MANCHESTER UNITED vs NORWICH CITY
Since the previous week’s defeat at Bournemouth Louis van Gaal had stated that United needed to win the next three games and that ultimately if United did not begin to win matches he was aware “his world could end”. No pressure then.
In: Young, Jones, Smalling and Rooney.
Out: Valera, McNair, Borthwick-Jackson and Lingard.
- United started well with Mata playing centrally and Carrick operating as the central pivot. Approach play was often very good but the final ball was poor and so United created no significant goal threat.
- Phil Jones had a poor game. Leaden footed in defence, occasionally caught out of position and often playing teammates into trouble with poor passes. A game to forget.
- Whilst United played a positive game in the first half but with that final ball letting them down they faded after going behind to a breakaway goal. In recent games they have tended to fade after a bright start, but here it touch a setback to see them loose their way. Heads went down suggesting a lack of confidence; understandable after the recent run of results.
- Rooney isn’t playing well and it is questionable whether he still has the game to lead the line as a single striker. Many fans have lost patience with him and now criticise and even boo him for things which aren’t his fault. This isn’t helping and isn’t fair. Rooney and the team need the crowd’s support when things aren’t going well.
- United’s crossing like their final ball was woeful. They foten didn’t get enough players into the box, but without a better delivery that really doesn’t matter anyway.
Van Gaal selected a more experienced looking defence for this game with Jones and Smalling returning to central defence. Young came in at right back and Blind moved out to right back. Rooney returned to take up position as a single striker. As a consequence Martial moved to the right wing and Mata moved to the number 10 position.
United 1st Half shape and Mata who had a central role
United started the game brightly with Fellaini who was notionally partnering Carrick as a defensive midfield player pushing forward to a position almost as high as Rooney. United had the majority of early possession and most of their attacking endeavours passed through Carrick. He tended to pass forward more than has been usual of late either towards Mata or diagonally towards United’s wide players. From his central position Mata was tending to move left towards Memphis. In their own half United’s build up was fairly slow and structured but as they reached the final third the pace of their play increased. This is of course how it should be but United failed to make a breakthrough for a number of reasons.
The main reason United failed to make a breakthrough is that their forward play was too rigid. United’s front four became Memphis, Rooney, Fellaini and Martial with Mata dropping deeper, but they tended to stay in their zones. This meant that a general lack of movement failed to trouble Norwich. Even when a ball was delivered from one side the player on the opposite wing did not come into a narrow position, so that in the centre of the pitch United’s forwards always remained outnumbered. United weren’t getting bodies into the box. This problem was exacerbated by the poor quality of United’s crossing. Some of United’s combination play creating overloads in wide areas was good, but the crossing was incredibly poor with the ball either not beating the first man or being over hit.
Throughout this Norwich sat very deep so that much of the play was in front of Norwich. This allowed Norwich to use their midfield as the defensive line with their central defenders having very little to do.
Then on 38 minutes Norwich scored a breakaway goal. A threaded goal reached Redmond who ran past Jones as the United man missed his tackle. Redmond pushed it onto Jerome who ran through an Ashley Young tackle and then outpaced Carrick who was struggling to get back and Smalling struggling to get across. He finished calmly. De Gea could have done better.
0-1 at half-time.
The football from both teams was scrappy at the start of the second half and then suddenly United found themselves 0-2 behind conceding a second breakaway goal. There were shades here of goals conceded by United early last season. Lots of people in the ground blamed Rooney for this goal, but for us the fault lay elsewhere.
Jones played a suicidal pass out from the back in a central area towards Rooney. At best it was a 50-50 ball but two players converged on the pass and one of them got their slightly before Rooney who with his back to goal was trying to shield the ball. Jones’s pass was the first error but the second was the positioning of Carrick. As the pass was made he had run so close to Rooney that he did not have the option of laying the pass off to Carrick first time. He had to try and hold the ball, the more difficult option. Once possession had been lost Norwich raced through the centre of the pitch and with Young failing to track Alex Tetty until too late he was able to score comfortably. United were 0-2 down in the 53rd minute.
United’s shape after the introduction of Ander Herrera for Fellaini
Van Gaal now made a change replacing Fellaini with Herrera in the 59th minute. Effectively this was a straight swap although at around the same time Martial came inside with Mata moving to a wide narrow position on the right. United’s forward play was now more lop sided with Memphis staying wider on the left and United relying on Young getting forward to give genuine width on the right.
United remained on top and now perhaps looked more dangerous creating a number of chances. Unfortunately Norwich also continued to look dangerous on the break.
After 65 minutes United did get a goal back. Mata fed Young on the right and his cross skimmed off Rooney’s head to Martial who controlled, evade a couple of chances and then shot home from close range. Boom! 1-2.
There was still 25 minutes to go now and United did push Norwich for a while but seemingly ran out of ideas. Smalling had a good chance to head home when he unusually found himself running behind the Norwich defence but his header went wide. Much of United’s late efforts however lacked any real conviction and the side looked low in confidence and flat towards the end of the game.
There is a danger of repeating oneself when writing a match report at the moment. This isn’t because the outcome of each game is the same ore even equally disappointing, it is because firstly the general strategy remains the same from game to game but also in the last few games the progress of the game has been repeated. In all these games United have started brightly, in a positive attacking manner, but in all recent games they have either lost their way and failed to make a breakthrough or have suffered a set back and then never really recovered. It is as if not having failed to make the impression intended they have lost confidence.
In this game United started brightly and whilst they created very few real clear cut chances they were on top until Norwich City scored. Thereafter they always seemed unlikely to recover.
This is not to say that things haven’t changed recently for whilst United have still utilized a 4-2-3-1 formation at times they have been closer to a 4-1-4-1 with Fellaini pushing higher leaving the other defensive midfield player, Carrick here, as a single pivot. This though has been part of the problem for whilst many United fans were calling for this change prior to the adjustment we were drawing games, now we are losing them. This tells a story and perhaps confirms a suspicion Van Gaal holds………..our central defence isn’t good enough. In this game Jones had a stinker but looking across our full quota of central defenders only Smalling appears consistently reliable. This means that if the manager does answer the call for a more expansive game we are left vulnerable to the sort of counter attacks which undermined us here. That leaves Van Gaal in a very difficult place.