MANCHESTER UNITED vs FENERBACHE SK
This was a key match in the group after United had lost one and won one in their first two group games. A win here and things looked promising for qualification. Anything less and United would have no margin for error in their trip to Turkey with two of their remaining games being away from Old Trafford.
In: Darmian, Shaw, Carrick, Martial, Mata, Lingard and Rooney.
Out: Valencia, Blind, Herrera, Rashford, Young and Ibrahimovic.
- United coasted to victory here scoring four goals but it was far too easy. So easy in fact that they became sloppy as the second half wore on conceding a late unnecessary goal. United didn’t really play that well.
- Early in the first half United appears far too impatient, something which saw they hit long passes forward too often. These were usually inaccurate but on the rare occasion when a pass did find a man the pass drew a foul leading to the first goal.
- There was one brief period of about 5 minutes in the first half, about 15 minutes in, which was like something from another game. Suddenly United passed the ball early and quickly. At this point they looked far more dynamic. They then regressed to the mean.
- Carrick showed that he still has a lot to offer, a calming influence in front of the defence allowing Pogba to push forward and be more adventurous. Was this the reason that Pogba gave a much improved performance?
- What was that second half performance all about? United scored at the start of the half effectively ending the contest. Thereafter they played well within themselves providing a very drab affair.
Jose Mourinho made seven changes for this game from the side which started three days earlier at Anfield; understandable with another tough domestic away game at Chelsea three days after this fixture. The most notable change after the quantity of discussion around the player’s future was the inclusion of Rooney leading the line as the centre-forward.
United’s first half shape and Rooney, returning to the side at centre forward
Goals apart this was a fairly even half. United perhaps edged it slightly but whilst they always looked comfortable so did Fenerbache. The half started with some very prosaic football. If anything United looked a little impatient. They rotated the ball well but were then prone to then launch a long inaccurate ball forward resulting in the loss of the ball. The consequence of this was that in the first fifteen to twenty minutes they didn’t register many efforts on goal, (if any). Neither however did Fenerbache.
In addition to these inaccurate long balls forward there were two other notable features. The first was the narrowness of United’s attacking play. Lingard and Martial both tucked inside which created a congested area in the number 10 area. This may have been as a consequence of Fenerbache often only keeping 3 at the back in a 3-4-3 shape. By tucking inside this meant that there was the possibility of going 3 against 3. The second feature was that with Rooney in the centre forward position nobody was running behind. This was because Rooney now tends to drop deep when playing as a centre-forward into the area where he now more frequently plays.
Out of nothing and from about 13 minutes into the contest United now suddenly upped the tempo of the play. This was a curious thing as it actually only lasted for about 5 minutes and then was never seen again in the match. In that 5 minute spell they circulated the ball far quicker. The problem was that with the wingers coming narrow and Rooney dropping deep the game was a bit like a gymnasium five aside competition. United needed to spread the play and stretch the opposition out. The side’s movement and compactness in attack was helping the opposition.
After this spell, in the middle of the half the tempo settled down again and the pattern of play reverted to that seen at the start of the game. Fortunately for United now as the wingers pushed inside the fullbacks and particularly Darmian pushed forward to overlap. Delivery was usually poor but United lacked a presence in the box anyway.
United then scored two quick goals via two penalties. Both came from excellent long forward passes, ironic given that most was inaccurate. The first goal came from a long pass from Carrick, (whose passing was actually a cut above everybody else’s, and whose defensive work helped free Pogba to push forward). His pass over and behind the Fenerbache defence was beautifully brought down by Mata who was bundled over. Pogba steeped up to calmly dispatch the penalty. Boom! 1-0 31 minutes played.
Three minutes later United scored again this time Mata delivered the pass behind the Fenerbache defence and Martial was tripped as he ran clear. This time Martial steeped up, Boom! 2-0.
These moments stood out in the half simply because much of the rest of the play was so unremarkable. The third goal was not unremarkable however but actually did reflect another feature of the half. That was United’s pressing. Perhaps as a deliberate tactic, perhaps as a consequence of United’s narrow shape the front four were never far away from the Fenerbache defenders as they tried to work the ball forward. Consequently they were able to press and force errors. Goal incidents aside United generally looked more dangerous in the half when they pressed and won the ball. Eventually this resulted in goal as a loose pass was picked up by Rooney. He passed forward to Lingard who had come narrow on the left and laid the ball off into the path of Pogba who didn’t break stride in curling the ball into the top corner from outside the box. Great finish. Boom! 3-0 in added time at the end of the half.
Jose Mourinho made a rare half time substitution with Rojo replacing Smalling in central defence. Many United fans had spent the half time break wondering how United were three goals up. They had doe okay but hadn’t played that well and the goals had seemingly come out of nothing, but they then scored again right at the start of the second half. This goal was similar in many ways to the third goal. A forward pass into Rooney with his back to goal on the edge of the box was laid off into the path of Lingard who ran square adjusting his position slightly before shooting how with a shot from just outside the penalty area. Boom! 48 minutes played 4-0.
United’s second half shape and Memphis making a rare appearance
This goal ended the contest and effectively killed the game. United very obviously took their foot off the gas. The second half then became a bit of a non-event. For the record United made a couple of substitutions with Memphis replacing Lingard on 66 minutes and Fosu-Mensah replacing Pogba after 75 minutes. The shape of the side remained the same despite these changes but United’s play began to become sloppy and eventually Fenerbache started to look as if they were likely to score.
They did score late in the game when sloppy defending allowed the delivery of a cross from the left which was met by an old friend and former Premier League Champion Robin van Persie, who fired home from close range. Nobody present seemed to begrudge him that.
So United go level at the top of the group and they did this without seemingly breaking sweat. This wasn’t a great performance and it didn’t have to be because Fenerbache were poor. The goals came seemingly out of nothing. The two from open play were well worked and well taken but there were countless other opportunities in the match that United could and should have taken with a better or earlier final pass.
Unfortunately United played well within themselves which is surprising given that with seven changes to the starting eleven and a couple of substitutions Jose Mourinho gave game time to a number of players who could and should have taken the opportunity to impress. Notable exceptions were Darmian overlapping in the first half and Martial, full of energy and running. Rooney lacked sharpness and Memphis contributed little.