MANCHESTER UNITED VS WEST BROMWICH ALBION
After a morale boosting win against Liverpool in the League Cup on Wednesday United went into this game looking to get back to winning ways in the league.
In: Ferdinand, Carrick and Anderson.
Out: Rafael, Smalling and Giggs.
- The problem here was the twin issues which are becoming a common feature of United’s play this season; a lack of creativity and a tempo to the play which is far too slow.
- The consequence is that teams do not fear United when this scenario prevails. Many sensing little threat become emboldened as West Bromwich Albion did here. They are then prepared to take United on and when United’s defence is as shaky as it was today this is a recipe for disaster.
- Kagawa did fairly well in the first half without seriously pulling up any trees. Why was he removed at half time? He was again played in a wide position on the left, but playing narrow he habitually came inside and often occupied a very central position. Here he looked dangerous and was perhaps the United player asking the most serious questions in the first half. He is wasted out wide. The question which has to be raised is whether he is David Moyes type of player.
David Moyes made only three changes from the side which defeated Liverpool but this meant seven changes from the side which lost at City in United’s last league game. Ferdinand returned to partner Evans in central defence, which meant that Vidic missed his first league game of the season. Jones moved from midfield to right back. Carrick partnered Anderson in the pivot positions.
United started brightly and for the first ten minutes kept the tempo fairly high. Kagawa started wide on the left but played fairly narrow again and took every opportunity to come inside. United kept the ball well and established a nearly upper hand without really creating any chances of note. A lot of the play was down the right with Nani and Jones delivering a number of potentially dangerous crosses. Nobody connected with any significant menace.
After that first minute spell the tempo dropped and for the rest of the half the play settled into a set pattern. West Brom formed up in two banks of four, staying compact and resolute. United passed the ball around and had no problem retaining possession. The team showed little creative spark however and moves tended to break down as United approached the edge of the penalty area.
United’s shape started in a 4-2-3-1 but with Rooney dropping deep and Kagawa moving inside it became a shape closer to a lopsided 4-4-1-1 with Nani the nearest player to Hernandez. Hernandez was having a poor game. He plays on the shoulder of the last defender and unfortunately here this meant that he was often caught offside with the West Brom back line stepping up. On one occasion on a quick transition Nani broke down the right. Hernandez ran into an offside position and maintained it seemingly oblivious to the fact as Nani advanced. He had no option but to continue to run at the West Brom back line with no other player for support Nani lost the ball and a promising break broke down. With Hernandez pushing on and Rooney dropping deep the Mexican became increasingly isolated and so was not really in the game.
As the tempo of United’s play had dropped significantly they rarely posed a threat to West Brom. United’s passing was slow and lacking precision. They could keep the ball but could not make a serious impression of the West Brom defence. When they did make an impression chances went begging.
As the half wore on West Brom had a couple of good break-away opportunities; the writing was on the wall for United.
David Moyes made a change at the break. Kagawa was removed to be replaced by Januzaj. In terms of position this initially appeared a straight swap, but Nani and Januzaj switched wings and as the half wore on Januzaj more regularly featured on the right. The general pattern of the match remained unchanged however until in the 54th minute United conceded.
Amalfitano advanced from the right running diagonally from close to the half way line to the edge of the United box where he nutmeg-ed Ferdinand and seemingly beat him in thought and deed before skillfully chipping De Gea. It was a simple goal, well executed, but illustrated a problem which persisted throughout the game. That was that after transitions United defended poorly, being regularly caught with a poor defensive shape. On this goal Buttner was caught up field and failed to get back. Nani rarely has defensive discipline and after his switch with Januzaj this regularly left Buttner exposed. Buttner, Jones and Evans were all caught out of position at some point in the half after a quick transition.
Could United respond? They did so after 4 minutes. The response came from free kick. Rooney delivered a cross/shot from the left which everybody missed. Hernandez was the closest and his movement distracted Myhill in the West Brom goal. Boom! 1-1. Straight after the goal van Persie came on to replace Hernandez.
Could United now go on to win the game. United did now push on with Januzaj prominent with a number of exciting runs where he showed his turn of speed. He was operating on United’s left and be showed great promise. In this game though his decision making let him down, and he squandered a couple of good opportunities to set up teammates. United pushing on meant that the game began to became more stretched. The consequence of this was that there was plenty of space for West Brom to break and having moved to a 4-4-2 from their earlier 4-4-1-1 shape they were able to hold the ball up and bring others advancing into the space between the United defence and attack, the space where the pivots should be), manipulate space in front of the United defence.
On 67 minutes this reaped dividends when a neat lay back caught Ferdinand flat footed and Berahino had space to fire a first time shot past De Gea from outside the box. 1-2.
United’s shape in the second half as they chased the game.
Again following a goal Moyes made an immediate substitution removing Hernandez and introducing Fellaini in the 68th minute. Fellaini played ahead of Carrick as Anderson had done. But his position was often so advanced that United’s shape resembled a 4-1-5. With the play stretched United failed to make a meaningful impression on the West Brom goal and in fact looked increasingly vulnerable themselves with the visitors having time and space to break when they won the ball.
This was a very disappointing performance. United lacked creativity and a cutting edge. Their play was slow and their passing ordinary. They had plenty of possession, especially in the first half but do little with it.
The problem was that this coincided with a time when United’s defence had an off day. Ferdinand and Buttner gave particularly poor displays. Ferdinand looked slow and Buttner ill-disciplined. With Vidic missing the defence seemed to lack a resolute leader.
Why was Kagawa removed at half-time? Rooney was again one of our better performers, but surely Moyes has to find a way of including this pair and van Persie in his starting eleven. Especially as Kagawa has the touch and vision to go at least some way to solving United’s current creativity deficit.