OLYMPIAKOS VS MANCHESTER UNITED
The last 16; group stage security over as United travelled to Athens to face Olympiakos in what many penned as a definite victory for the reds.
In: Cleverley, Valencia and Young.
Out: Fellaini, Mata and Januzaj.
- Tactics aside this was a poor performance from the players with a seeming distinct lack of desire, (surely it is there), and that was disappointing.
- Valencia and Smalling were appalling. Besides being guilty of repeatedly slipping they were poor with their passing and decision making.
- United could be classed as static but that suggests no movement at all. They moved the ball but too far back and too far wide. With Young coming inside and Valencia not being confident to do anything but go outside (unsuccessfully), the shape was baffling.
- Considering the above what was even more baffling was the choice of personnel. Cleverley passes but to no effect, Smalling can’t carry the ball forward and Carrick sits too deep. This is not how to absorb and respond to pressure.
- Take the four of Cleverley, Carrick, Ferdinand and Vidic. Their passing stats and zones of play were too similar. In fact the defenders passed more than the midfielders.
- De Gea has too much of a tendency to kick long and to no effect. Of his 20 passes 8 were beyond the 18 yard box and unsuccessful. Is this a direct tactic?
- Welbeck and Kagawa made an impact. Look at how the Japanese man found himself in space but wasn’t picked out, look how he knitted the play vertically in United’s horizontal world. Welbeck chased and did what he does well.
Caution was the key word from United in the opening phase in the face of Olympiakos’ pressing through Dominguez and Olaitan. To aid this pressing the latter occasionally dropped to create space for the winger Perez to attack; Carrick’s and Cleverley’s positioning allowed this.
Mirror this and the single shield for Olympiakos, N’Dinga, showed control and presence.
As we saw in Olympiakos’ last domestic game versus OFI, Holebas was a threat and he proved to be so here. His incursions summed up what little attacking intent Valencia possessed thus allowing Holebas to push up.
When United went past the halfway line Olympiakos were intense on the press with particular attention paid to Valencia yet they felt comfortable to allow United’s defenders and deep midfielders time on the ball. No threat, no press; Olympiakos had learnt lessons.
It didn’t take long for the pattern of the game to unfold as United looked unsure, front to back despite Oympiakos choosing not to have runners move past the deep lying Olaitan (when he managed to stay on his feet).
The brightest spark for United was when a successful pass to Valencia from Ferdinand came about after Smalling made a clever dash and took two Olympiakos players with him. There wasn’t enough moments like this unfortunately.
To be more successful United needed to be quicker with the touch in the middle, some kind ‘half touch’ was required but we’re not Barcelona, Bayern or Swansea!
37 minutes in and Dominguez scored after he flicked the scuffed shot from Maniatis. The captain was allowed to shoot from the edge of the box as he ran from deep where we saw Rooney as the only one trying to track him, meekly.
This was Olympiakos’ way back into the game, as United had achieved a degree of control but with no end product. The times when United could have threatened, at set pieces, they let Olympiakos off lightly.
The half ended as it began; dealing with Olympiakos’ left. Smalling and Valencia were guilty of poor focus and determination (and inappropriate footwear), allowing Perez and Holebas greater influence.
Van Persie was like an island. Getting the ball to him, further forward and directly and using the channels was needed but the players on the pitch couldn’t do it.
It’s interesting to consider the sentiment behind his comments to Dutch T.V. after the game. He stated that his zones were occupied but in truth United didn’t get forward enough for this to be obvious. Only Young and Rooney carried a threat in the zones where van Persie might.
My days. On the 54th minute A.W.O.L Joel Campbell scored after a terrific strike from outside the box. The build up to this goal was symbolic of United’s play, in both personnel and tone. Valencia made a poor pass, there was no urgency in retrieving it as Monaitas was allowed to run on, finishing with Campbell not being challenged. 2-0.
Moyes made a change in the last fifteen minutes by taking Valencia and Cleverley off for Welbeck and Kagawa. The set up saw Kagawa closer to van Persie (in fairness he was all over), Rooney dropping off, Young moved to the right and Welbeck left. This was more like it from United and Kagawa did well in reducing the gaps but it was too little too late after going 2-0 down.
Evra was now involved and Michel reacted quickly by taking Campbell off for 32 year old Fuster to negate 32 year old Evra. Whilst his goal was good (technically) Campbell was hardly involved.
Right at the end van Persie missed a glorious opportunity after a surprisingly good cross from Smalling. The miss summed up United’s night.
This was a performance that people weren’t expecting but weren’t surprised by either. United’s play lacked ambition and posed no threat. Maniatis and N’Dinga were untroubled and looked good for it.
The Olympiakos approach was high tempo and work in the pockets of space. It is likely that they wouldn’t have imagined scoring twice (the second was a killer) but what this does continue is the belief teams have against United; Olympiakos weren’t tested.
Where were the wingers? Young although anonymous, showed some initiative by coming inside was the only minor plus point.
Smalling and Valencia looked out of their depth in particular. How does Moyes see Smalling fit into his pattern of play?
In fairness, too many players didn’t play well and it was only when the substitutions were made did United look positive. At least Kagawa runs with the ball unlike some.
Van Persie needs a ‘tactical hug’. He’s going all Dutch and speaking out as his space is being invaded the poor lamb. He’s living off scraps as per the game against Palace and Moyes needs to deal with this.
As Moyes says, the next game they’ll try and fix it. We hope so.