MANCHESTER UNITED VS ASTON VILLA
With City losing on Sunday this game presented United with the opportunity to seal a twentieth Championship against an Aston Villa side struggling at the wrong end of the table.
In: Evans, Giggs.
Out: Ferdinand, Vidic.
– United’s start killed Villa, and with the advantage established and the seasons objective in sight United were never going to surrender it.
– Giggs, Kagawa, Rooney, Valencia and van Persie were excellent in that first half and they were ably supported by Rafael and Carrick. Jones, Evans and Evra stayed deeper and kept the door shut. Villa were poor, but United did play well.
– Van Persie will get the headlines for his goals, but the increasing influence of Kagawa cannot be overlooked. Lets hope he continues to develop in the role behind the central striker, finding space and making life uncomfortable for defences as a classic Number 10.
With the prize in sight United started this game well at a high tempo and with energetic attacking intent. The formation saw Rooney drop deep into midfield. Giggs played wide left, Valencia wide right and Kagawa behind van Persie in a 4-2-3-1 shape. This yielded dividends right from the start with United scoring within two minutes.
Boom! A move involving nine players saw United take the lead. A searching diagonal pass from Rooney found Valencia on the right, he fed the advancing Rafael who perhaps over hit a cross to the far post. Giggs returned this across goal. Kagawa advancing into the area missed it, but the ball reached van Persie who did not. His finish was simple, but this was the third game in succession in which he has scored; confidence being the thing that made this an easy finish, something missing until recently.
This goal summed up United’s start to this game. The played simple early passes, moved well off the ball and this fluidity gave players options. Crucially they attacked with width, Valencia and Giggs both being heavily involved and that width stretched Villa creating room centrally for Rooney and Kagawa. Rooney tended to play higher than Carrick and Kagawa was doing what he is increasingly doing well in a United shirt – finding holes and creating space. The twin wide threats should not be underestimated. Rarely this year have United posed a threat on both flanks.
This pattern lasted for around half an hour from the start, by which time United were three goals up. There were moments of occasional Villa possession and they might have scored but for a poor finish by Benteke, but generally United were on top.
There are a number of points to note. Giggs had an excellent first half. He was lively and threatening. Clearly he can no longer do this every week, but this performance rolled back the years reminding one of his early days in a United shirt. Valencia balanced this threat on the other side giving one of his better and certainly more adventurous performances of the season.
As already mentioned Kagawa, operating behind van Persie found space, both for himself and via his movement for others. Van Persie looked confident.
A critical decision here was the use of Giggs wide and Rooney in midfield, rather than the other way around. In the wide position Giggs could use his pace, (which he still has), but the more interesting experiment is Rooney in this shape. Rooney is an attacking player by nature, but the quality of his football brain allows him to adapt. As a midfield player he still exhibits those attacking strengths, he just exerts that threat from a greater distance from goal. In this game he was at his best when attacking from midfield, directing the thrust of the attack from deep, before moving forward to support more advanced players. This worked really well here and it was his assist that led to van Persie second goal when he played a long forward pass to van Persie on 13 minutes. This dropped over van Persie’s right shoulder and he volleyed it cleanly with his left foot. A wonder strike. Double Boom!
United scored again later in the half, when an excellent defence splitting pass from Kagawa fed Giggs on the left. Giggs could have shot himself, but he unselfishly picked out van Persie again, and he finished coolly completing a hat-trick. Boom. Game over, championship won!
After this start Villa were a beaten side and would probably count themselves lucky to go in at half time only three goals down. United could have scored more having enough chances to perhaps have doubled their lead. But inevitably having taken such a strong lead, and in a position to seal the seasons main objective the edge went out of United’s game after that third goal.
One other point is worth making though and that concerns Rooney. Clearly with his attacking intent he is far more comfortable attacking from midfield. When he is asked to exhibit the defensive side of the midfielders craft he is far less accomplished and on a number of occasions he gave the ball away in dangerous defensive areas, whether through misplaced passes or being caught in possession. Most of Villa’s better chances came from these slips, and if he is to operate regularly in this role this is a side of his game he needs to work on.
There is not that much to say about the second half. For the first fifteen minutes United were a little careless, their play becoming sloppy. De Gea fumbled, van Persie cleared of the line, and Rooney continued to exhibit the occasional sloppy defensive moment. Sir Alex was prowling the technical area and this seemed to do the trick as after the hour mark United tightened up and without really exerting themselves controlled the game. The tempo was slower, passing less threatening and there was less movement off the ball. It was almost as if United were determined to ensure that there was no way back for Villa.
In truth Villa were poor and rarely threatened.
On 78 minutes Welbeck replaced Rooney, with the new man replacing Giggs on the left and Giggs moving inside to partner Carrick. United played out time and claimed the prize.
A lot of people talked about this being a tough match as a consequence of Villa still having so much to play for. What this ignored was the determination of United to get the job done with the target in sight. The early blitz destroyed Villa.
The key was the attacking intent of Rooney from deep, Kagawa’s intelligence, the twin wide threat of Giggs and Valencia and van Persie’s confidence. This was enough.