QUEENS PARK RANGERS vs MANCHESTER UNITED
17.01.2015

In the run up to this game there had been murmurings of discontent about the van Gaal philosophy and whether United were they better off than last season? With last week’s defeat ending their unbeaten run, a trip to Loftus Road was just what United needed, wasn’t it?

PERSONNEL

In: Evans, Rojo and Falaco.
Out: Shaw, Smalling and van Persie.

KEYPOINTS

  • Lack of threatening football up front – simply no connection between the front two and their midfield counterparts.
  • Midfield triangle of Carrick, Mata and Rooney didn’t work, the play was usually too deep and not fast enough.
  • Switch in formation at half time saw United with more of the ball but not more dominance. United were sloppy in possession; there were too many instances of giving the ball away.
  • Rojo did very well in the face of pressure from Zamora.
  • Wilson was what the game needed; his pace stretched the game and he should have been introduced earlier.
  • 7 shots on target!
  • Personnel and formation – Falcao needs more games, Wilson is great, Rooney needs to be higher and di Maria needs to be deeper so that he has space to attack.

FIRST HALF

United again started with three at the back, no doubt to offer more control in the middle of the park but from the last few games the priority was turning that possession into goals. Shaw was omitted for Rojo perhaps with the presence of Zamora or Austin in mind. Blind and Valencia were out wide as Carrick sat in front of the defence with Rooney and Mata as two in front. What this meant though was that the real creativity was too deep.

United Line up

United Line up

The pressure on Falcao was raised before the game and you’d wished he’d not missed the great chance given to him after a great ball by Mata. What this chance did show was the space his movement created as QPR’s Caulker and Dunne drifted out often. On a number of occasions this option was on but due to the lack of directness was not exploited.

QPR overall positioning

QPR overall positioning

Valencia had a frustrating afternoon epitomised by his foul throw but an underlying deeper issue is his lack of quality in the final third. Statistically he does well when compared to his contemporaries, although his key passes need work when compared to Ivanovic’s in particular. Yet considering he is placed higher up the field than the others he should be doing better with his crosses. Not being able to take advantage against Clint Hill sends you under as does his proclivity to send the ball backwards.

Right full backs comparison

Right full backs comparison

Valencias activity

Valencias activity

QPR opted for direct football; in form Austin drew a great save from de Gea as QPR went on the break.  They also opted for a long ball out to Zamora who tried to unsettle Rojo but the former Sporting man stood firm.

Rojo activity - note his success in defensive duties (identified by green markers)

Rojo activity – note his success in defensive duties (identified by green markers)

This begged the question why was a three man midfield necessary? Rooney should have pushed on to test Barton and Henry. There were too many passes sideways, too many backwards and too much reluctance to get into the box.  It was not until the 21st minute when Rooney nearly found Blind with a good ball to the left. Gary Neville summed it up, “It’s partly the system but it’s a mentality thing as well. I’m not a fan of 3-5-2, when you play that, you end up with your centre backs being the free men and that becomes a careful option, then it kicks into your mentality: ‘I’ve always got a safer pass’.”

The QPR defence needed to be drawn out but Henry and Barton were doing a good job blocking Rooney and Mata and stopping them linking with Falcao and di Maria further on. The connection between the South Americans was scant and neither were able to hold the ball up successfully.

Rooney and di Maria should have swapped.

SECOND HALF

A significant change was made by van Gaal when he took Mata off and brought Fellaini on. The shape changed significantly, it became flatter in a 4-4-2 and this was desperately needed; di Maria dropped  and instantly had more room to operate.

The Argentine attacker needs to be given the opportunity to attack, attack, attack as two successful “take-ons” isn’t a good return.

di Marias activity

di Marias activity

Boom! Fellaini scored after an assist from Valencia! It was a well taken goal and United desperately needed it.

Fellaini scores

Fellaini scores

It was a typically early substitution from van Gaal on 57 minutes when Wilson came on for Evans; the ball needed to be moved further up, quicker and with more intent.  Wilson set about Hill and Onuhua with real menace.

Yet frustratingly United began to drop deeper, as they have done in previous games. This however saw more direct passing as QPR pressed realising they couldn’t play on the counter. A neat instance was when Blind, who was pushing higher, set up Wilson who in turn set up Falcao who missed another great chance.

United action areas post WIlson substitution - note action area top left of QPR area

United action areas post WIlson substitution – note action area top left of QPR area

Boom! 2-0 from Wilson who showed real tenacity in his double strike with both feet. He got what he deserved.

CONCLUSION

United had a lot of possession without threat in the first half.  Van Gaal sought to change this, as he has done numerous times and switched to a 4-4-2, and with the personnel modified United carried much more of a threat. Not much more but more. The tally of 7 shots on target was a massive improvement following the Southampton game last week.

With the introduction of Wilson we saw a directness about United’s front line play which was lacking previously. Falcao was pulling off the shoulder of the defender more often but the space he created was rarely seized upon. Is the lack of directness and urgency something which van Gaal feels will come in other ways and needs time or will changes be made in the summer?

MUFC overall positioning

MUFC overall positioning

One thing for sure both Falcao and Wilson need more games, perhaps together? Couple this with a Rooney advancing much more often and a di Maria given space to attack then United may be onto something. The danger is that there is uncertainty, a lack of tempo and reliance on the defenders acting as creative sparks and if the ball is not getting forward quickly enough then teams have time to retreat and get into shape. We return to the need for a strong presence in front of the defence, this may address the issues highlighted by van Gaal post match, “I know in advance that when we play with four midfielders in a diamond that we create more chances, but then the balance of the team is also weak.”

Van Gaal is a possession-based manager but it has to be fast, urgent, with penetration. It has to test the opposition and not be too safe. As Gary Neville said, “The top teams keep possession – but it has to be quicker.”