SUNDERLAND VS MANCHESTER UNITED
07.01.2014

Immediate redemption awaited Moyes’ boys in the form of the first leg of the semi-final at Sunderland. Fingers were crossed that this cup tie would be more enjoyable than the previous one.

PERSONNEL

In: De Gea, Rafael, Evra, Vidic, Carrick, Giggs and Januzaj
Out: Lindegaard, Smalling, Ferdinand, Buttner, Fletcher, Hernandez and Kagawa.

KEY POINTS

  • Stating the obvious but United are a weaker side without Rooney, a significantly weaker one without him and van Persie.
  • Choices, the game is about making the right choices. Evra and Fletcher were just two obvious examples of players making the wrong ones.
  • Hopefully Januzaj doesn’t wilt under the pressure of being United’s greatest threat during this tough period for the Reds.
  • Cleverley‘s confidence is severely low. Where is the man we saw a few seasons ago working well with Anderson having tremendous dynamism? We need to give him an arm round the shoulder and supplement him with a new dynamic midfielder.
  • United were not direct enough and when the passes were direct they were into the players rather than onto runs for the players.

FIRST HALF

The game started in an enjoyable manner yet our attention was quickly drawn to the control Sunderland appeared to be gaining over the middle of the pitch. Close scrutiny revealed two things; one, how easy Cleverley was dispossessed or giving the ball away (on more than 3 occasions) and two, a lack of hunger to want the second pass or put himself in the zones that matter. The midfield position he occupies needs that duality and strength and guile.

FIRST HALF United’s first half shape

Sunderland’s game plan of frustrating United, reducing the spaces, working hard to reduce United to set piece opportunities and being effective in the right positions; in this case the right hand side. Enter left back Marco Alonso who hugged the touchline trying to take advantage of the poor positioning by Valencia and Rafael. It was the latter who caused consternation by being dragged infield by Giaccherini thus creating the space behind for Alonso to attack. This played on the fragility of Valencia when called upon for defensive duties in an attacking role. Another threat came through Fletcher who dropped off the United centre-backs in the hope of pulling out Vidic or Evans and create space behind. It must be said that United looked more convincing with Vidic returning.

Moyes could be seen animated, as usual, on the side line making minor adjustments but it was the major shift midway through the half with Giggs and Januzaj swapping that made a significance difference. This saw the possession statistics in the short term in United’s favour 70% over 30%. United were now much more fluid (to a point) as they shifted from 4-4-1-1 to 4-2-3-1 with ease.

Then the tempo dropped as the half drew to a close yet the movement of Welbeck, Giggs and Januzaj saw United keeping the ball well which was pleasing. However,
United went behind on the break following a free kick. This goal was resultant from poor marking as ex-Red Wes Brown went round the back, Carrick at a loss, and Evra let his man, Bardsley, loose to challenge Giggs sufficiently enough for him to score an own goal.

Untied didn’t deserve to be 1-0 down at half-time.

 SECOND HALF

Quickly into the second half United equalised with a set piece; a good cross from Cleverley was headed in by Vidic who had lost his marker, O’Shea, very well. 1-1.

Vidic exuded determination in his muted celebration but this didn’t transmit to the rest of the team. There was an obvious reluctance to want the second pass; this appears to be a continual issue for United at the moment. The passing is pedestrian, emphasised by a midfield that cannot supplement the forwards, going sideways and backwards without proclivity to be direct and incisive. This is and was disappointing and as a result United’s lack of pace it allowed Sunderland to sit off and reduce the space between the lines highlighting United’s lack of directness.

Between minutes ‘56 and ‘61, Johnson came on for Giaccherini and Smalling came on for Evans due to injury. This was key as it saw less adventure (of sorts) in United’s centre backs and Sunderland tried to be more direct.

The change by Poyet brought rewards relatively quickly as the cheat, Adam Johnson, manage to secure a penalty for the challenge by Cleverley. This was poor but questions aside on the decision, why did he go into the tackle with his right foot? Borini’s conversion made it 2-1.

Unfortunately Moyes spotted the discomfort Johnson was causing after the fact but before any further damage could be done, Cleverley was subbed for Fletcher and this had a dual effect, pressing Johnson and Larsson down quicker and stronger.

SECOND HALF United’s shape after Fletcher’s introduction

The game is about choices and two need to be brought to attention. The first on ’79 minutes was from Evra; why choose to shoot with the outside of his left rather than his right? That’s lack of confidence in his other foot. The other, from Fletcher, was when he decided to head the ball rather than taking his time when in his own half. There were no Sunderland players around him and it shows how panicky the players are.

When Altidore came on Sunderland were entrenched and set up in a 4-5-1 formation.

2-1. The End (well until the game at OT).

CONCLUSION

This was an odd game where United seemed on top but weren’t decisive enough and as a result lost their third game on the bounce.

It feels like a broken record saying it but the midfield is the key to everything. It sits too deep when attacking and isn’t forceful enough when defending. It sh*t itself when Johnson came on!

When United did break they didn’t do it quick enough to take advantage of the space Sunderland left when they were higher up the field. This is disappointing as breaking at speed has been one of United’s strong points in the past.

 “Manchester United are playing a lot of balls in front of their opponents at the moment and not getting behind.” Andy Cole.

This point from Cole is best highlighted in the performances of Hernandez, too many times in recent games he is seen receiving the ball with his back to the goal. He doesn’t have the players bombing past him to take the ball on.

The movement early on in the game between Welbeck, Giggs and Januzaj gave cause for hope but fans need to get behind the team as was shown by the supporters throughout and after the game.