MANCHESTER UNITED vs MIDDLESBROUGH
Middlesbrough have become a much more enjoyable outfit to watch since Aitor Karanka took over and with a team looking to impress on the big stage United would find this game a test.
In: Romero, Darmian, Blind, Carrick, Fellaini, Lingard, Pereira, Memphis and Wilson.
Out: De Gea, Valencia, Jones, Schneiderlin, Schweisteiger, Mata, Rooney, Herrera and Martial.
- In the first half the distance between the United players, particularly in the final third, appeared to be too great to make meaningful progress forward.
- Both teams looked comfortable and untroubled.
- Lingard was one of the bright sparks and offers a degree of directness only visible otherwise from Martial.
- Fellaini played well and looked comfortable. Not sure if that’s a good thing though?!
- United’s play in the final third is a worry – a lack of pace and invention comes to mind.
The first half was lacklustre, but intriguing in the sense that United enjoyed plenty of possession and they used a lot of the pitch. This was a very different side to the one we saw on Sunday in the derby, understandably so, but it was one that possessed, a lot of pace up front in Wilson, Memphis and Lingard.
United’s first half shape and James Wilson
The latter two of those forwards enjoyed plenty of the ball but couldn’t quite convert that into any threat. Memphis showed neat touches but no end product, he is still going down to ground too easily and this robbed United of a threat. Too often the game reached the final third and resulted in nothing, not helped because there was not enough players looking to go beyond Boro’s defence. Lingard was playing slightly inset from the wing and would have benefited from more support from Darmian, we saw Lingard one on one, or more one on two and he had few options other than going inside.
Fellaini had licence to roam and was responsible for United’s only real chance. A fact made more stark in comparison to Middlesbrough’s three shots on target. The visitors were neat in their coordinated approach as their midfield worked incredibly hard for each other both in an attacking and defensive capacity. United’s inability to break this down was obvious. They were also aided by the impressive Friend in defence and Kike up front.
As highlighted earlier, United were in control of the ball, 59-41% possession but never threatened. Pereira made some neat passes, one in particular to Rojo after a sweet little triangle of passing. He wasn’t helped by the forwards though who always had their back to goal. Turn and get the defenders on their heels.
Lingard and Depay switched wings as the half came to an end.
Despite the poor nature of the game as a spectacle it was pleasing to see how United controlled the ball and made passing choices which were right in their intention against Boro’s 4-4-2/4-1-4-1.
Rooney replaced Wilson who had appeared to pick up a knock in the late in the first half. Would this be a good opportunity for him to answer the critics with a goal or two? Inevitably United increased the pace of their game as Rooney’s presence set the Middlesbrough defenders back a yard or two. United began to be more assertive, taking the game to the visitors at the start of the half.
United’s second half shape with the introduction of Wayne Rooney.
Another quick sub on 61 minutes saw Young come on for Rojo with the assumed intent of getting supporting players further forward. It was hoped that the more progressive start to the half would continue.
It was with little surprise that Martial replaced Memphis in the 70th minute. The game needed rescuing as the early second half promise looked to be deteriorating with the pattern of play beginning to revert to the first half type!
Both teams had opportunities at the end to score and Romero has to be credited here for keeping United in the game with a couple of good saves, although the shots were straight at him.
Martial moved forward and centrally as Rooney into midfield dropped but the game was still frustrating despite the fact that United were a bit more cavalier in their approach. Little else happened worth writing about except the chances at the end for Martial and Fellaini and a couple of good penalty shots for United which the referee inexplicably turned down.
So to penalties. These saw United miss three; surprisingly these were from Rooney, Carrick and Young with the only converted United penalty coming from the youngster Pereira.
A poor game; of course United are in a no win situation in games in a Cup against lower league sides. But they didn’t help themselves, with the consistent thread of concern in Van Gaal’s team these days being their range of attacking options and enterprise
It’s easy for players to attack United. Utilise one player to mark United’s two central defenders and then push the United full backs backwards, not necessarily pressing them but monitoring their forays forward. This allows the opponent’s full backs to press on and subtly manage what United’s full backs can do.
It was only during extra time that United appeared to go for it as Middlesbrough dropped further and further back. All this did was leave you wondering why United didn’t they start the game as they ended it. There are issues with trying to grind the opposition down in the hope that they will make a mistake because this game showed that when the opposition doesn’t make a mistake or your team are not capable of taking the opportunities that come your way then it is a risky strategy. Out on penalties was what United deserved.