Friday night and United took on Derby who are now coached by Paul Clement, (ex-coach at Chelsea, Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain). This was seen as a tricky FA Cup tie with the Championship team being billed as a side able to present United with a more cultured and sophisticated threat than their league status might suggest.


In: Valera and Mata.
Out: Darmian and Herrera.


  • Three goals, three separate scorers; all as a consequence of sound finishing and good build-up play executed at a good tempo.
  • Mata was outstanding. With pace on both sides, he and Rooney were both mobile he sewed the attacking line together. Does Van Gaal think he has a future in this position?
  • Does Martial’s decision making and final pass/shot need work? Imagine a clinical Martial. He would be even more devastating if United got the ball to him quicker and if he received the ball in front of him when he is already moving.
  • Derby sat back allowing United to exert their authority. Perhaps their shape wasn’t as tight or as disciplined as a Premier League side and maybe this allowed the players to showed what Van Gaal probably sees in training.
  • The poor passing accuracy was frustrating as it reduced the number of chances United created.
  • Lingard’s adjustment to narrower positioning addressed the threat of Warnock’s forward runs.
  • Schneiderlin should have tracked the run of Thorne for the Derby goal. Scheiderlin has a poor game with much of his passing being square. United looked more positive when Carrick came on; he passed forward more and passed more quickly.


The start was what supporters wanted. Playing at a high tempo United took the game to Derby from the start and this produced neat threatening passing moves on several occasions; great football. This was especially so on the left through Martial; the left was fundamental to United’s good start to the game.  Derby noted this and doubled up on Martial. To respond the Frenchman often came in and replaced Rooney who would drop as Fellaini drifted left. When Martial comes in you want an overlap by a United player as Derby showed him inside.

FIRST HALF  4742835

United’s first half shape and the dynamic Anthony Martial

Borthwick-Jackson occasionally provided this and played well throughout the game with his adventurousness increasing as the game went on; in these first few minutes he was more cautious, which is understandable.

The only criticism from a promising first few minutes was regarding the accuracy of the passing, which was not as good as usual.

United down the left

United down the left

Derby were sitting too deep and standing off United. This allowed United the time and so opportunity to look for passes. They were easily able to retain position with little pressure on the ball, even as they approached the Derby penalty area. United used these opportunity well and often looked very active as a result; very busy. The move leading to United’s opening goal was typical of this; Martial movement was typical in this game running inside but what made the difference here was that Rooney had moved along the line, beyond Martial with Borthwick-Jackson rattling up the wing.  Borthwick-Jackson saw Ince tracking back while Mata’s prescence gave Butterfield a quandary; whether to pick Mata up or Fellaini. This all allowed Rooney time to look up and shoot. He picked his spot curling the ball into the far corner. Boom! 16 minutes, 1-0.

Boom! Rooney Goal

Boom! Rooney Goal

United dominated the first 30 minutes of the game. During this time Mata sat behind Rooney and Martial who came inside whilst the defence and deeper midfield remained in shape but pushing forward having only to deal with one Derby player up top, Martin. Mata movement throughout this period was excellent, although he was perhaps to easily knocked-off the ball. On the downside whilst the tempo remained high Fellaini looked clumsy and Schneiderlin passed square too often which resulted in the play being slowed down on occasions when you wanted it to quicken up.

United’s emphasis on attacking on the left dragged the play to that side and left space on the right, It was notable how well Varela dealt with this. He looked confident, assured and solid in defence and was ambitious and creative when the opportunity arose to run forward at the space in front of him.

Then Derby equalised. A run from the deep by Thorne and Smalling and Schneiderlin need to ask themselves how they allowed this to happen. Schneiderlin didn’t track Thorne and Smalling was indecisive. This indecision allowed Derby to suddenly increase the number of players nearer the previously isolated Martin. 37 minutes and it was now 1-1.

Derby Goal

Derby Goal

Credit should go to United though as they didn’t let up in their approach after the goal. It was great to see them sticking to their methods despite the setback. As the half drew to an end a decisive tackle by Smalling made some amends for his earlier indecision. Was this symptomatic of United’s resolve? Something which has to be applauded? Only the second half would tell.


At the start of the second half, Derby were clear with their intention; press higher and more often. They moved forward about ten yards higher than they had played in the first half. This caused United to pass a little quicker and coincidentally they gave the ball away less frequently than in the first half. The space is usually available in the middle of the pitch as United trace the passing around the back line, in the U-shape, in the same way as Bayern did too often under Guardiola in his first season in Germany. The similarities with Bayern obviously end there and there needs to be more desire to go through the centre from United. Smalling needs to come out more often, (he does so occasionally but as he crosses the halfway line usually then looks uncertain and desperate to offload the ball, as if he is concerned he will get a nosebleed if he goes too far forward). Unfortunately so does Schneiderlin and he is a midfield player. The ball back or sideways is understandable and safe, keep possession, but the opted for pass after this recirculation is rarely the best option available and is often another safe pass. This doesn’t create an opportunity or develop play. The players need to take more of a chance rather than safely going back for more options in the recirculation. The tempo of their passing was better in this game but the passing was still a little too safe.

An interesting side note was De Gea’s distribution. When he had the ball he chose to throw it out rather than kicking. The throw was accurate and helped build up some of United’s play within the middle third of the pitch. This is a new development in his play and is welcome as his distribution is one of his key weaknesses.

There were many pleasing individual performances, Verella, Borthwick-Jackson, Martial but also Rooney who looked lively. In the first half he stayed close to the 18 yard box but in this half there were questions over whether he had dropped too deep. This issue was highlighted as there was no striker to fill the space he left over. Boom! Perhaps Blind could take up that role as he followed his pass out wide with a run to the near post to meet Lingard’s pacey cross. 2-1 and deserved on 65minutes. Smalling take note, advancing from the back Blind got a goal exploiting the space down the middle, not a nose bleed!

SECOND HALF  The Emirates FA Cup 2015/16 Fourth Round Derby County v Manchester United Pride Park, Pride Pkwy, Derby, United Kingdom - 29 Jan 2016

United’s shape after Carrick’s introduction

Then on 74 minutes Carrick made an entrance after his prolonged injury layout replacing the disappointing Schneiderlin. Carrick played well and passed the ball forward rather than sideways. From the deep he directed the play and broke the U-shape. In terms of United’s shape the full backs were still pivotal as was Mata offensively. Defensively Lingard kept very narrow to stop the infield runs from Warnock.

Mata was very industrious and involved in most of United’s play, he was the fulcrum of United’s play in the final third as Carrick was now the fulcrum in the deep. There was also now more fluidity in United’s front play.

Boom! Mata Goal

Boom! Mata Goal

Boom! Mata deserved to score his goal after the way he pressed Christie deep to the touchline. This was a man who wanted to attack. The goal was also made possible by the nature of Carrick’s pass earlier in the move which had accuracy, length and direction. 3-1 0n 83 minutes.

Carrick Passing

Carrick Passing


This was a good team performance featuring many good individual performances. But even when we see good football from this team we have instinctively learned to lower our expectations. Or should we view a better performance as the seeds of future development? They give you hope with an improvement and then take it away in the next game. So the better form in January yielded the disappointment of the performance against Southampton. Could we see that game as a blip? Consistency is missing and so as a consequence is confidence. This game might allow confidence to develop but it will only do so if United are more bombastic and show themselves to be more forceful as they were at time here.

Derby didn’t help themselves; not only sitting too deep but also sitting too far off United’s midfield players. This allowed Rooney, particularly in the first half, to operate ashe wished, sometimes high, sometimes dropping deep. In the second half he had to drop deeper as Derby addressed this matter and pushed higher up the pitch collectively.

United’s defending has been held as their positive point in this season. Yet you do feel that they are still paper thin and vulnerable to attacks, counter-attacks or when the opposition drag our centre-backs out towards the touchline.

There is a hope. Martial was excellent. He created chances and set the pulse racing with his direct running whenever he got the ball. He terrorised Christie. He does need to be more clinical and decisive when he’s in the 18 yard box though. He is an excellent prospect and will learn.

After the game Van Gaal was asked whether this was a better performance because his team played with greater freedom, the implication being that his structured approach is restricting. This misses the point. United’s performance was better here because it had better balance, they passed at a higher tempo and players took more initiative within the structured shape, (which as still there). That balance came from the creativity and adventure of several players who just played well within the structure.