MANCHESTER UNITED vs HULL CITY
Having won at Arsenal United now faced the first of two home games in a four day period looking to establish some momentum to take into the busy December programme.
In: Rojo, Young and Mata.
Out: Blackett, McNair and Shaw.
- Another game, another central defensive combination and another formation; is a 4-1-3-2 shape an attempt to combine the adventure of the diamond/two strikers with the solidity of the 4-1-4-1? Flatten the diamond.
- Was this our most complete performance of the season? Van Gaal has stated this was our best performance; good ball retention, (77% possession), good tempo to our passing and total control of the game.
- The team worked hard to retain possession, they passed early,well and moved well off the ball. Mata, Herrera and Rooney were all very fluid in their movement, Smalling and Rojo were solid. It was particularly pleasing to see United pass the ball around confidently at the back despite the Hull press. The temptation to play the higher risk, easy option of the long ball was resisted.
- Carrick was always available. He is van Gaal’s type of player completing the most passes of any Premier league player on Saturday. A reliable, aware screen to the defence whilst a creative force starting moves with imaginative passing and positioning.
- It was interesting to see Hull City employing the strategy United tried earlier in the season, 3 central defenders and a pair of wingbacks, and it was interesting to see them experiencing similar problems with it to those experienced by United. Whilst they usually had plenty of defenders on hand no one seemed to take responsibility for attacking the ball in defensive situations. This resulted in United often having plenty of time and space around Hull’s defensive third.
- Having tired Hull out over 70 minutes United could have gone for the jugular in the last 20 minutes. Why didn’t they do so.
- A comfortable win.
United started this game in a 4-4-2 diamond shape, but with a difference. Van Persie started at the tip of the diamond as the number 10. Mata started to the left and Fellaini to the right as the outside midfield players. Rooney partnered di Maria up front. Perhaps starting van Perise in this position was an attempt to get him more involved after his negligible involvement in the Arsenal game. Initially the game was fairly scrappy. United were on top from the start but weren’t really finding any passing rhythm.
United shape at the outset and after di Maria’s injury
Then on 14 minutes di Maria had to leave the field with an injury. Van Gaal introduced di Maria, but switched players around. Van Persie went up front with Rooney whilst Herrera played between Fellaini and Mata. Mata also moved inside playing in a much narrower position and crucially the general shape changed from a 4-4-2 diamond to a 4-1-3-2. This made a big difference and United now found a rhythm.
Effectively the diamond had been flattened. Fellaini maintained his position but Mata and Herrera were very fluid and interchanged with each other and Rooney who frequently dropped deep. Carrick provided the insurance behind in front of the back four, but more of his role later.
Whether intentional or not the 4-1-3-2 seemed to give United what they have been missing; balance. The shape combined the adventure of the diamond/two strikers with the solidity of the 4-1-4-1? Was this our most complete performance of the season? Van Gaal has stated this was our best performance; good ball retention, (77% possession), good tempo to our passing and total control of the game.
The team worked hard to retain possession; they passed early, well and moved well off the ball. Mata, Herrera and Rooney were all very fluid in their movement, Smalling and Rojo were solid. It was particularly pleasing to see United pass the ball around confidently at the back despite the Hull press. The temptation to play the higher risk, easy option of the long ball was resisted.
United’s passing compared to Hull’s. Note how horizontal and vertical Hull’s passing is whilst how little is through the centre of the pitch. United’s passing is everywhere!
Having got into a rhythm United passed Hull to death and scored two goals by half time. The first came soon after the changes before that rhythm had been established. A bit of pinball in the box and Smalling shot home from close range, Boom! The goal being confirmed by hawk eye. The second came after towards the end of the half and probably as a consequence of Hull tiring because of all the United possession.
A neat lay off from van Persie to Rooney and he shot precisely home from the just outside the box on 42 minutes. Boom! This goal illustrated a point about Hull’s approach to the game. United tried Hull’s 3-4-1-2 approach earlier in the season, 3 central defenders and a pair of wingbacks, and it was interesting to see they are experiencing similar problems to those experienced by United.
Hull generally always had numbers back in defence, but despite this it was a feature of the game that United always seemed to have time in and around the Hull box. There was a lack of pressure on the ball. Rooney’s goal was the classic example of this. Hull had four men in a line across the edge of the box and they all allowed van Perise the time and space to lay the ball back to Rooney. None of them moved quickly enough to close Rooney down. Evidence of this is the astonishingly high pass completion rate of Rooney and van Persie cross the game, both achieving 95% pass completion.
Rooney shooting chance – this is very similar to the goal Swansea scored against United on the opening day of the season
When United played this system they conceded a number of goal when they too had plenty of defenders around the play but none of them moved to engage the attackers. Does the extra central defender engender an unwarranted sense of security and a lack of defensive urgency?
Half time 2-0 and United were comfortable.
The second half started much as the first half had finished. United dominated possession. The feature that was most noticeable was how ell United were controlling the game and significantly how well and confidently they were able to move the ball around at the back. This was in no small part due to the performance of Michael Carrick.
Carrick has played a couple of games now but this was his best performance since his return from injury. Right at the start of his tenure as manager van Gaal bemoaned Carrick’s injury as a big loss and he is clearly van Gaal’s type of player. He provided a solid screen to the defence whilst completing the most passes of any Premier league player on Saturday, (108 out of 117 at a completion rate of 92%). Reliable and aware, whilst also a creative force starting moves with imaginative passing and positioning, Carrick appears to be in direct competition with the currently injured Blind for this role. Blind has recently been criticized for over caution in his passing but Carrick gets the balance right.
Carrick’s performance was a big part of why United played so well here and were so comfortable in possession in deep areas. When United had the ball at the back he would drop in between the two centre backs. The centre backs spread and the full backs pushed up. This took a lot of responsibility for starting moves away from the centre backs and Carrick’s movement drew Hull players forward towards the United defence creating space and time for Fellaini and Herrera as well as the fullbacks who were providing more advanced width. All this created positional connections/triangles in the United half which allowed United to develop a passing rhythm which had some forward momentum. As a consequence United had no need to take the easier and safer long ball option. When the play moved up the pitch Carrick advanced into a central midfield position creating overloads here which ensure United always had passing options. Carrick didn’t do this on his own of course, but combining with Herrera, (for the first time) and Mata as well as Rooney when he dropped deep United produced a level of fluidity in their play not seen at Old Trafford for several years. Rojo also played a important part in this, his simple first touch passing at the back avoided danger and he should a spatial astuteness in this match not previously seen in his United career. His first touch passing regularly nullified any Hull pressing and infact often pulled Hull out of shape creating the space for the United midfield to work in.
United’s third goal, like their second came out of the blue. It wasn’t against the run of play because United were always on top but United’s possession game was effectively a war of attrition. Hull were tiring again and van Persie this time shot early from outside the box on 66 minutes before the Hull defence, (who again had numbers around him), responded. Boom! It is to be hoped that this gives van Persie’s confidence a boost.
After this goal and on 70 minutes van Gaal made his second substitution removing van Persie and introducing Falcao. Having tired Hull out over 70 minutes with almost constant possession was it anticipated that Falcao would help United go for the jugular in the last 20 minutes, perhaps but they didn’t do so, instead continuing to play the possession game. Falcao had one golden chance to score.
Why didn’t United go for the jugular? On 74 minutes Fletcher replaced Valencia. Smalling moved to right back and Carrick slotted into central defence with Fletcher sitting in front of the defence. Of course Fletcher isn’t as creative as Carrick, but perhaps United were simply under instructions to see the game out from a winning position. Van Gaal made reference to this need after doing so successfully in the last home game and after this game he expressed his pleasure at seeing the side control the game for ninety minutes. United will face more testing opponents, but it isn’t that long ago that they were making heavy weather of fixtures like this and a comfortable win helps to consolidate a hold on fourth place.
This was a good win for United and certainly establishes some momentum going into the busy December period. Whilst the win was unspectacular, the team played the way van Gaal is asking them to play for the full match and as such they controlled possession throughout.
Passing and moving at a high tempo and constantly recirculating the ball to press and probe at Hull, Rooney, Mata, Herrera and Fellaini were excellent. Whilst they were never really tested Smalling and Rojo were solid at the back. Van Persie’s goal will hopefully result in a return of confidence.The possession statistics tell the story (77% possession overall), but the individual pass completion percentages also tell a tale. Carrick 92%, Herrera 91%, Mata 90%, Fellaini 92%, and van Persie and Rooney both 95%, (although admittedly strikers touch the ball less than midfield players). In this game you felt for the first time that the team were really singing out of the van Gaal hymn book.
United will face more testing opponents, but it isn’t that long ago that they were making heavy weather of fixtures like this and a comfortable win helps to consolidate a hold on fourth place.