MANCHESTER UNITED vs FEYENOORD
The position in the group left United needing 4 points from their last two games to qualify. One of those games was at home and one away. As this was the home game United would be keen to win here to take some pressure off for the trip to Ukraine, even if that final game is against the group whipping boys.
In: Romero, Blind, Shaw, Rooney, Mkhitaryan and Ibrahimovic.
Out: De Gea, Rojo, Darmian, Martial, Rashford and Herrera.
- United won this game easily enough in the end; it wasn’t a great performance but a good effective one. Cat and mouse for a while but given their status as current league leaders in Holland Feyenoord were a disappointment.
- Carrick had another good game in the deep, this time alongside Pogba. Pogba is never as effective when played as a deeper player and that was the case here. The challenge for United is to utilise him in a way that gets the most out of his obvious talents. He didn’t play badly but this isn’t the role where one imagines he will really shine.
- Ahead of this pair the four front players played well. They were very fluid in their positioning although at times their play was lacking co-ordination. There movements asked questions of Feyenoord which tired the Dutch side out and late in the game this paid dividends.
- Earlier in the game however whilst United did get between the lines of Feyenoord’s 2 banks of four and United did as a consequence create chances much of United’s football was side to side and in front of rather than through the visitors.
- In the second half United played higher in pressed Feyenoord more deliberately and with greater urgency than in the first half. This extra press yielded dividend and saw United win the ball higher up the pitch. As a consequence United got on top in the game and never looked vulnerable thereafter. This change of gear in United’s play was good to see.
For what appeared an almost must win game Jose Mourinho made six changes. Such is the evenness of United’s current squad however that you could argue that this did not weaken the side and with Ibrahimovic coming back into the side a case could be made for his strengthening the side.
United’s first half shape and Mkhitaryan, making his first competitive start
A significant change from the previous game was a change of shape from a 4-3-3 to a 4-2-3-1. To effect this Pogba moved deeper to partner Carrick in the double pivot role and Rooney dropped to the number 10 position behind Ibrahimovic. Mata played to the right but looked to come inside and Mkhitaryan played on the left and was even more fluid in his positioning popping up all across the front between the lines. Feyenoord also set up as a 4-2-3-1 but as United took the initiative their shape transformed to a 4-4-1-1 with their two wide players dropping deep to form two banks of four. This left their lone centre-forward Jorgenssen particularly isolated as the visitors adopted a very conservative approach. In fact for the first twenty minutes or so they rarely crossed the halfway line.
Mata passing, (left) and Mkhitaryan passing, (right). Mata came inside but compared to Mkhitaryan he hugged the touchline. Mkhitaryan was very fluid in his positioning
The story of the first half then was United trying to break down the visitors defence. Feyenoord eventually had their moment when they broke most notably just before United achieved their breakthrough. Then they drew a smart double save from Romero making a rare appearance in goal instead of De Gea. The rest of the half saw United playing neat controlled football, moving the ball well but largely in front of the Feyenoord defence. When United did get between the lines they did trouble Feyenoord and created chances but this didn’t happen often enough to create any sustained periods of pressure. Notable features of United’s play were Pogba regularly looking to switch play with diagonal passes, Rooney’s busy-ness in the centre and Mkhitaryan but especially Mata looking to make blind side movements in the half spaces. Unfortunatley the ball forward or from wide areas into the box was usually poor making life easier than it should have been for the defenders. The front four were particularly mobile and worked hard to make an impression on Feyenoord’s composed defence but they only seemed to make a significant impression after a turnover of possession when the play was executed in close quarters.
Classically this pattern was illustrated by the United goal. United looked far more dangerous after a transition of possession, especially if they pressed Feyenoord and won the ball high in the visitor’s half. Then with the Dutch side momentarily out of shape United’s passing and movement was more direct and more urgent creating chances. On 35 minutes just this scenario resulted in a goal. United pressed the ball on their right. Carrick managed to win possession and immediately pushed the ball forward to Mata in the penalty area. He kept his cool and turned to lay the ball across the box to the unmarked Rooney. Boom!
The point is that Rooney was unmarked because Feyenoord were in possession and were looking to move the ball up the pitch. When they lost the ball their defence was bunched and they were drawn to Mata by the early forward pass from Carrick. This left Rooney free. He finished smartly but Carrick’s winning the ball and Mata’s calmness in knowing immediately what to do with the pass forward made the chance.
The goal didn’t change the pattern of the half and so the score at half-time remained 1-0.
Untied made no half-time substitutions but there was a very obvious change to their strategy at the start of the half and this persisted throughout the rest of the game and resulted in an eventually comfortable win. United stepped higher and pressed Feyenoord more aggressively. Feyenoord now looked less comfortable and this mean’t that United more frequently won the ball in high areas, the scenario from which they had looked more threatening in the first half. Now Mata Rooney and Mkhitaryan saw more of the ball in higher areas, notably between the defensive lines. Pushing higher allowed Carrick and Pogba to step higher and contribute more.
This of course made life harder for the Feyenoord forward line which continued to look increasingly isolated. Throughout this half United created a number of good chances in the second half. Effectively United had spotted the type of situation where Feyenoord looked most vulnerable in the first half and then looked to create more of those situations in the second half. United know avoided playing expansive long or cross field passes and instead looked to play in close quarters. When this worked it worked well but on just as many occasions United lost possession via a stray pass or a lack of understanding between the players in the front line. At times the play was threatening but disjointed.
Then on 69 minutes United scored again. Ironically this goal was a breakaway engineered by Rooney. United regained possession in their half and fed the ball immediately to Ibrahimovic he fed the ball down the line to Rooney on the right hand who turned the ball across for Mata to fire home. Boom! 2-0. Mata was immediately substituted, (a substitution planned before the goal) with Rashford coming on.
United’s second half shape after the introduction of Rashford and Rooney who had an excellent game
Rashford moved into Mkhitaryan’s position on the left and he switched across to the right. United now looked a little better balanced with Rashford stretching Feyenoord on the left , Mkhitaryan coming inside from the right and Valencia coming forward in the space outside Mkhitaryan. The United scored again.
This was a simple goal worked on the left with Zlatan feeding Ibrahimovic who had run to the touchline. He delivered a firm low pass across goal which was diverted in off the heel of Feyenoord keeper Brad Jones; an own goal. Boom! 3-0 and seemingly game over.
It was game over as Feyenoord seemed incapable of any response. This was really disappointing from a side leading their own league but they did seem to be cutting their loses. In fact there was one bizarre passage of play after the third goal where they contented themselves with retaining possession and made triangular passing patterns in their own half apparently unconcerned about making any up-field progress. United responded to this by similarly playing keep ball themselves whenever they had possession.
Mourinho then made late substitutions after 82 minutes introducing Memphis for Rooney and Lingard for Mkhitaryan. Memphis played on the right and Lingard took up the number 10 position. To finish off the game Lingard scored as United walked the ball through a supine Feyenoord before he curled the ball into the corner of the net from a position just outside the box. Boom! 4-0.
Too easy in the end.
This was an easy win in the end for United who started the game in a controlled manner, took a first half lead and then turned up the pressure in the second half to score again. They then never looked back and in the end Feyenoord wilted. Given that they are leading the Eredivisie the visitors display was a disappointment; when United had taken a two goal lead they simply failed to respond and seemingly accepted their fate. In the end they capitulated. This meant that this wasn’t a serious test for United who are now in a good position to qualify from the group. How did United loose to this side in Holland?
What can we take from this performance then; probably two things?
Firstly it was good to see United step up the pace in the second half. Essentially United saw an opportunity having gotten on top in the game and took complete control. We haven’t seen this type of game management from United for a couple of years.
Secondly the fluidity and interplay of the front four was much more promising; disjointed at times but good enough to result in plenty of chances and a 4-0 scoreline. www.manutdtactics.com have always maintained that Ibrahimovic is playing well and contributing if not goals then a good deal more to United’s attacking play. Strong and athletic if not fast, a static link who isn’t afraid to drop deep and pull defenders about. Mata has been playing well all season, busy and mobile to takes up difficult positions between the lines on defenders blind sides, but he has been doing that all season. But it was good to see the contribution in this game made by the other two front players. Mkhitaryan making his first start was also busy and alert. He didn’t pull up any trees but he made an important contribution as part of the four. Rooney played well; he seemed to add aggression to his approach here. Controlled aggression for sure but perhaps he is angry because of recent press coverage. This is no bad thing if that is the case as he has always appeared a better player when he is more bullish, playing with the bit between his teeth.