HULL CITY vs MANCHESTER UNITED
United went to Hull with a two goal lead and the smell of Wembley in their nostrils. When the draw was made most people probably anticipated a Liverpool versus United final but with Liverpool losing their semi-final Southampton awaited the winners of this tie. For United and especially for fans of this writer’s generation that is an opportunity for the revenge of ‘76. United still had a job to do of course before they could look ahead to that.
In: Darmian, Rojo, Carrick, Lingard and Rashford.
Out: Blind, Valencia, Felllaini, Mata and Mkhitaryan.
- United were too passive in the opening 45 minutes, content to accept the status quo of a 2-0 aggregate lead their play surrendered the initiative. Despite this it took a long time before Hull took hold of the game and even then United usually looked comfortable.
- Happy to sit in a low block and wait opportunities to break quickly (usually towards Rashford) the only real threat came from Hull set pieces and it was from a set piece that they were able to make an impact. A corner produced a penalty which meant that United had to think about doing more in the second half.
- After the break United did more, moving the ball more quickly and with more positive intent. The problem was having equalized United then became more passive again.
- Rashford’s pace troubled Hull throughout the match. Ultimately this threat did not result in an end product but it kept Hull on their guard. This is a significant weapon in United’s armoury which they have to learn to exploit more.
- A disappointing performance and disappointing to surrender the unbeaten run. Nevertheless United did enough in the end to progress to another Wembley final.
Jose Mourinho brought Michael Carrick into the side for this game and set the team up as a 4-3-3. That was the general shape but for much of the first half this became a 4-1-4-1 with the two wide attacking players dropping deeper. At the same time Herrera and Pogba would push high to press and force the Hull central defenders to either hit the ball long or push the ball wide to their fullbacks. Hull’s general shape was a 4-4-2.
United’s first half shape and Carrick, returning to the side
United were comfortable in containing Hull from the start without showing significant attacking ambition themselves; perhaps this was understandable as United held a 2-0 aggregate lead from the first leg but there is always a danger that in doing this you surrender the initiative.
After the opening ten minutes which was before any significant pattern had fully emerged the rest of the first half could be divided into three phases. The first of these responded directly to the way United had set up and the approach broadly described above in one particular way, the second to an adjusted response. Initially in that first phase Hull tended to hit the ball long in response to United’s strategy. When they did this they usually gave the ball away, United having won the ball then tended to hit the ball long towards Rashford. Rashford looked bright and alert and clearly had the beating of Hull’s makeshift right back Meyler both in terms of pace and skill. The Hull player was lucky to avoid a booking as early as the 14th minute. Unfortunately his efforts came to nought because the forward pass was usually not accurate enough.
The second phase started around the 25 minute mark. Now instead of hitting the ball long Hull tended to work harder to work the ball forward through the midfield. This involved their midfield dropping deeper to combine with their defensive line in an attempt to beat the initial press. They had some success in this and when they did United simply sat deeper in a lower block usually in the aforementioned 4-1-4-1. Hull now found it easier to retain possession and circulate the ball around the middle of the pitch. This was all in front of United however who looked comfortable. United would have probably been happy to allow the game to continue set in this pattern because they held the advantage; it was Hull who needed to change things and make a breakthrough. When United won the ball Hull similarly sat in a low block and United moved the ball around in the midfield. Our attacking efforts fell down in and around the final third where they quality of United’s combination play was not of the highest standard; an on-going problem.
Hull always looked dangerous from set pieces in this game and they had a couple of reasonable chances from both corners and free-kicks before they eventually made a breakthrough to bring this second phase of the half to a close. This goal came via a penalty resulting from a set piece move. That set piece was a corner on the Hull right. This was delivered to the far post where four players jumped. Jones and Rojo were the United pair and the referee blew when one of this pair tugged at a Hull shirt. All that can be said about this is that contact appeared to be minimal and having watched and re-watched the incident several times it is still not clear to www.manutdtactics.com which of the United pair tugged which Hull player. The referee clearly has very good eyesight. Huddlestone stepped up to dispatch the penalty and give Hull a 1-0 lead in the 35th minute.
The final phase of the half followed this goal. Hull took encouragement from this breakthrough and went a little gung-ho. This made the game more open and end-to-end for a few minutes. United could have easily equalized most notably two minutes after the goal in the 37th minute when a fine save denied Ibrahimovic. Hull had the ball and trying to move it forward quickly played a loose forward pass which was intercepted by Herrera. The ball bounced off him to Ibrahimovic in a central position from where he ran at the Hull goal. There were plenty of players around him but he was able to find manoeuvre into a position to try to curl the ball around defender and keeper. Al good save denied him as it looked like the ball was going to nestle in the corner of the net. The game remained end to end for a few minutes without any further clear cut chances being created and then it seemed as if for the last few minutes of the half both sides were happy to settle for the current score as the half time score.
As if sent out with a flea in their ear courtesy of the manager United started the second half in a far more positive way. They moved the ball far quicker with each player taking fewer touches and so being less deliberate in their choice of passes. Unfortunately after a couple of minutes a couple of stoppages for injury prevented a momentum developing. The pattern of the game and shape of the two teams was much the same as in the first half however but for the single change that United were now showing more attacking intent.
Hull despite having scored that first goal and unlike at the end of the first half had now settled back into a more cautious approach. This meant that they were reluctant to commit numbers forward and retained a fairly deep position on the pitch. This meant that United had few opportunities to exploit space on the break. United tried to move the ball forward quickly but instead often found themselves recycling the ball back from Ibrahimovic and Rashford to the midfield where the ball would then be circulated. Perhaps Hull was content to play through this phase of the game before mounting a push for a second goal later in the game.
If that was the plan it was a risky strategy. United could have had a penalty in the 52nd minute when Smalling was nudged in the box chasing a ball chipped behind the defence by Carrick. By the standards of the first half penalty award United were unlucky not to be awarded a penalty.
When Hull had the ball they kept it fairly well and this prevented United building any period of sustained pressure. They didn’t have to do that however as they still held the advantage. Then on 65minutes United scored.
From a central position Carrick threaded a pass to Ibrahimovic wide on the left. He pushed the ball diagonally inside for Rashford to run onto in the penalty area. The defender again struggled to match Rashford’s pace and could only knock the ball away from him. Unfortunately for Hull he only knocked the ball to Pogba who toe poked the ball first time through a crowded area and into the net. Boom! 1-1. Not long after this Rojo hit the bar, (on 72 minutes), but chances generally remained few and far between with United controlling the match. United did start to press Hull more aggressively as if pre-empting any potential Hull offensive by putting them under pressure.
Then with about 15 minutes of the game remaining United began to sit deeper and adopted a 4-4-1-1 shape with Lingard and Rashford sitting deep, Herrera alongside Carrick and Pogba behind Ibrahimovic. On 77 minutes Rooney replaced Lingard. Lingard positioning had been fairly fluid throughout the game whereas Rooney tended to stay in position on the left helping to retain a fairly rigid team shape.
United were seemingly in control of the game and tie now but were to suffer a few nervous minutes at the end of the game courtesy of another Hull goal in the 84th minute. This was a fine goal with Hull switching play effectively and efficiently from left to right before a first time cross and first time finish saw Niasse fire past De Gea from close range. It was too little too late however.
In injury time Fellaini replaced Rashford.
United got the job done but this was a strange game. United weren’t at their best adopting a fairly cautious almost passive approach. They responded after Hull had scored but even then the response was fairly muted. Having equalised they then went back into a more passive controlling mode. Hull did not seize the initiative. Perhaps they were concerned that a more proactive approach might leave them exposed to United’s counter attacking thrusts. That is a reasonable concern as the stand out feature of United’s play was the pace of Rashford who troubled Hull all night. He didn’t have a lot of luck and didn’t get that much protection with Meyler in particular being lucky to escape censure.
United did enough, perhaps just enough but that means that they can look forward to a cup final at the end of February. Wembley bound!