MANCHESTER UNITED VS SUNDERLAND
03.05.2014

After a winning start to Ryan Giggs spell as interim manager, United were looking to win again in a last gasp push for European qualification. Sunderland however would be no pushovers, fighting to avoid relegation.

PERSONNEL

In: Fletcher, Young, Nani, Mata and Hernandez.
Out: Cleverley, Kagawa, Valencia, Rooney and Welbeck.

KEY POINTS

  • This was a really lacklustre performance. United started brightly but faded and after Sunderland took the lead they never seriously looked like mounting a sustained push to get back into the game.
  • Nani and Young were disappointing, Carrick and Fletcher were ponderous and Hernandez had minimal impact.
  • The introduction of Januzaj in the second half was welcome. His determination to take people on and Welbeck’s pace momentarily looked like having a significant impact. Van Persie also introduced as a second half substitute was feeding on scraps.
  • Clearly a change of manager is not enough. United’s problems have deeper causes and require significant surgery to resolve.

FIRST HALF

United started this game fairly brightly in a 4-4-1-1 shape with Mata behind but fairly close to Hernandez. Sunderland shaped up in a 4-1-4-1 shape. Initially the tempo was good but as was the case in the previous game United’s play was disjointed and they produced no significant chances.

abGRfw3aph United’s first half shape

Sunderland have enjoyed a mini-revival of late and they looked fairly solid from the outset. As a consequence United lost their way fairly quickly in the face of Sunderland’s solidity. This was as a consequence of a number of notable features. Firstly Nani and Young had very poor first halves. Initially Nani started on the left and Young on the right. Nani had no impact on the game whatsoever and one could even say he looked disinterested; Young was more involved and at times was involved in one or two bright moments. Both these players played fairly narrow and often ran further inside. The problem for United was that this made life fairly easy for Sunderland to defend on a narrow front. When United crossed, and it was almost exclusively Young providing the crosses those crosses were usually over hit beyond the far post. This didn’t really matter as with Carrick and Fletcher fairly deep and with only Hernandez in the box there was a minimal target to pick out.

The other notable feature of the half was the slow and ponderous play of Carrick and Fletcher. Both stayed fairly deep and tended to play square passes rather than penetrative forward passes. Carrick and Fletcher were both at fault for the Sunderland goal. Sunderland scored after 30 minutes. Fletcher allowed Connor Wickham to get in a cross from a position near the corner flag. He should not have been able to cross from this position and it was Fletchers half hearted effort to close and block the cross that allowed this. When the cross came in Carrick was asleep and allowed Larsson to reach the cross and side foot past De Gea first time.

After this goal Nani and Young switched sides, but to little effect. The half petered out and United went in 0-1 down at the interval.

SECOND HALF

Nothing changed at the start of the second half and so Giggs made the unusual step of making a substitution within a few minutes of the restart. Giggs removed Nani on 51 minutes and introduced Januzaj on the left. Young stayed on and switched to the right.

second half United after first substitution

United now played higher and at a higher tempo. Januzaj looked bright and seemed far more interested than Nani had done. United now enjoyed their best spell of the game. The problem was that whilst they had periods of sustained pressure most of the play was side to side rather than though the centre. Fletcher and Carrick must take much of the responsibility for this; their passing was slow, ponderous and lacking imagination.

Late second half United after their final substitutions

On 67 minutes United replaced Mata and Young with van Persie and Welbeck. Welbeck played on the left and Januzaj switched to the right, van Persie played alongside Hernandez in a definite 4-4-2. Welbeck played quite narrow on the left and was always prepared to run at Sunderland. Both he and Januzaj created more of a threat with their direct running and preparedness to try a penetrative pass. Unfortunately these passes never really came off. Sunderland remained solid with two banks of a 4 and 5 and in fact looked the more likely to score, hitting the woodwork twice in the second half.

United never really got going and the game ended with United going down to another home defeat.

CONCLUSION

This was a dispiriting performance. United showed all the faults seen throughout the season; slow in possession, inaccurate and unadventurous passing, an over reliance on inaccurate passing and an inability to take control of the game. For long periods they were also too deep. Mata had perhaps his most disappointing game for the club. This was so disappointing after last week’s performance which suggested that a change of attitude might put many of these faults behind us.

Clearly more than a change of manager is needed.