In a six game mini-league the fourth round of matches is often the key point in the series and that is especially so when the group situation is tight. Going into this match Feyenoord had six points, United had six points and Fenerbache had four.


In: Schneiderlin, Rooney and Martial.
Out: Mata, Ibrahimovic and Mata.


  • The story of this game is that United dominated possession but could not break through Fenerbache defensive lines. Much of United’s play throughout was in front of Fenerbache. These struggles saw United try four different players in the number 10 role during this game. United were hit by two outstanding strikes.
  • United’s midfield were busy but did not hurt Fenerbache because there were very few vertical passes. When they did pass forward it was rarely early and as a consequence Ibrahimovic tended to drop deep.
  • Fenerbache were disciplined and determined in their defensive game plan and took encouragement in this from their two goals early in each half. The most disappointing thing was that a few first half moments aside United seemed to lack determination and fight themselves. They seemed to just accept their fate. Where are the leaders?
  • In the first half Schneiderlin was poor. Herrera was busy throughout but affected little. Rooney, despite a late goal did not contribute a great deal of creativity either in the number 10 role or when dropping deeper. The balance of the midfield here was not good.
  • United generally looked better when they attempted forward thrusts in the wide areas. Rashford struggled to make an impact but Darmian was always eager to get forward. On the left Martial provided an impetuous, but delivery from both sides was generally poor. They didn’t make the most of a potential wide threat until the game was almost over; far too late.


As in the recent league game at Chelsea United conceded a goal right at the start of the game. At Chelsea that was after 30 seconds. Here the goal came in the second minute. A high tempo start saw United lose the ball. This was worked forward on the Fenerbache left and a cross hit in behind Sow. There didn’t seem to be any danger as the ball fell behind ow between Blind and Rojo. Sow produced a bicycle kick to beat De Gea.

After this opening goal and as the pattern of the game settled down it was clear to see United were set up in a 4-2-3-1 shape with Schneiderlin and Herrera as the double pivots. Pogba was in the number ten role behind Rooney. Fenerbache were set up in a 4-3-3 although this was usually 4-5-1 with their two wider players dropping deep and coming narrow as United took the initiative. United enjoyed the lion’s share of possession throughout the first half after this goal, retaining the ball but with Martial and Rashford tending to come inside and Rooney coming deep this created a very congested middle. Fenerbache dropped deep into a low block and only generally ventured forward for specific breakaway attempts.

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United’s first half shape before and after the injury to Pogba

After 20 minutes Pogba was forced to hobble off and was replaced by Ibrahimovic. Zlatan took up position as the central striker with Rooney dropping to the number 10 position. The problem with this was it simply seemed to exacerbate the exiting problem. United’s movement and passing was all in front of Fenerbache with seemingly no route through the middle. Nobody attempted to run in behind with Zlatan and Rooney both moving deeper towards the ball rather than towards the goal. Rashford and Martial tended to run laterally so that Herrera and Schneiderlin in deep areas had a congested space in front of them and no free passing targets. This resulted few vertical passes but instead Herrera and Schneiderlin tending to carry the ball forward themselves. Schnedierlin in particular had a poor half and was often a spectator when United had the ball. He did not often move to make a passing option to the other United players around him and his general positioning and movement was poor.

United had plenty of the ball but only recorded four shots in the game. Only two were on target

United had plenty of the ball but only recorded four shots in the game. Only two were on target

Out of possession United pressed and tended to win the ball back quickly but they did not then move the ball forward quickly so allowing Fenerbache to regain their defensive shape in good time.

The congested middle inevitably meant that there was some space outside in wide areas, but United didn’t exploit this. They were slow to move the ball wide and when they did Darmian and Shaw, who both showed themselves willing to run forward all too often received the ball in areas too deep to pose a significant press.

So United went in a goal down, 0-1 at halftime.


Jose Mourinho chose to replace Schneiderlin with Juan Mata at halftime. Mata moved into the number 10 role and Rooney dropped deeper to play as one of the pivot’s, although he was usually slightly higher than Herrera. Ibrahimovic still tended to drop deep and most of the play was still in front of Fenerbache but United now played at a higher tempo than in the first half and Mata in particular performed well in the number 10 role.

Mata was far more mobile than Pogba and certainly Rooney had been. He too showed a tendancy to drop deep although he would usually turn to face the opposition’s goal and generally run with the ball, changing the passing angles as he did so. This meant that at the start of the second half United were now able to get between the two lines of Fenerbache’s low block. Unfortunately Rashford and Martial were still quite narrow which allowed the Fenerbache team to defend on a narrow front. The space was available in the wide areas but again United tended to fail to exploit it as when the ball was pushed wide to the advancing fullbacks the delivery was usually poor.

Fenerbache take a 2 goal lead with a well taken free-kick

Fenerbache take a 2 goal lead with a well taken free-kick

Then in the 57th minute Fenerbache scored again from a free kick. This came about after Ibrahimovic and Mata had pressed but failed to win the ball in a high area. Nobody behind them backed them up and in attempting to chase down the ball as Fenerbache beat the press a foul was awarded against Zlatan about 30 yards from goal. Lens stepped up with a superb free kick bent around the wall. De Gea had no chance. 0-2.

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United’s second half shape before and after the introduction of Mkhitarayan

Immediately after the goal Mourinho made a second change introducing Mkhitaryan in place of Rashford. Rashford had failed to make a significant impression on the game and Mata now moved to the right as Mkhitarayan moved to the number 10 role. Not soon after this Advocaat introduced the pacey Emeneke in order to look to catch United on the break. United continued to dominate possession but continued to struggle to make an impression on the Fenerbache goal. Mkhitarayan was less effective than Mata as the 10 failing to pick mup the pace of the game. Fenerbache did nearly catch United on two or three occasions with Emineke going close on the break. On one occasion he was thwarted by a saving Blind tackle but on others he just couldn’t quite reach a centre from wide areas.

Rooney - Boom! A blast from the past

Rooney – Boom! A blast from the past

With about ten minutes left it actually appeared as if the spirit had gone out of United and they had become resigned to the result. And so it continued into the last few minutes until Boom! From nowhere United scored. Rooney picked up the ball about 30 yards from goal, turned to face the Fenerbache goal and unleashed a powerful drive into the top corner. This was a blast from the past, almost like something from the old days from Rooney. Perhaps the match situation freed him from overthinking things and saw him back to his instinctive best, (Rooney has always been an instinctive footballer).

A late rally saw United now move the ball wide with some urgency, usually towards Martial who threatened on the left. This was to no avail however and the match ended 1-2.


This was a very disappointing performance from United. In midfield the balance, perhaps disturbed by the injury to Pogba was just not right. United got dragged into a battle for space and time in the congested centre of the pitch when they should have got the ball wider or vertically through this area quicker to get at the home sides back line. Too much of the play was in front of Fenerbache.

Since this game people having been criticising Jose Mourinho, many putting forward the view that he is not the man for the jib. Performances and result have been mixed recently but this sought of assertion seems very premature. We need to consider that United have struggled now under three different managers over last few years. QED it’s the players not the manager.

United dominated possession, but to no avail

United dominated possession, but to no avail

Under Van Gaal United controlled games because they got the control of space right, especially in early phases of build-up. They just weren’t good enough/dynamic enough in final third. Van Gaal’s approach was very conservative and Mourinho has sacrificed much of this caution to try to achieve more when we have the ball. This is working to some extent. 37 shots against Burnley, but it has opened up a whole other range of issues because the defence actually isn’t that good. Perhaps LvG knew that and was masking many of these shortcomings. Mourinho is taking on a more difficult task in trying to address these issues rather than masking them. We all need to be patient with this.