REAL SOCIEDAD VS MANCHESTER UNITED
Match-day 4 in the UEFA Champions League saw United take a trip to a Sociedad team who had improved their league form since the first game at Old Trafford.
In: Giggs, Smalling, Fellaini, Ferdinand, Kagawa, Hernandez.
Out: van Persie, Jones, Evans, Rafael, Cleverley, Januzaj.
- Fellaini improved his game in his starting berth. Although his clumsy tackling showed that the red card had a degree of inevitability about it.
- The second half switch of Kagawa going central behind van Persie with Young out wide had an immediate impact which unfortunately tapered off.
- Valencia was a plus, he played high, he tracked and harried as well as putting himself in good positions for crosses the support pass or the occasional shot.
- Kagawa linked well with Patrice Evra down the left.
The game was played at a sedate pace with plenty of probing but little return. The most notable attacking threats came from both full backs, playing a prominent role high up the pitch. They had plenty of space as the Sociedad full backs played high too and this was taken advantage of but with little end product. What was interesting was to see Kagawa feature as he worked well with Evra and on the other side Valencia came infield much further than usual yet United retained an element of width on the wing.
Fellaini was heavily involved in the game, either with short passes that ticked the game over rather than probing and asking questions of any significance. He was still slow but he was also making clumsy tackles which were drawing unnecessary fouls as Sociedad players went down relatively easily. Fellaini’s midfield partner Giggs possessed the greater forward threat and carried pace with it too.
Up front Hernandez played in a horizontal manner, rarely dropping deep as Rooney sat behind in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
United started the game very much in control but Sociedad did creep back into it as United found it difficult to keep tabs on both Vela and Griezmann who were showing plenty of thoughtful movement.
It must be said that the crossing was very poor by the end of the first half with little hope for change.
The major change in the half came with the withdrawal of Rooney and Hernandez; bold from Moyes.
In came van Persie and Young and the change was immediate. Van Persie went central, Kagawa came in behind him and Young went to the left; it appeared to be a 4-4-1-1 from a 4-2-3-1. Young showed vibrancy, cutting inside as often as he went outward whilst Kagawa enjoyed much more of the ball and interacted delightfully with van Persie.
The Dutchman’s introduction saw United blow two terrific chances, one where he hit the post following a penalty after Young was fouled and two hitting the post from within the six yard box. This followed a ball from Kagawa to Young down the left who swept the ball across the goal to Van Persie; like Hernández before him he hit the outside of the post from a difficult angle.
At the end of the half Fellaini was sent off for a second bookable offence, a clumsy foul. This left United with a few nervous moments to negotiate. Fellaini’s performance here had been better than in his last European away game in that he gave the ball away far less. He did however commit a series of clumsy rather than deliberate or malicious fouls. His sending off, when it came, seemed almost inevitable.
A missed opportunity indeed, echoing the sentiments of Moyes. United were in charge of this game despite the occasional threat from Sociedad. The missed opportunities may be just a result of the game and not a continuing thread thus far in the season. United haven’t set this competition alight for a while and Moyes has set the stall out well in the Champions League and probably continued the pace which Sir Alex left last season.
Whilst Fellaini showed an improved performance he still has the stage horse feel about him, clunky and unrefined, as if he were going through growing pains. He diced with danger for most of the game as he struggled to impose himself in the centre of the midfield. The connection between Giggs and he wasn’t as kinesthetic as was hoped.