United travelled to Moscow to face CSKA, a team unbeaten at the top of their domestic league. United’s Champions League journey hasn’t really caught fire yet and it was hoped that on the back of a great performance against Everton United would approach this game full of confidence.


In: Valencia and Lingard.
Out: Darmian and Mata.


  • Fernandez played a key role in pushing United’s left hand side back particularly in the first half.
  • United’s play in the first half was poor, the opposite of the game on Saturday.
  • There was a distinct lack of creativity in the team and the few chances created were a concern.
  • In Europe and whilst it may be frustrating to not get three points against a Russian team, there is merit in achieving a draw and building up Champions League points. Can this be considered a success?
  • CSKA’s defence and goalkeeper had an easy evening; much of United’s better play was played in approaching the 18 yard box rather than penetrating it.
  • The header from Martial was a good sign of how he reads the game.


This was a tough start for the United team as they met a team that were set up very well, not compact but connected. Each player worked with his adjacent player to reduce the options for United, both horizontally and vertically.

First Half

There was a zip and tempo missing from United’s game that we saw against Everton and this was annoying; continuity is key.

We saw Schweinsteiger sitting primarily in that left hand side pocket much higher than Schneiderlin and the pace of the counter from CSKA caught him out on a number of occasions.

That side caused acute issues for United as the impressive Fernandez bombed forward and kept Martial at bay, the Brazilian’s combination play with former red Tosic was a concern throughout the half as they attacked direct.

The penalty came about as a result of this pressure and Martial’s positioning meant that he was playing catch up and his body shape, as Fernandez flicked the ball over his head, this meant that there was a degree of inevitability for the handball.

De Gea saved the Eremenko penalty but criticism needs to be put at the door of Jones as he stopped his run toward the goal and Doumbia beat him to it to slot home.

de gea penalty save

There was lots of possession from United but they weren’t able to do anything with it, this could be seen all over the pitch but there build up was starved from defence. The impressive Eremenko played a key role in CSKA’s positive 4-4-1-1 in the half as he blocked many of United’s direct passes. He played a role in his teams high tempo counter attacking approach which would please coach Leonid Slutsky.


Fellaini came on and this gave United a typically more direct approach. He was all over the place but in a good way although he kept a much higher position than Schweinsteiger did.  There was much more desire about United’s play in this half as the players pressed and offered themselves for the return pass, two, three times over.

Valencia also appeared to have more options as he punched forward and it was he who provided a great cross to be met by an even greater header from Martial from the penalty spot. This was class as his positioning from the wing meant that he allowed the play to run on beyond him and the space he had to make the header gave him the time to pick the spot he did. Lingaard’s run shouldn’t be forgotten in the impact of this goal as it allowed the space for the ball to be played to Valencia.

Martial Positioning

Blind the substitute brought a bit more craft and technical soundness than Rojo as United took the game more to CSKA, much more direct than it was in the first half.

Lingaard less obvious than in the first half where he was picking space across the line and centrally was replaced by Memphis. Lingaard played very well and some of the moves and positions he took up in the first half were tremendous. The intent was clear as Martial swapped to the right but kept his positioning narrower than Lingaard. Memphis went to the left. This slight adjustment saw United have more bodies up front.

Martial Off Target - Lingaard involved  Rooney Off Target - Lingaard involved  Rooney Off Target 2 - Lingaard involved

With the substitutions United were more thoughtful with the ball. They also offered Rooney greater support and the football became more focused. We’d agree with the concern from Paul Scholes about Rooney needing runners beyond and around him.

Second Half 1  Second Half 2

The game was frustrating as there were just one too many instances where great passes were over hit yet the vertical rhythm to the game was much better.


The changes at half time were instrumental in the upturn in United’s performance which wasn’t too difficult as the first half was poor. Van Gaal will point to the fact that as United had a lot of possession then they must have tired CSKA and the benefit was felt in the second half particularly when the team addressed Van Gaal assessment was that the team didn’t play fast enough. Agreed.

United did increase the tempo in the second half and it was a much better game to watch but they were pressing and making shorter and neater passes. There were more options further up the pitch for United yet there was nowhere near enough runs beyond Rooney. As the furthest striker he doesn’t look as quick as he could do and this is where he needs his team mates to be bombing past or zipping around him.

Action Areas

CSKA were very direct and cut through the middle of United quite easily, particularly in the first half due to the positioning of Schweinsteiger which left a bigger gap than desired.

Hopefully United will turn out in better shape for the derby on Sunday but the bigger danger might be the return leg of the CSKA game. Switch on, get creative and turn the tempo up!