MANCHESTER UNITED VS NEWCASTLE UNITED
07.12.2013

On the back of the abject performance on Wednesday, United had a quick opportunity to put such matters behind them against a Newcastle side that were in some degree of form.

PERSONNEL

In: Jones, Evans, Januzaj, Cleverley, Hernandez, van Persie and Nani.
Out: Giggs, Smalling, Valencia, Fellaini, Rooney, Kagawa and Welbeck.

KEY POINTS

  • There were issues with the 4-2-3-1 formation for United in the clear isolation of the lone striker in the transition from defence to attack.
  • In much of the early phase the United centre backs were sending passes over the fullbacks. The quality of these passes was not good enough.
  • The midfield was sat too deep and there was swathes of space in the middle as they failed to take the game to Newcastle.
  • Newcastle were adaptive, but not to how United played but rather to exploit United’s weaknesses.
  • Van Persie was clearly short of fitness and offered little in the middle of the three in a 4-2-3-1.

FIRST HALF

We saw Newcastle set up in an interesting 4-3-2-1 formation which as the half transpired gave them a solid platform to break down and stifle any threat United offered. As is common with this formation Newcastle played narrow. It allowed them fluidity and we saw the outside members of three drift to either flank, adding presence. Surprisingly their fullbacks rarely ‘bombed’ on.

United’s 4-2-3-1 saw Cleverley and Jones as the midfield two, hardly inspiring, but more interestingly was the inclusion of van Persie in the middle of the three, trying to support Hernandez.

FIRST HALF United’s first half shape

Unfortunately it became obvious that this wasn’t working. Van Persie isn’t a ‘link’ player and even if he was, the service to him and the forwards was scant. He was also clearly unfit, the return to the team seemed peculiar after Moyes stated he was unsure when his return would be; nonetheless United fans were pleased to see him back.

There were clear issues with the 4-2-3-1 and the connection between Hernandez and van Persie, yet another issue was the isolation of the lone striker when defending. If the ball was cleared up to Hernandez then on the occasions he did hold it up he had to wait a significant period of time before any players caught up with him.

In general there were just too many balls played in the air, which were mopped up by Sissoko, Anita and Tiote who had no pressure; Tiote was afforded too much space but when he was called upon he was exceptional.

The game was stretched, not in an end to end sense, but the positioning of United’s players meant that there was far too much space for Newcastle’s. The only visible exploitation of space came through Vidic trying to send long balls over the winger’s heads, but the passes were not good enough.

When the wingers did have the ball they were ineffective and were typically unsupported by the fullbacks who were not forward enough. Rafael appeared sluggish and displayed many a poor touch whilst Evra was caught flat footed twice!

Newcastle were on top and there appeared to be little United could do to stop it; this was a massive concern. The only real tactical change that was obvious was when Januzaj and Nani swapped wings in an attempt to drag out the 4-3-2-1.

SECOND HALF

Newcastle shifted into a 4-2-3-1 at the start of the half with Sissoko pushing on Evra and then shortly after they scored they quickly sat back into a 4-4-2. The goal came about after the pressure from Sissoko saw Evra head into him and he fed the ball in the area onto an onrushing Cabaye. The once desperate to leave Cabaye was unmarked as he arrived and his slightly deflected shot, off Vidic, squeezed past de Gea. The poor marking was surprising as United’s midfielders were sat very deep and should have done better. Yet when you consider Cabaye’s starting position, i.e., the right side, it was of little surprise as Evra’s positioning had been poor all game. Cabaye took up the pocket of space between Evra and the midfielders.

SECOND HALF United in the second half

United were looking desperate and were relying on the long ball too often. Newcastle’s defenders and deep midfielders were too strong and consistent in winning the ball back.

Again, we saw Januzaj and Nani switch wings in an attempt to mix the penetration, unfortunately little joy was forthcoming either with the wingers going outside or inside the fullbacks.

A change was made, and a surprising one at that, Zaha came on for Nani in the 70th minute.  It wasn’t enough and it was unfair to expect anything from him considering the conditions of his arrival into the game.

United were still sat too deep and Moyes brought Cleverley off for Anderson and the Brazilian injected more urgency and there was a touch more directness as Januzaj moved behind the front two and Valencia went right back for Rafael (although much higher). To address this Ben Arfa and Sissoko swapped wings; the switch worked.

CONCLUSION

On the tram home feelings of desperation persisted; how could this team play so badly? It boils down to confidence and desire. This is a strong team, despite many opinions to the contrary. This is a team that were more than comfortable against Real Madrid last season and this season blitzed Fulham this season. The lack of a driving force, a leader was clear, even Vidic looked lost!

Formation wise there was clearly issues with the 4-2-3-1. The isolation of lone striker Hernandez, when breaking was obvious. He worked hard but was not sufficiently supported.

The quality of the passing and lack of variation with balls over the fullbacks was not good enough. It was because United sat too deep, especially the midfield pair, giving Newcastle too much space in midfield; long balls were the consistent option.

United’s centre backs showed no creativity, probably because Jones and Cleverley were right on top of them! Yet the defence as a whole offered very little and we saw Evra caught out of position twice and he was mocked by Sissoko.

The refuge of the Champions League awaits Moyes’ Boys!