VFL WOLFSBURG vs MANCHESTER UNITED
08.12.2015

Under Sir Alex, United were rarely in the position of needing to win their last group game in order to progress to the knockout stages of the Champions League. Expectation of a win here however were low after recent performances and results.

PERSONNEL

In: Valera and Memphis.
Out: McNair and Schneiderlin.

KEYPOINTS

  • The ball behind the Wolfsburg defence was the most successful for United.
  • United centre backs rarely had a man to mark.
  • The positioning of Varela, often too far infield, caused United all sorts of problems.
  • Fellaini giving ball away and his unsophisticated play does more harm than good.
  • United’s goal was great – simple in its build up and sweet in its execution.
  • There was a lack of conviction in midfield with Schweinsteiger dropping between the centre backs and Fellaini high up
  • Young full backs did very well and gave United much more menace due to their overlapping.
  • Bench was an interesting one – good because of the youth involved but a worry for the lack of experience.
  • Defending and not holding on to the leads was detrimental to any chance of remaining in the Champions League.
  • A good game but far too open to have any quality about it.

FIRST HALF

A shaky start saw Schurrle miss a great opportunity after a switch in the play which caught Varela out of position. This was a theme as the half wore on as Wolfsburg overloaded Varela with Schafer and Schurrle. In addition Arnold pulled Blind and/or Smalling out of the centre which allowed Schurrle space to advance into as he played the line.

First Half

When defending Wolfsburg were a 4-1-4-1 formation and United exploited their tendency to pass out from the back. This intent was impressive due to its rarity this season, focused chiefly on Dante. Central to United’s relatively decent forward play was how Mata played. He showed plenty of movement across the line and his passing had real intent.

Wolfsburg 4-1-4-1

Wolfsburg 4-1-4-1

Boom! This passing then led to a goal on 10 minutes. Martial finished a short but effective string of passes which started with Blind then to Mata who slid a great pass between Naldo and Trasch. This was pleasing as Martial was hovering on the shoulder of the Wolfsburg defence and United weren’t ponderous for once.

Martial, Boom!

Martial, Boom!

Almost immediately it was 1-1 as Naldo did well to convert a free kick.

Naldos first goal

Naldos first goal

This was frustrating but not a hopeless situation, as the positive movements by Mata and Martial continued to test Wolfsburg. However, to make this benefit the whole team, the other players as well as these two need to be equally attentive. Although this wasn’t a bad performance, Memphis had a indifferent game. Too often he would hug the touchline awaiting a pass from a nearby runner but he would let the runner bypass him without giving the return ball or even looking for one-two. Get on your skates!

Wolfsburgs second goal

Wolfsburgs second goal

United were playing well but then they went behind. 2-1 just after Fellaini missed a great opportunity to put United ahead. Draxler was given far too much room to attack and sold Schweinsteiger a dummy.

Wolfsburgs second goal

Wolfsburgs second goal

Memphis was now coming inside much more as Fellaini went higher and moved around less and Wolfsburg adjusted to a 4-4-2 formation with Mata dropped deeper to try and make things happen.

United formation 30-45

United formation 30-45

 Towards the end of the half an injury to Darmian saw him come off for Borthwick-Jackson. Goal disallowed – spice it up?

SECOND HALF

No changes except in the formation with United lined up as a 4-4-2 when defending. The good work in the defence continued through Varela who was pushing forward much more. However, there were occasions when he and Mata were not on the same wavelength.

United formation 45-60

United formation 45-60

Wolfsburg were more compact now allowing United the initiative as the positivity continued and there were a couple of really good passages of play from United where passing and movement was economical and effective.

Caution was still needed as the two wonderful and important saves from De Gea demonstrated, even if one was a result of his rash charge out.

De Gea save

De Gea save

With time running out Van Gaal brought Carrick and Nick Powell on for Mata and Schweinsteiger. This shifted the attitude with more emphasis on passing directly and forward.

With the substitutions made, bad luck befell Van Gaal as Smalling was injured and he was moved up front out of necessity with Carrick sitting in at the back.

Second Half

Within the same breath United went from elation, an own goal, to devastation, Carrick losing Naldo on another set piece as he scored his second.

CONCLUSION

This was a fantastic game to watch and with Wolfsburg, a team confident at passing out from the back, an open game and United did well to exploit this but uncharacteristically United defended poorly meaning the good work up front was always likely to be undone at the back.

Schweinsteiger didn’t get a grip of the game and too often sat between the centre backs. This didn’t make sense as Wolfsburg, in a way, played without a striker. The gap between Schweinsteiger and his partner Fellaini as well as the rest of the team in front was too wide. On television Scholes asked for more from the World Cup winning German captain, he didn’t deliver.

Schweinsteigers position, too deep

Schweinsteigers position, too deep

We’ve said this before but Memphis needs to be more bullish, clinical and decisive (so do the whole team to be fair). He contributes to one of United’s problems, the ball into the centre (usually on the edge of the box) from the winger coming inside. In this game it was typically Memphis who played the ball into Martial at pace and made him stretch. He can’t control these types of passes. Play dies and the opponent clears the ball.

There was a positive in that the young players did well. Take Varela who gained a degree of composure in the second half after the drubbing Schurrle and Schafer gave him in the first. Borthwick-Jackson also  did very well.

Borthwick-Jackson, attempt on target

Borthwick-Jackson, attempt on target

Another positive was how ambitious United were in the game although Wolfsburg’s approach helped United in this.

Post match Van Gaal aired his concerns over his team’s concentration after letting their lead go twice. Not helped as United were also knocked out of the UEFA Youth League tournament. Yet it was set pieces that were United’s undoing. Even when fortune favoured them they allowed Wolfsburg back into the game and the same player Naldo who scored twice. United got what they deserved as they didn’t look after their own business and the loss wasn’t helped by performances against PSV, particularly the home match. It makes the Europa League a must win tournament.