18 yard box, by the penalty spot, 1-2. Charlton, corner on the right, taken right footed, back-header by central defender, David Sadler, right corner of the penalty area, parried by ‘keeper, Les Green, falls to Best, a yard from the goal line, on 57 minutes, swept in right footed, 2-2. Charlton, corner on the left, taken right footed, diving header from Law, right of center of the penalty area, bottom of the net, 3-2 up on 59 minutes, and 4-3 down, Charlton corner on the right, taken right footed, Kidd header just outside the penalty area, left of center, top left corner of the net, 4-4, on 75 minutes, guaranteeing Busby’s return.

 Until the end of season 1970-71 the ghost of the half back line returned to haunt, beginning with a win at Chelsea, 2-1, on January 9th, 1971; (GK) Alex Stepney, (RB) John Fitzpatrick, (LB) Tony Dunne, (RH) Pat Crerand, (CH) Paul Edwards, (LH) Nobby Stiles, (RW) Willie Morgan (1), (SS) Alan Gowling (1), (AM) Bobby Charlton, (CF) Denis Law, (LW) John Aston. Although Paul Edwards had impressed as a full back, scoring from long range against City in the 1969-70 season's League Cup semi-final, in 1970-71 he was often deployed as a center back, while Gowling, in the team for Best against the Stamford Bridge club, and who’d later be second striker alongside Malcolm Macdonald at Newcastle, in the side for Aston against Southampton, netted four for Busby alongside Best, at The Dell, in a home defeat of ‘The Saints’, on February 20th, 1971, 5-1; (GK) Alex Stepney, (RB) John Fitzpatrick, (LB) Francis Burns, (CM) Pat Crerand, (CB) Paul Edwards, (CB) David Sadler, (RW) Willie Morgan (1), (SS) George Best, (AM) Bobby Charlton, (CF) Alan Gowling (4), (LW) John Aston. Stiles played what proved to be his last game away at Coventry, 1-2, on April 13th, 1971, with Sadler preferred thereafter, as Nobby was transferred to Middlesboro for £20,000; (GK) Alex Stepney, (RB) Tony Dunne, (LB) Francis Burns, (CM) Pat Crerand, (CB) Paul Edwards, (CB) Nobby Stiles, (RW) Willie Morgan, (SS) Alan Gowling, (AM) Bobby Charlton, (CF) Brian Kidd, (LW) George Best (1). Half backs to begin with, and center backs to the end, Foulkes and Stiles were gone, while Sir Matt had engineered a recovery to 8th primarily by limiting the number of defensive players to the back four.