Sir Alex Ferguson has always preferred gentle evolution to radical change when easing Manchester United from one era of success to the next.
Some developments, though, necessitate a more dramatic approach and it is likely that we shall see a rather different United team as the Barclays Premier League champions begin their title defence without Cristiano Ronaldo.
His sale to Real Madrid is the most significant departure since Eric Cantona retired in 1997.
Ronaldo gave United something they cannot replace. Eighty-four goals from midfield in six seasons say much for his worth.
Ferguson was candid this week when he said: ‘He is a huge loss. It won’t be the same without Ronaldo. It can’t be.’
The trick now for Ferguson is to succeed with different tactics. ‘We will shape it differently,’ the United manager added. ‘We will be more compact in midfield.’
Perhaps the player who will feel the most pressure is the Ecuadorian Antonio Valencia, bought from Wigan. A right-sided midfielder, he will take Ronaldo’s position.
More disciplined than the Portugal star, Valencia will in all likelihood prompt Ferguson to revert to 4-4-2.
Manchester United's new signings Gabriel Obertan, Michael Owenand Antonio Valencia
Tough boots to fill: Valencia (right) poses with fellow Old trafford new boys Gabriel Obertan and Michael Owen
Ronaldo’s unpredictability and versatility compelled United to have extra defensive cover.
With the World Player of the Year gone, United will perhaps become more rigid. What is important is that they don’t become predictable.
Here in Asia, they have played 4-4-2, with Darron Gibson or Darren Fletcher on the right as Valencia is not here.
Ryan Giggs, a United player for 20 years, said last night: ‘Over the years the team has
adapted well to whatever system, whether it’s 4-4-2 or three in midfield.
‘The players the manager has brought in have got used to playing any system.
‘With Valencia coming it might be a bit more of a rigid 4-4-2.’
Ryan Giggs of Manchester United
One player who perhaps would relish a return to a traditional English formation is Wayne Rooney
, for too long asked to play wide to accommodate Ronaldo.
It is surely time to play Rooney through the middle, behind either Dimitar Berbatov or Michael Owen.
Despite Owen’s fine pre-season form in Asia — where he has scored twice — United still look a striker short, and Rooney’s enduring fitness and effectiveness will be crucial.
So, too, will the continued emergence of Danny Welbeck and Federico Macheda. What Giggs and Paul Scholes can contribute remains to be seen.
Certainly, Giggs was on message when he reflected on Ronaldo’s departure this week.
‘I think a lot more is made of it outside the club than on the inside,’ he said. ‘You get used to it at a big club like United.’