MANCHESTER UNITED VS FULHAM
After a defeat at Stoke, United returned to action looking to secure home points against the League bottom club.
In: Rafael, Vidic and Fletcher.
Out: Jones, Evans and Cleverley.
- Push it wide, cross, retrieve the ball and push it wide cross. For 92 minutes this did not work. For two minutes it worked. United need a plan B.
- The quality of the crossing here was poor. But even if the crossing was to a higher standard if your strategy relies upon crossing the ball you have to commit men to the box to compete for those crosses. With Fletcher and Carrick sitting fairly deep United did not overload the Fulham penalty area and lack a box-to-box bust a gut midfield player say in the Bryan Robson mould to make those runs. They also lack the midfield craft to find a way through the middle.
- Mata has now made three assists in three game, van Persie has now scored three goals in three games since returning from injury. United need to find a way of playing these two together, preferably through the middle to hurt the opposition more frequently.
United’s start to this game was steady but unspectacular. The shape was 4-2-3-1 but Rooney was often so high that at times is was closer to a 4-4-2. Mata was positioned on the right, but fairly narrow leaving room for Rafael to overlap. Mata also tended to drop deep and move further inside whenever possible. Fulham set up in a 4-5-1 right from the start with two central midfield players positioned right in front of their back four leaving no space between the lines.
United in the 1st half
Inevitably and unsurprisingly in view of United’s now standard lack of midfield creativity they were unlikely to find a way through the middle of Fulham. As such from very early on United tended to move the ball wide and looked to create crossing opportunities through overlaps. Both Rafael and Evra pushed forward. On the left both Young and Evra stayed wide. This side often seemed more congested, whilst with Mata moving inside their seemed to be lots of room for Rafael to move into. Both Carrick and Fletcher stayed fairly deep in the opening twenty minutes with Fletcher the slightly further forward than his midfield partner. They seemed to be happy to move the ball out wide from their central position, often serving only as a means of switching play. Neither seemed prepared to push forward with any significant conviction.
The pattern of the half was set fairly early on. United attacked with width, Fulham defended the centre of the pitch and the edge of their box and allowed United to move the ball wide. United’s crossing was very poor. It has been widely reported that United delivered 54 crosses in the first half, most of which were aimed at the far post, many of which were wildly over hit. Young’s crossing was appalling. Mata’s was better in that his tended to drop around the far post whilst troubled no one with Rafael usually picking up the over hit cross and returning it and usually failing to clear the first defender.
There were two other features of the half. Firstly United’s passing was again slow and deliberate. Having worked a crossing opportunity they were often slow to deliver the cross allowing the Fulham defenders to get themselves set. With Fletcher and Carrick fairly deep there were often very few players in the box to cross for. United’s best moments came when either Carrick or Fetcher did push forward and picked up knock downs to the edge of the box from poor Fulham clearances. Carrick and Fletcher tended to play a bit higher in the last fifteen minutes of the first half and this was probably United’s best spell of the half.
By that time United were chasing the game after conceding on 19 minutes. That brings us to the second feature of the half. Fulham’s break-away moves and United’s poor defending. The goal wasn’t a break-away, it rather came from a steady build up after Mata in the inside right area was outmuscled by Riise. The ball was chipped in and Evra fell asleep allowing Sidwell to advance from deep and score with a first time shot. Fulham then had two great chances to score on the break-away taking one of them. On each occasion these were rapid breakaways with the defence looking very shaky as Fulham advanced. On the first break Rafael backed off, Fulham worked the move well and Richardson hit his shot high and wide. The second chance later in the half saw Vidic outpaced by Richardson but fortunately Fulham failed to capitalise.
So at half time despite dominating possession and delivering those 54 crosses United trailed 0-1.
United chose not to make any substitutions at half time and the pattern of the game at the start of the second half remained unchanged. United did begin to exert more pressure and Carrick and Fletcher did play a bit higher but not a lot changed. United continued to move the ball wide and deliver poor crosses.
It was not until the 62 minute that David Moyes decided to make a change. He removed Fletcher and introduced Januzaj. This required a reshuffle. Rooney dropped into midfield and Januzaj moved to wide right. Mata moved to the middle.
No sooner had this move been affected than Moyes made a further change and another reshuffle. He removed Young and Rafael after 69 minutes and introduced Valencia and Hernandez. Hernandez went to the front to partner van Persie who dropped a little deeper. Valencia went to right back in place of Rafael and Mata moved back to the right! Januzaj switched from right to left. The shape was very much a 4-4-2 now. Two high forwards now began to cause increased problems for Fulham as they no doubt tired. Januzaj began to deliver a higher quality of cross than previously seen in the game, (Januzaj completed five of his twelve crosses in the last half hour whereas Young and Rafael completed one each from 25), and United soon looked like they might get back into the game as they committed more bodies forward.
Consequently United scored twice in two minutes. The first came from an Evra cross from the left, the ball pinged about in the area before in ran to Mata. His cross shot was turned in at the far post by van Persie. Boom! Three goals in three games since van Persie’s return from injury and three assists in three games for Mata since he joined the club.
The next goal came also from a cross. This time Januzaj crossed from the left. The ball was cleared to the edge of the box where Carrick had time to get his shot away. The ball was deflected into the Fulham net. Boom! This was reminiscent of the situation at Stoke where a shot from the edge of the box deflected in off Carrick – justice for the Wallsend one!
After these goals and with ten minutes to play United were very cautious. They tend to stroke the ball around for periods without really making any effort to put Fulham under pressure. Keep ball. Unfortunately they paid the price for this when further sloppy defending in the 94th minute saw an equaliser conceded. Vidic made a poor defensive headed, Carrick was outmuscled by Sidwell and Richardson shot fiercely at goal. De Gea saved but Bent was on hand to head the equaliser from close range.
This was a frustrating and disappointing result and a generally disappointing performance. United put in 81 crosses, most of them were poor and so unthreatening. Fulham defended deeply and in numbers and only towards the end of the game when United threw more men forward did they have enough men in the box to act as targets for their crosses. Both United goals came from crosses at this time.
After the game David Moyes stated that it wasn’t fair to say that United’s game plan only revolved around the delivery of crosses. 81 crosses tell a tale.
Mata was again played in a wide right position for most of this game. Is this the best place to play him? At Stoke and here against Fulham United looked at their best when he came inside. He has delivered three assists in three games now. United need to play Mata where he can hurt people.