BAYER LEVERKUSEN VS MANCHESTER UNITED
27.11.2013

United travelled to the Bay Arena with memories still fresh, certainly for manutdtactics, of when the reds were there in 2002 losing the opportunity to reach the Champions League final. Despite the relatively straight forward home encounter, Leverkusen sat second in the Bundesliga and deserved not to be underestimated.

PERSONNEL

In: Kagawa, Giggs, Jones and Nani.
Out: Hernandez, Fellaini, Clevelrley, Januzaj.

KEY POINTS

  • The poor Leverkusen formation and the lack of a response to United’s superiority.
  • The positioning of the Leverkusen fullbacks, the space left behind and how United took advantage (see image below).
  • The standout players. United played well (admittedly Leverkusen helped them with their abject showing) but it was Giggs, Kagawa, Rooney, Nani and Valencia that really played well.
  • Rooney’s four assists.
  • United recording their biggest ever away result in the Champions League.
  • The possession statistics – 49.1% to 50.1% in United’s favour (source: FourFourTwo.com) suggest a United system working toward the counter attack.

BAYER SHAPE Poor positioning by Leverkusen fullbacks (uefa.com)

FIRST HALF

Leverkusen was a 4-3-3 formation which maintained a very strict shape and it was with interest that we saw the front three apply little pressure to Ferdinand and Evans. This became more apparent when you consider the passing combination stats; Ferdinand and Evans were the second highest with 12 (source: FourFourTwo.com).  You would have expected Kiessling or Son to attack but instead they floated and it was clear what Hyppia’s tactics were in this zone. In contrast to this, United closed down Bayer’s keeper Leno quickly and marked the short passing options.

As usual United’s fullbacks pushed on yet Bayer remained narrow. The availability of space on the flanks was a god send to United’s 4-2-3-1 formation and the central core of Rooney, Kagawa, Giggs and Jones. The midfield two split; Giggs to serve the attackers and Jones to assist the defence. This quartet were also instrumental in the fluidity of United’s play; creating exciting pass and move patterns but also denying the Leverkusen front four (three plus one) any time and space as they reverted to a 4-4-1-1 when defending.

UNITED SHAPE United’s shape (uefa.com)

Alarmingly for Leverkusen they had few ‘outball’ options, relying on the fullbacks to get up; they failed in this regard. This type of formation and its chaotic results was very reminiscent of the Atletico Madrid v Chelsea UEFA Super Cup final 2012. United executed this advantage particularly with Valencia and his spirit of attacking without fear, as Sir Alex highlighted in his recent book, was obvious particularly as the ball reached either the dead ball line or the corner.

Boom! A United break results in a goal. How satisfying the counter is and it began through Kagawa. His range of positioning was noticeable and he dispossessed Reinartz near the 18 yard box breaking out with Rooney and Giggs to his left. The ball to Rooney saw him draw a number of Leverkusen markers, this saw the initial call for the ball to be fed back to Kagawa but his inside movement drew the defence toward him and the forward run of Valencia became apparent for Rooney who was in space and played an excellent cross to Valencia to convert.

VALENCIA GOAL (uefa.com)

There was an excellent example of set piece play around the 24 minute mark and it served to underline that the set piece is a severely neglected attacking weapon.

Boom! Rooney’s ball in from the left and a leap by Smalling with Spahic resulted in an own goal from the Bosnia-Herzegovinian. There was no formation change from Leverkusen, why didn’t they revert to a 4-5-1 and address the space out wide and the over running of the midfield?

SECOND HALF

A continuation of the first, except for Leverkusen who went to a 4-4-2(ish) yet this traditional formation reaped little dividend as the team lacked urgency, energy and any understanding of how to pass a player on.

Boom! Evans scored!! But the marking was awful, simply awful from Leverkusen. The corner was poorly defended as he and Rooney had time to fluff a chance and take one.

Boom! Smalling found himself in unusual territory, high up on the left hand side of the pitch as Donati gave the ball away to Kagawa who fed Rooney who looked as if he was attempting to shoot but it ended up finding its way to Smalling in the 6 yard box.

SMALLING GOAL (uefa.com)

After the goal a raft of substitutions were made. Evra off for Buttner, no major shift in United’s formation at this point, Hegeler for Reinartz and the most notable in terms of affecting Leverkusen’s formation, Derdiyok on for Son. This was an attempt to make them more direct and create closer combination play with Kiessling, with the sub the higher of the two. It should be noted that Evans played very well.

As the half drew to an end Moyes made two further substitutions; Rooney came off for Anderson and Valencia came off for Young. This helped nullify the brief but minor improvement from Leverkusen since their two substitutions, becoming more direct and less narrow. We saw Young on the right but deeper and less inclined to bomb back and forth whilst the more interesting sub was Anderson who sat alongside Nani, now up front as Kagawa went left. United was now a 4-4-1-1.

Boom! The benefit of putting Anderson alongside Nani became prevalent in the instigation of United’s fifth goal when Giggs played a superb ball to Nani which was chested equally superbly before an acute finish. This goal came about after pressure from Anderson. It was symbolic of the ‘on the front foot’ mentality of Moyes’ team. What it also showed was the deeper position Giggs had taken up since the change in formation.

NANI GOAL (uefa.com)

CONCLUSION

Bayer’s minor threat came in the form of Son who in the early phases showed glimpses of his form from last season with Hamburg but any positives for them were evaporated by their fullbacks who had an atrocious game.

The Bayer 4-3-3 should have worked but didn’t, it has the advantage of becoming a 4-5-1 when defending but the usual nine man defensive unit this system requires simply didn’t happen.

United meanwhile were in great shape their 4-2-3-1 and there was so much happening from the front player, Rooney to the excellent combination of Jones and Giggs, eating up space and creating chances. They were reminiscent of that delightful Valencia pairing of David Albelda and Ruben Baraja in their title-winning team. Kagawa was a plus as he moved around the midfield three, Leverkusen just couldn’t track him. There were a number of good performances and ones we hope can be taken forward including Nani and Kagawa.  Giggs’s performance was expected as he introduced lots of pace and dynamism in United’s play and what most obvious was the connectivity between midfield and the strikers (as the image below shows). A big improvement from the Cardiff game.

ACTION AREAS (uefa.com)

United qualified as a result of the score line and as the song goes, ‘Oh what fun it is to see United win away!’