MANCHESTER UNITED VS CRYSTAL PALACE
14.09.2013

After defeat at Anfield and the international break United returned to action with a Premier League fixture against Chelsea. No doubt David Moyes was looking for a first ever win at Old Trafford as a manager.

PERSONNEL

In: Fabio, Anderson, Rooney.
Out: Jones, (injured), Cleverley, Welbeck, (injured).

KEY POINTS

  • United started brightly playing at a higher tempo than in previous games, but created very little; the final pass was generally poor and van Persie was starved of service. Moves broke down around the edge of the Palace area.
  • Having taken the lead through a fortuitous penalty United were generally comfortable and the match wasn’t thereafter much of a contest. Perhaps United could have done more to assert themselves but currently the team hasn’t really got going this year. Is this as a consequence of adjusting to new tactical subtleties introduced by the new manager?
  • Fellaini and Januzaj in the second half saw the two Belgian’s make promising Premier League debuts. Both had good games, both seemed to understand what was expected of them in the team shape and both performed well. Januzaj was a threat and Fellaini did the simple things neatly and well.

FIRST HALF

United started this game in a 4-2-3-1 shape. Rooney played behind van Persie with Young to the right and Valencia to the left. Fabio slotted into the left back position making his first appearance for over a year having returned from a season long loan at QPR last year. In the pivot positions Anderson, starting his first game this season partnered Carrick. Carrick sat deeper and to the left with Anderson higher and more mobile to the right.

First half CPUnited’s Formation in the first half

Crystal Palace formed up as a 4-3-3 with everything flowing through Jedinak in central midfield. This all meant that Palace theoretically outnumbered United in central areas, but any potential overloads were negated with Rooney dropping deep and the movement from other players ensuring that it was Palace who had to make adjustments to counter United. The downside for United though was that van Persie was often isolated. Most noticeably Palace’s central three were forced to regularly shuffle across the pitch as United thrust down one wing before switching play with a long diagonal pass to the opposite side. Young particularly stretched Palace by taking up a starting position wide on the touchline.

IMG_20130916_221949

United started brightly, making some good swift one and two touch passing moves. Fabio was particularly prominent in this and showed good energy combining with Valencia on the right. Carrick and Anderson were playing fairly high and in this opening period were successful in boxing Palace in with a high press. The visitors struggled initially to reach the half way line. After about ten minutes the pivot’s switched with Carrick moving to the right and Anderson to the left. Whilst both high these two were generally not as square to each other as had been Carrick and Cleverley at Anfield and this certainly helped the buildup play.

A number of patterns emerged in the early stages and these endured throughout the whole match. Firstly Moyes clearly wants United to shoot more often from range. Many of the one and two touch passing moves created a chance for a United player to shoot from just outside the penalty area. Carrick hit such a shot after about three minutes and later Rooney did the same. In this game these shots were generally fairly tame and the Speroni in the Palace goal had little difficulty dealing with them.

A second pattern was the United press. This has been a notable feature of United’s early games under Moyes, and if the first half evidence is anything to go by United are getting better at it now. This is a fairly high press with the front four doing most of the work. The pivots are still high but tend to stand off slightly waiting to intercept the loose pass by the opposition. Carrick read the game well and was successful with a number of interceptions. If the opposition move the ball beyond the press United then tend to shuffle back into a more passive defensive shape, with players dropping deeper, the wide attacking players sit in and the pivots screen the back four. Palace are not an especially challenging opposition but this worked fairly well here with Palace regularly giving the ball away; square passes were picked up by the attacking four whilst forward passes were often intercepted by Carrick or Anderson.

The third interesting feature here was the aforementioned switching of play. It was noticeable that United pushed down one flank and then quickly looked to switch the ball, either via an interchange of passes through the middle or via a long diagonal pass. This tactic created space on a number of occasions for both Valencia and Young, both of whom tended to stay wide. Having received the ball they did not however use it that well.

Generally this was a fairly stilted United performance. Again and despite the early one and two touch passing United failed to create many opportunities, excepting those long range shots identified above. The one exception to this was when van Persie was supplied by a divine lofted pass over the top after 39 minutes. He took the ball down superbly on his chest and struck a shot which cannoned off the bar. This was just about the only service of note he received through the first half and therein lay the problem. United passed far more quickly than in the previous game at Anfield, and in switching the ball stretched the play far more, but the final pass or cross and general delivery into the box was poor. Approach play was good at times but it tended to break down around 20 yards from the opposition goal.

The other feature of the first half was four penalty appeals, the final one of which resulted in a penalty award and Boom! a goal on 44 minutes. This was scored by van Persie after Young was clumsily bundled over as he ran into the box. Palace’s Dikgacoi was sent off for his troubles. This was a harsh decision; the challenge was actually outside the box although the sending-off was perhaps justified as the foul denied a clear goal scoring opportunity.

What of the other penalty appeals? The referee called them right and Young was booked on the third appeal. Perhaps that booking swayed the referee on the fourth call with him reasoning that after a booking Young would not risk a second yellow with a further dive. The fourth incident wasn’t a dive, but it was outside the box.

SECOND HALF

Not a lot changed after half time until substitutes were introduced from the 62 minute onwards. Palace stuck to pretty much the same shape but for being one man less in midfield now. The first substitute to be introduced was debutante Fellaini who replaced Anderson. Then five minutes later Januzaj made his Premier League bow, (having played as a substitute in the recent Charity Shield), replacing Young. Both these substitutions were straight swaps within the overall tactical shape, but both were notable in respect of what they brought to that shape.

Second Half CP United’s Formation after the introduction of second half substitutes

Fellaini made a good start. When he came on he played to the left as a pivot with Carrick to his right. Carrick now moved further forward with Fellaini staying the deeper of the two. Fellaini kept it simple. His size always makes him look a little ungainly, but he is not clumsy. The most noticeable aspect of his performance here is that he did the simple things well, always seemed to know what he was going to do before he received the ball, read the game well, looked comfortable in possession and as a consequence seemed to exhibit speed of thought and deed. This could not really be said about Anderson who he replaced.

Januzaj looked very promising. He started in a wide position, almost hugging the touchline. On receipt of the ball he was not then afraid to cut inside and take people on. He is quick, has quick feet and gets his head up looking to link with teammates. His combination play with Evra and Rooney was promising and he was always looking to run in behind the Crystal Palace defence both with and without the ball. Like Fellaini he seemed to know what he was going to do before he received the ball.

After 78 minutes Hernandez replaced van Persie in a straight swap.

United’s second goal after 81 minutes again came from a set piece. The move leading to the foul involved both Januzaj and Fellaini and resulted in a free kick outside the box and left if centre for the attacking team. Rooney stepped up and curved a shot over the wall into the left hand bottom corner of the goal. Boom! Game over. The goal was tough on Palace who had worked very hard throughout the second half with ten men, and for much of that time United’s play had been laboured. It was enough to secure a first home for David Moyes.

CONCLUSION

This was a stilted United performance settled by two set piece goals. After the sending off of Dikgacoi at the end of the first half United were comfortable and as such it did not really tell us that much about how United are likely to fair this year.

The introduction of two Belgians was the most interesting aspect of the game. Both did well and both gave suggestions of what they might bring to United in the future. Januzaj looked very promising, Fellaini looked assured.

Now to the European campaign and then the temple of doom.