FEYENOORD vs MANCHESTER UNITED
After the chastening Derby defeat at the weekend United travelled to Holland for their first European fixture of the season. We all anticipated changes in personnel and this was guaranteed after several senior players were left out of the squad that went out to Rotterdam.
In: Darmian, Smalling, Rojo, Schneiderlin, Herrera, Mata, Martial and Rashford.
Out: Valencia, Blind, Shaw, Fellaini, Lingard, Rooney, Mkhitaryan and Ibrahimovic.
- This was United’s second poor performance in a week. Again they started in second gear, they weren’t assertive and whilst it was generally a fairly even game you always felt that United should have been doing more.
- Whenever United looked like they might assert themselves Feyenoord resorted to a number of strong arm fouls which seemed to knock United out of their stride. United play never got into a rhythm because of this but this. Does this tell you something about the character of the side. Is this a general issue or one resulting from a current straight of mind post the derby defeat.
- This was Schneiderlin’s first start of the season and playing as a holding midfield player he did fairly well. Defensively he was fairly sound, but didn’t offer enough when United had the ball.
- We have previously expressed concern about Herrera as a deep midfield player or the shuttler in a double pivot. Against City he played well when introduced as the defensive midfield player, but here his occasional lack of positional discipline was costly. Where was he as Feyenoord scored?
- Paul Pogba featured as the number 10, but he did not have a good game in this freer role. At times he was too deep as United got stuck in a midfield battle. This left Rashford isolated in a high position. It still feels as if he is trying to do too much himself.
There was much speculation pre-match in view of Wayne Rooney’s absence from the travelling party that United would switch to a 4-3-3 shape and incredibly post match on social media that they had played 4-3-3 and that this experiment hadn’t work. United did not play 4-3-3 here but stuck to or more accurately after the second half in the derby reverted to a 4-2-3-1 shape.
United’s first half shape and an isolated Marcus Rashford
This meant that Paul Pogba moved to the number 10 position with Rashford ahead and Martial to the left, Mata to the right. Further back this meant Schneiderlin and Herrera as the pivots which was likely to mean Schneiderlin as the more static holding players and Herrera, given his natural all action tendencies as the more mobile shuttler. We make no apologies for describing this as in our view the characteristics of the particular players deployed in the particular positions can explain a lot about the way the game panned out. Feyenoord set up in their usual 4-3-3.
The first 20 minutes were fairly tight with neither side creating many significant chances. Feyenoord tended to have more possession and United tended to be slightly too passive. The early signs were that Pogba was often too deep leaving Rashford isolated at the front. Playing as a number 10 Pogba needed to be closer to the front. The consequence of this was that whenever they won the ball and tried to move it forward they lost possession.
After about twenty minutes as the pace of the game began to drop United started to get more possession and briefly looked to be more threatening. It was at this point however that the game became quite niggly with Feyenoord committing foul after foul, seemingly without any censure from a very lenient referee. This broke up United’s rhythm just as they were beginning to gain a foothold in the game.
For the rest of the half the game was disjointed with the two sides cancelling each other out, in fact it was fairly disappointing football with neither side seemingly capable of stringing more than around four or five passes together.
The quality of the football was poor and the half time score was 0-0.
Not a lot changed at the start of the second half. Much of the play was in the middle of the pitch and much of it was disjointed. There were a number of troubling things. Firstly United did not seem up to the task of competing with Feynoord’s physicality. Secondly their movement off the ball was shockingly bad; almost non-existent. Most notably the balance on the midfield seemed wrong.
In midfield Pogba continued to drop deep. Most often, as in the first half this left Rashfor isolated. Mata tended to come inside and was the main creative force for United. Herrera often pushed ahead of Pogba but whilst he was busy he does not have the range of pass or vision as Mata. However United’s brightest moment came when Herrera combined with Mata. These moves however tended to founder as they came up against the Feyenoord back line.
For their part Feyenoord defended doggedly and then looked to push forward quickly when they won the ball. If United had the ball they would drop back quickly. They were able to do this conmfortably because United were slow to move the ball forward. In some ways this was a little bit like a performance from last season, but for the fact that last year United retained possession better than they did here.
Most of United’s play was through the middle of the pitch. Rojo and Darmian in the fullback positions often pushed forward but did not look for overloads or overlaps. Perhaps as a consequence of this lack of a wide threat Mourinho made three substitutions of 63 minutes. On came Ibrahimovic, Young and Memphis for Rashford, Mata and Martial. United did now play with more width with Memphis and Young tending to stay wider; they delivered more crosses but the quality of these crosses wasn’t good enough.
United’s shape after the substitutions and Memphis, one of the substitutes
Then came the decisive moment. A quick transition saw Feyenoord win the ball on their right as Rojo filed to win a 50/50 loose ball. The ball was fed to Jorgensen who was in an offside position. This wasn’t given however and he was able to pull the ball back across the box for Vilhena to sweep home. Three points from the goal. Rojo lost a 50/50 challenge, this was typical of United in the match and illustrated their lack of intensity in the match. Another point to make is that when this ball was lost Smalling and Bailly were pulled over to the left leaving Darmian isolated in the middle, shades of United’s performance at Arsenal last year. Thirdly where was Schneiderlin and Herrera as the midfield screen.
This final point raises further questions about United’s midfield. As the game wore on and United looked for a winner Herrera had increasingly pushed forward, as previously described often ahead of Pogba. The problem was that Pobga as the number 10 was the player with the free role, not Herrera. In fairness to Schneiderlin he had played reasonably well as the screen on front of the defence. He lacks the passing vision however to direct play from the deep. The biggest criticism of Schneiderlin however was that when United had the ball at the back he almost never offered any movement into a position to receive a pass, instead leaving the build-up play to the centre backs.
After the goal United failed to mount any significant sustained pressure and the game ended 0-1.
This was a very disappointing performance and result. United lacked intensity, determination and guile. The whole display was lacklustre. What was so frustrating was that Feyenoord weren’t pulling up any trees themselves. In the run up to the game Jose Mourinho was at pains to point out that whilst United didn’t really want to be in the Europa League as this is where we are we were going to take it seriously. After this performance it is tempting not to believe this.
Mourinho made eight changes from the team that played in the derby and you could view this in a couple of ways. Firstly it could be taken as a sign that United are not taking this seriously or secondly that the alternative to the first choice 11 isn’t good enough. What is frustrating is that we know that this group of players is better than this and should have had enough to win this game. Was the tea sent out to get a draw in the opening group away game. The lack of intensity might suggest that this was the case. If this was so it backfired; if you don’t take the game to the opposition they may eventually take the game to you. Feyenoord did in the end after staying in the game by hook or by crook against United’s rather half-hearted efforts.
United will now need to step it up at Watford.