MANCHESTER UNITED VS READING
16.03.2013

After a couple of games where United had failed to win, a return to league action and a home game against manager-less, struggling Reading. With City losing at Everton earlier in the day this was an opportunity to stretch the lead at the top to 15 points. Sir Alex even by his standards made wholesale changes; eight in total, with only De Gea, Ferdinand and Rooney retaining their places from the previous starting eleven.


PERSONNEL:

In: Smalling, Vidic, Buttner, Giggs, Anderson, Welbeck, Young and van Persie.

Out: Rafael Evans, Evra, Carrick, Nani, Cleverley, Kagawa, Hernandez.


KEY POINTS:

  • United got the job done, but this was a stodgy performance.
  • There was little movement and a lack of width. Once Reading was set in their defensive formation United did not do enough to break that shape down.
  • United looked at their most dangerous after transitions and it was a transition which lead to the only goal. Reading rarely threatened.
  • Having scored after 21 minutes there was little need for United to change things. The only tactical change came as Sir Alex looked to shore things up, with a change from the 4-4-1-1 to a shape closer to a 4-3-3 in the last 15 minutes.


FIRST HALF:

READING FIRST HALF

United started this game in a 4-4-1-1 shape with Giggs and Anderson in central midfield. Young played to the left and Welbeck to the right, both were fairly narrow. Rooney played slightly behind van Persie. Reading set up as a 4-1-4-1 shape, with Leigertwood as the 1 in front of the defence tracking Rooney.

United’s start was fairly laboured, with little movement. The formations adopted by both sides mean’t that the players with the most space and time were the full-backs, for United that was Smalling and Buttner. With Welbeck and Young sitting in the inside left and right zones this left space for the full-backs to advance. Unfortunately neither really took advantage of this situation and as such the United’s play lacked genuine width.

The plus side of this defensive caution was that the United defence looked solid. Perhaps after the game against Reading earlier in the season when the opening half hour was a mad goal-fest this was the reaction. In that game United looked vulnerable to crosses and set pieces generally. Here Ferdinand and Vidic looked solid.  Going forward United was making little headway. Reading sat deep and was easily able to retain their shape as a consequence of their discipline, but also United’s lack of movement. Once Reading were set in position United simply were not doing enough to break the visitors down.

RIO SPACE V READING

The only time United appeared to make any significant impact was on transitions, immediately after regaining the ball, when there was a chance that a Reading player might be out of position. On 21 minutes just this scenario lead to a goal. Boom! Rio Ferdinand intercepted a Reading pass forward as they looked to break forward. He then ran forcefully at the Reading defence and managed to flick the ball to Rooney just as a tackle came in. The ball was an awkward height for Rooney, but he managed to control it and get a shot away. There was an element of good fortune as the ball deflected up off a Reading player and looped over Taylor in the Reading goal and into the net.

After the goal and with little response from Reading the game continued just as it had before. United didn’t need to force issues and they didn’t. One was left wondering what would have happened here if United hadn’t scored when they did. Presumably as the game wore on some change would have been instigated, but instead the pattern of the game continued; a stodgy performance, little movement, little width but with United well in control.

SECOND HALF:

READING SECOND HALF

The half time interval came and went with little change. There are a few points worth making and a few players worth singling out for comment. Giggs had an excellent game. His role here was to sit in front of the defence and direct the focus of the attack. In this he was effective and disciplined, if unspectacular. The problem was that with little movement ahead of him his direction of the play came too little. Anderson generally played higher and ran with the ball, but with little effect. The wide players, Young and Welbeck occasionally swapped sides, but seemed to lack conviction and posed little threat. This is an on-going worry as none of United’s wide attackers is currently making much of an impact.

Ferdinand and Vidic were excellent throughout. In truth for most of the game they had little to do with Reading recording only one shot on target. They were solid however and this meant that United always looked in control.

DIAGONAL BALL

Very little changed in the second half until the 74th minute when Sir Alex removed the ineffectual Young and introduced Carrick. Rooney now went to the wide left position with Carrick joining Giggs in central midfield. Anderson moved further forward sitting behind van Persie. Welbeck stayed on the right. The shape was now a 4-2-1-3, which is essentially a 4-3-3. Carrick and Giggs were playing as a double pivot with Anderson further forward forming a triangle in the midfield. This positional adjustment should have suited Anderson, and he briefly made a couple of good runs with the ball, adding a rare bit of movement to United’s attacking play.

The problem for Anderson was that he was the next change; removed on 85 minutes to be replaced by Kagawa. A role sitting behind the striker also suits Kagawa and in the short time he was on the pitch he caused a few problems. The irony of all these changes was that Reading came back into the game in the last few minutes as they made a desperate attempt to salvage something. It all came to nothing however as the game ended in an easy if unremarkable win for United.


CONCLUSION:

This was a generally disappointing performance but United got the job done and are now 15 points clear. The lack of width rather than the lack of movement in attack is the main concern. None of United’s wide players are firing on all cylinders, and this issue here was compounded by the general un-adventurousness of the full-back play. Robin van Persie had another quite game and looks tired. He has played a lot of football and maybe needs a rest.

On the plus side Ferdinand and Vidic looked solid, with Ferdinand particularly having an excellent game. Giggs play was controlled and effective. The other plus point of course is a 15 point lead.

Oh happy day! Not a lot to see here but a lot to look forward too?