MANCHESTER UNITED vs HULL CITY
This was the first leg of a two legged Cup semi-final. Given their good form and that the opponent is struggling at the bottom of the Premier League United were looking to build-up an advantage with another convincing Cup win. Jose Mourinho had hinted in pre-match comments that we could expect significant changes with players rested at the weekend returning.
In: De Gea, Darmian, Jones, Valencia, Herrera, Pogba and Mkhitaryan.
Out: Romero, Young, Rojo, Blind, Fellaini, Carrick and Martial.
- A good win to take to the second leg but not an outstanding performance, the better side and United were worth the two goal lead but whilst United had 21 shots on goal, only 6 were on target. This is a concern.
- Using a 4-2-3-1 shape again Paul Pogba’s return to the side saw him feature as one of the pivots. Here he helped United control the game but from this deeper position he carries less threat. He doesn’t hurt the opposition from this position which does not exploit his qualities.
- United didn’t really get out of second gear. Much of their play was slow and deliberate whilst you would really expect in the first leg of a two legged tie at home they would take the initiative and show some urgency in trying to build up a lead this never really happened.
- Defensively United looked solid and whilst Hull often retained possession well they rarely looked threatening; all the more reason why the performance was so disappointing.
- Lets move on.
Jose Mourinho made seven changes as United juggled tournaments. He retained a 4-2-3-1 shape which meant a deeper role as a pivot for Pogba alongside Herrera. Rashford continued as the main central striker with Rooney behind. Mkhitaryan operated on the left with Mata notionally on the right. Injury hit and struggling Hull under a new manager, here only taking charge for his second game, set up as a 4-1-4-1 shape with Huddlestone featuring as an auxiliary centre back and they were forced to make an early change when Henriksen came off worse in a shoulder charge with Paul Pogba in the nineteenth minute.
United’s first half shape and Paul Pogba, arguably played too deep
United started the game brightly and had a couple of good early shooting chances. The pattern was clear from the start. United had most possession and moved the ball fairly quickly but when Hull won the ball they kept it well for periods. There passing and movement off the ball was slower and more deliberate with their only real goal threat generally from set pieces and usually through Robert Snodgrass.
United were frustrating to watch during the first half and at halftime despite having controlled periods of the game, (including one ten minute period around the half hour mark where they had 82% of possession), the score was 0-0. Why?
Perhaps there are a number of factors here. As mentioned in the keypoints section Pogba’s positioning deeper is a factor. He has a tendency to hold the ball and take more touches than most other players using his size and physical strength to draw people too him before then releasing colleagues who have been left in space. This is far more effective in higher areas, in the deep the players left in space aren’t in threatening positions so far from the opponent’s goal. The other outcome from this is that the ball, whilst being circulated quickly is slower to reach Rashford and Mkhitaryan who thrive of early ball to exploit their pace.
The lack of this early ball saw the front players dropping deeper and this made life easier for Hull defensive line. Rooney tended to drop deep or go wide whilst Rashford moved to the wide left.
The other notable movement was the usual one of Mata coming into the middle from the right and on occasions swapping sides with Mkhitaryan. This movement was all lateral and United didn’t offer much threat behind Hull. It was all a bit flat.
There were no half time changes by either side and the pattern of the game was almost the same. Mkhitaryan was perhaps consistently narrower on the left and Mata was tending to drop deep but much of the play continued to be slow and deliberate. The slowness of the build-up play allowed Hull to adjust and cover all the time maintaining their two banks of 4 and 5. If Hull had the ball United tended to sit off rather than press as Hull manoeuvred the ball in their own half and only put pressure on the man in possession of Hull crossed the half way line.
Then out of nothing United scored. It was a well worked goal which was a product of United’s patient build up but this time resulted in an end product. Rooney had the ball wide on the left. He pushed it inside to Pogba who switched play to Valencia on the opposite right hand side. Valencia crossed to the far post where Mkhitrayan jumped t head back across goal to the far post a Mata arrived to head home. Boom! 1-0 in the 56th minute.
Not soon after this and having taken the lead Mourinho made his first change replacing Rooney for Martial in the 59th minute. Mkhitaryan moved to the number 10 position with Martial positioning himself on the left. The patient passing continued and this was frustrating as United just weren’t taking the initiative having taken the lead. Then in the 71st minute Lingard came on for Mkhitaryan with Lingard taking up the number 10 position.
United’s changing team line up as they made substitutions in the 58th and 70th minutes
The pattern of the game again remained unchanged after this substitution although it was noticeable that Lingard was fairly fluid in his movements and regularly switched positions with Mata. United really needed the cushion of a second goal from this match but they didn’t seem able, despite having had lot pf possession, of making things happen. Passing was slow, movement was slow and from many players movement off the ball was poor.
United’s line up and shape after their final substitution with Fellaini, (here with Pogba), entering the fray
In the 79th minute United made their final substitution replacing Mata with Fellaini. Lingard now moved out to the right and Fellaini positioned himself almost as a second striker just behind Rashford.
Fortunatley, and again seemingly out of nothing United did score again. This goal came in the 86th minute and was in some ways not dissimilar to the first. This time Darmian hit a pass down the line to Martial on the left. He was tackled but got up first and in enough time to hit a cross to the far post where Fellaini rose to loop a header back across goal over the Hull keeper into the far corner of the net. Boom! 2-0.
That score line feels like enough to see United through to Wembley for a cup final in February.
United had 66% possession and set out above 21 shots but only 6 on target. The 2-0 victory will almost certainly be enough to set United up to reach the final given that Hull are a currently a modest side under a new manager and struggling with injuries.
That said this was a disappointing performance even if it stretches United’s winning run to nine games. United lacked the verve here, it was all a bit ordinary. The team shape and use of Pogba in a deeper position had shades of the early season. United’s best shape now appears to be a 4-3-3. This is the shape that gives the team midfield balance and with Ibrahimovic providing a strong forward presence and pace in wide areas gives United the best chance of producing its best football. No doubt that is what we will see against Liverpool.