STOKE CITY VS MANCHESTER UNITED
18.12.2013

The beauty of the League Cup is how quickly a team can find itself on the brink of a semi final and achieving this would be a significant fillip for Moyes’ team. Before thoughts of progressing United had to face Stoke away where they’ve been quite successful over the last few years, think Tevez and Hernandez goals in recent games.

PERSONNEL

In:  Young, Anderson, Smalling.
Out: Rooney, Januzaj, Giggs.

KEY POINTS

  • Young scoring was pleasing and let’s hope it’s the start of a more positive contribution from him
  • Set pieces from United needed to improve.
  • The space in front of the United defence was caused by the gap between Stoke’s midfield and forward.
  • Retaining a clean sheet was an added bonus.
  • In the first half the conditions played a massive part in the game and resulted in a slow pace with many over hit passes

FIRST HALF

United started with a young but relatively strong team to face Sparky’s Potters side that were in a 4-2-3-1 formation with the main involvement coming from Ireland, Walters and Crouch. In return, United had an interesting 4-1-4-1 with key features being Jones and Welbeck as the one in each relevant band.

1st half United’s shape at the start of the match

In front of Smalling and Evans the use of the space fluctuated as Crouch, and usually Ireland pressed, if not Stoke were quick to sit back and try to minimise the space between the zones. Even when they were building from the back they regularly left the space in front of the United defence empty. The 4-1-4-1 formation was about maintaining the midfield triangle, key in both the 4-2-3-1 and in the 4-3-3 (of which United played against Villa) and we saw a great emphasis on the interchange between Cleverley, Jones and Anderson to that effect giving it a real 4-3-3 feel.

Up front Welbeck was tasked with continual pressing yet he was not supported satisfactorily enough in this half to make a significant impact on the occasions he won the ball back. The quality of United’s passing in the final third was poor but more obvious was the need to get Welbeck supported and supplied better. The conditions weren’t helping as many passes were misjudged due to the strength of the wind.

There was very little width in the half and that which we did see came from Young or Evra down the left and obviously as a result  the threat from Stoke came down their right hand side with Cameron whipping a couple of crosses in but the Stoke forward line were not close enough to meet any of them. With plenty on the left the right was non existent. This was helped by the influence of Assaidi and the back up of Whelan and Pieters.

As the half moved toward its conclusion Young moved in closer to Welbeck and United enjoyed more of the ball.

SECOND HALF

When Anderson was replaced by Hernandez early into the half we saw United gain further control of the ball as they assumed a 4-4-1-1 formation with Welbeck dropping back and Young moving inside.

2nd half United’s shape after Hernandez’s introduction

Stoke now sat a little deeper and with the change in the weather we saw much faster play from United and less of a challenge from Stoke, a view echoed by Hughes on the BBC football website, “They just had a little bit more power and pace. We weren’t able to ask enough questions of them in the second half.”

Boom! The goal from Young, a welcome one for him, was of real quality but it was the space Palacios afforded him allowing him to fire a low drive which was going in the minute it left his foot. The build up play saw a ball being played into Hernandez who did well to hold it up and lay it onto the on rushing Young.

YOUNG GOAL

Boom! United were now in control of the game despite an opportunity for Walters and the tie was put beyond doubt when Evra scored a beauty on 78 minutes.  The marking was shocking from Stoke who used two players, Walters and Whelan, to mark Young who fed the ball into the space created by this and curled his shot home.

SPACE IN FRONT OF STOKE DEFENCE FOR 2ND GOAL

The game ended with a further positive note as Fletcher continued his return from illness when he replaced Welbeck.

CONCLUSION

This was a deserved win for the reds and the players should be proud that they have gotten the team into the semi finals of the League Cup.

The 4-1-4-1 had its up and downs and whilst it saw a plenty of pressing and much more choice in attack it still needs exploring. The shift to bring in Young and eventually Hernandez saw a much more cohesive approach. Stoke on the other hand were a footnote in the game.

United’s players did well, especially when they ask themselves ‘Could Messi have done any better on a wet and windy night in Stoke?’