Manchester United v Wigan Athletic
The Community Shield is essentially pre-season friendly with a trophy attached. It only really has an edge when the two teams involved are likely to be competing with each other for the major trophies at the business end of the season. This wasn’t the case here, but the occasion did have some importance given that United would wish to avoid a banana skin moment at the beginning of David Moyes reign as manager.
For his first ‘competitive’ game in charge David Moyes chose a starting eleven of De Gea, Rafael, Jones, Vidic, Evra, Carrick, Cleverley, Zaha, Welbeck, Giggs and van Persie.
– This game was no test at all for United who won comfortably without playing well.
– Robin van Persie started this season as he finished last. His alertness and eye for goal was enough to win this contest. Other aspects of the teams play were a little rusty and United will need to step up to make an impact on more accomplished teams in the weeks ahead.
– Wilfried Zaha put in a good performance with a number of moments which suggested a bright future.
For this game David Moyes started in a 4-2-3-1 shape with Zaha on the right, Giggs on the left and Welbeck behind van Persie. Giggs tended to play fairly narrow leaving space for Evra to overlap on his outside. Zaha on the opposite side stayed far wider. As usual Cleverley generally played higher than Carrick.
United started brightly and Boom! they took the lead after just 6 minutes. The goal illustrated an interesting feature of United’s play in this game, one to watch in the games ahead. United’s front players pressed the Wigan back line aggressively, never allowing them time to work the ball around with comfort at the back. Consequently United often won the ball deep in the Wigan half and then immediately after the transition looked to create an early chance. For the goal van Persie pushed the ball wide to the overlapping Evra whose inch perfect cross found the Dutchman in the box. He was quite far out but his pinpoint header was excellent giving Carson in the Wigan goal little chance to save.
The other consequence of the United forwards pressing high was that there was a good deal of space behind them and in front of the United defence. Wigan were not able to exploit this as they struggled to beat the press. Other more accomplished sides might and United will need to work hard at this tactic if they are going to make it work well.
After the goal and for much of the next twenty five minutes United had lots of possession without creating any real clear cut chances. They continued to press Wigan when they had possession deep in their own half and forced a number of errors. But United did not create chances because having won the ball much of their passing was too slow. When they did quicken the pace they did create space, without ever really making the most of them.
On sixteen minutes Rafael was withdrawn with an injury. Smalling came on and took up position at centre half to the right of Vidic. Jones moved from this position to right fullback. Up to this point in the game the right hand side had seemed a potentially productive area for United. Zaha had started brightly and with Rafael providing support from deep it appeared that the new man would make a telling impact here at some point in the game. Clearly he has pace and is prepared to take men on and in so doing asks difficult questions. Wigan doubled up on him whenever he received the ball. If there was a criticism it would be that he appeared to take a little too long to decide what he was going to do, but he showed enough here to suggest that when he develops a greater understanding with those around him he will be a real handful. Given our earlier comments Zaha’s ponderousness was actually no worse than anyone else.
There was much interchanging of positions at this point in the game, with Cleverley often pushing right up to the level of the forwards and Giggs swapping with Welbeck. Giggs movement was so significant at times that he appeared to have a free role. What was actually happening however was that Giggs was moving into the middle to attempt to respond to Wigans numerical advantage there? Wigan were playing a rough 4-5-1 formation and so had extra men in central areas.
As United did not go on and score again it was perhaps inevitable that as the half wore on Wigan would come more into the game. They moved the ball more quickly and looked to create crossing opportunities. In fact Wigan looked very dangerous and created a number of problems with deep high crosses. Smalling and Vidic did not deal well with these and United were a little lucky not to concede on a number of occasions late in the half.
After the half time break it was noticeable that there was less interchanging of positions from United. Wigan again started fairly well, but when United did win the ball they now tended to move it more quickly. This created a number of more promising situations, but generally these did not result in any significant clear cut chances. Then suddenly out of nothing after 59 minutes Boom! Van Persie scored again, with a slightly fortunate deflected shot from the edge of the box. This came from a move where United moved the ball quickly with a number of early passes to feet around the edge of the Wigan box. This was game over.
Almost immediately Moyes made changes, removing Zaha, (who appeared to have taken a knock) and replacing him with Valencia. United’s shape also changed at this point. Welbeck moved to a high wide left attacking position, Valencia played high on the right and Giggs moved centrally behind van Persie. This was effectively a 4-2-1-3, with Carrick and Cleverley staying deeper behind Giggs. United now always had three in the centre of the pitch.
After 66 minutes United replaced Giggs with Anderson, retaining the same shape. This formation worked well, but Anderson was often wasteful with his final ball and that pass was often slow giving Wigan time to cover danger. When United did move the ball more quickly they did create better opportunities.
On 82 minutes Moyes made two further changes. Januzaj and Kagawa replaced Welbeck and van Persie. Kagawa played to the left with Januazj central. There was not really enough time for either player to make an impact. The game was over as a contest after United’s second goal and finished in a comfortable 2-0 win.
This wasn’t much of a contest and we can’t really say that we learned much from it. There will be more testing fixtures in the weeks ahead where we will learn far more. That said a win is a win is a win and David Moyes has got off to a winning start delivering as one would expect in a fixture against limited opposition.
Much of United’s play was ponderous and their passing was rather ordinary, like the game as a whole it lacked an edge. Carrick played well and often quickened the pace. Cleverley and after his introduction Anderson did not really impose themselves on the game as one would have wished.
A switch to 4-2-1-3 in the second half was an interesting move. One would have liked to have seen this formation function for a prolonged period of time with constant personnel, and perhaps with Kagawa in the central role. This shape did allow United to control the game although with a two goal lead perhaps this was because the game was effectively over as a contest. It would be interesting to see this experiment again.
Zaha looked promising.