MANCHESTER UNITED VS SHAKHTAR DONETSK
After back to back home league defeats United returned to their Champions League comfort zone. Having qualified for the knock-out rounds with a victory at Bayer Leverkusen they were looking to secure top spot in this final game and theoretically an easier opponent in the next stage.
In: Buttner, Ferdinand, Giggs, Rooney, Young and Kagawa.
Out: Evra, Vidic, Cleverley, Hernandez, van Persie and Nani.
- In the first half United were far too cautious. Too many sideways passes aimed at simply keeping possession handed the initiative to Shakhtar. They were far more direct, purposeful and mobile.
- In the second half United were braver, being more prepared to make a riskier early forward pass.
- Again the balance of midfield is just not right. This often resulted in Kagawa having to drop very deep to pick up possession and as a consequence the forwards, and notably Rooney were isolated.
United started this game in a 4-2-3-1 shape with Kagawa playing behind Rooney through the middle. Behind then Jones and Giggs anchored the centre with Jones the slightly deeper of the pair and with Januzaj and Young to the right and left respectively. Shakhtar started in a 4-5-1 shape with the mobile Teixeira having a freer role than all others.
Initially United had good possession and their passing looked purposeful. They kept the ball well. This soon changed however and a pattern emerged that persisted for much of the half. What changed was that the purposefulness went out of their passing and with Shakhtar now prepared to press United began to struggle to get out of their own half. We have seen this in previous games this season, and it is a feature when United are outnumbered in the middle of the park. United’s deep midfield players and their centre backs find it difficult in this situation to get their heads up and look for a forward pass. It then becomes a game of keeping possession rather than trying to ask questions of the opposition. Much of the passing is across rather than up and down the pitch and this then invites the opposition to press further and higher. United’s shape becomes stretched and the forward players become isolated.
In the first half here the response to this was that Kagawa dropped very deep searching for possession and when he got the ball he was so far from the attacking third that he had little impact as an attacking force. He was often as deep if not deeper than the deeper midfield pair and in that situation became a part of the keep ball pattern. Rooney was left isolated. Playing as the main front man Rooney needs support. Here he was too far from the action and as he is not a natural back to goal target man he couldn’t offer United the outlet target. For long periods of the half he wasn’t significantly in the game.
With Kagawa dropping deep Young and Januzaj came narrow. This is their natural tendency, but here it could have helped by reducing the gap between Rooney and his nearest teammate. Unfortunately United’s efforts to cross the half way line were so slow and labored that as the half wore on United had less and less impact as an attacking force. Everything Young in particular touched turned to dust.
Emboldened by this Shahktar asserted themselves. As early as 12th minute they had a good chance to score when a threaded through ball from Taison in the inside left channel was knocked just wide by Teixeira as Jones tried to make up ground. As the half wore on they grew bolder and stronger. Always prepared to press United, most good things came through the highly mobile Teixeira. Shakhtar started from a 4-5-1 shape but Teixeira with a seemingly free role had license to change that shape at will. He moved well between the lines of United’s rather static defence and midfield to find space wherever it appeared and with his teammates becoming more fluid Shakhtar had no trouble keeping the ball for long periods in the United half or making chances.
Generally they used Adriano as a target for an early forward pass, he held the ball or knocked it back to one of his teammates, often Teixeira but also Taison, Fred or even Costa advancing from deeper. The pace at which this tactic was executed caused problems for the reds whilst contrasting starkly with United’s plodding approach. Only a bit of good fortune and a number of last gasp interventions prevented Shakhtar taking the lead.
At the start of the second half Shakhtar had a good early chance and hit the post. It seemed as if they were going to start the first half in the ascendency as they had finished the first. But as the pattern of the half became established it soon became clear that things were changing.
The biggest change was that United were now trying to move the ball up the pitch earlier. No doubt David Moyes had asked for this change at halftime, but it was clear that know United were prepared to make an earlier, riskier pass forward rather than a safer pass sideways. This had an immediate effect. Suddenly Shakhtar had to take a step back, and whilst United’s forward passing didn’t always come off it did begin to ask questions of the opposition. There was always the risk that such an early pass would hurt Shakhtar and they were clearly mindful of this. That in term made them slightly less adventurous in their pressing, which gave United players slightly longer on the ball to pick their heads up and look for a meaningful pass.
With United now making more of an impression Rafael and Buttner began to press forward with Buttner in particular putting in a couple of dangerous crosses from wide positions.
On 62 minutes United now made a couple of substitutions. Robin van Perise replaced the ineffectual Young and Tom Clevelrey replaced Giggs. With van Perise now lading the line Rooney dropped deeper and Kagawa moved out to the left. Cleverley for Giggs was a straight swap.
Five minutes after this change United scored when BOOM! Phil Jones finished with a clinical shot as the ball ran free after a corner.
After this goal Shakhtar didn’t trouble United significantly. Perhaps they were tiring as this game effectively sees the end of their current season, but mention should be made of Cleverley’s performance here as he never ceased to ‘get about’ the Ukraine teams midfield, never allowing them time to settle.
The simple tactic of being prepared to take more of a risk by making an early forward pass rather than settling for a safer sideways pass changed this game. In the first half United played it safe, had lots of possession but surrendered the initiative. In the second half by being more adventurous United began to ask questions and forced Shakhtar into a more cautious position. Fortune favours the brave.