CAMBRIDGE UNITED vs MANCHESTER UNITED
23.01.2015

Against Cambridge, United were on the face of it given an opportunity to chalk up a victory; one featuring pace and goals! For the informed, the Sky Bet League Two team came into the game having won three on the bounce and with confidence to boot. Would they see this United team as one that could be unsettled easily?

PERSONNEL

In: Fellaini, Januzaj and Wilson.
Out: Evans, Rooney and Mata.

KEYPOINTS

  • Cambridge were compact and United found them to difficult to break down; Hughes and Champion were significant in this.
  • United had most of their success in getting forward down the left with Blind and Januzaj. Unfortunately their crosses were neither good or frequent enough.
  • Falcao was starved throughout the game and often made runs which weren’t taken exploited.
  • United’s standout player was Rojo. He added grit and physicality to the team, which it has often sorely missed. This was important, especially against a team from League Two.
  • Cambridge succeeded in making an attacking impression by getting through the centre of United. 100% of their chances came through the middle.

FIRST HALF

Cambridge burst out of the blocks and seemed to take United by surprise. Yet it wasn’t a scattergun approach, rather it was specific and organised. They pressed in certain positions, Donaldson versus Blind and McGeehan on Carrick as examples, whilst remaining compact and focused as two banks of four.

1ST HALF              rojo

United’s first half line up with the impressive and robust Rojo

The left hand side was the most popular area on the pitch for United, particularly in the first half yet it proved to be opportunities wasted. Blind pushed high and Rojo was called upon a number of times to cover him as Donaldson found the space behind and inward.

Positioning (Cambridge in blue). Note how Cambridge’s players are evenly spread and there’s little space between the lines

Positioning (Cambridge in blue). Note how Cambridge’s players are evenly spread and there’s little space between the lines

The Argentine was United’s most impressive performer with well timed tackles and was  commanding if unspectacular. The standout element of his game was his physicality; it put a lens squarely on the lack of it within this United team. Speaking recently on BBC Radio 5 former Crystal Palace manager Alan Smith was discussing the Cantona kung-fu kick but he noted how that United side were a physically imposing unit. This only adds to the lament many supporters have for the lack of physicality in the van Gaal model.

Shot Directions

Cambridge found their success through the middle of the pitch, 100% of their 5 shots came this way, 60% in the 18 yard box and 40% in the 6 yard box. There was real pressure on de Gea at corners and set pieces were part of the Cambridge plan.

Set Pieces

A continuing theme this season, and a surprising one considering the coaching staff, is de Gea’s average positions on the pitch. He spends too much time within his 18 yard box. He is one of United’s best passers and if he pushed higher the centre backs could then spread a touch wider or even higher, allowing Carrick and at times Rooney to have more impact.

de Gea

de Gea

United’s play was too slow and again lacked a good tempo. There were too many occasions when Cambridge simply allowed Jones to have the ball; he caused little potential threat to Cambridge, and was allowed to pass on or take his favourite option, a square ball to Rojo! They were right about his level of threat. In the second half Carrick often dropped between the two centre backs and whilst this saw him evade the impressive McGeehan it also emptied the midfield, leaving a gap between those at the back and those playing further forward through the middle. The timing was all wrong as during the half Cambridge tired and United could have used this opportunity to push on. When the opportunity was there to put the pressure on by stepping it up, United didn’t.

SECOND HALF

Supply to Falcao was patchy at best, he was often seen making the runs but the crosses weren’t there. One supplier, Januzaj upped his game in the second half, truth be told, he needed too. Blind was culpable for his lack of quality supply.

Van Gaal made a change in attack with van Persie on for Wilson in an attempt to hold the ball up as the balls through, in and behind were not having an impact. Champion and Hughes have to be commended for this. There was a minor improvement following van Persie’s introduction but it was not enough.

2nd HALF         falcao

United’s shape late in the game and Falcao

One substitution that did make an impact was Herrera. The Spaniard offered craft and industry but this was too little too late, he should have been brought on far sooner for Fellaini who throughout the game offered very little width on the right.

Set pieces were a key part of Cambridge’s plan. Fellaini didn’t do enough in this area

Set pieces were a key part of Cambridge’s plan. Fellaini didn’t do enough in this area

CONCLUSION

Again possession was abundant for United but against Cambridge this was to be expected. What was frustrating was United’s inability to break down an organised and stubborn Cambridge defensive unit. The League Two side were set out incredibly well and United’s closeted shape played into their game plan; a lack of width allowed Cambridge to defend narrowly and on a narrow pitch this made it easier for them than it should have been.

In light of the other results this weekend, United’s 0-0 draw doesn’t seem so bad.