So this is the Donbass Arena; United’s first trip here came on the back of a disappointing Premier League defeat against West Brom. An improvement was expected from Moyes’ boys but Shakhtar are no pushovers and this would be a difficult examination of a team shorn of confidence.


In: Rafael, Smalling, Vidic, Evra, Valencia, Fellaini, Cleverley, Welbeck and van Persie.
Out: Jones, Ferdinand, Evans, Buttner, Anderson, Rooney, Kagawa, Nani and Hernandez.


  • Three in central midfield forming part of a midfield ‘v’ shape.
  • Van Persie was often unsupported and was tightly marked.
  • The connection between midfield and van Persie was absent.


United’s started in a manner we’ve become accustomed to thus far this season, with patient play and sectional build up moves which ultimately lack dynamism. Their main dominant force in the early going came through Rafael who worked well within that middle third of the pitch; but that section only.

United’s midfield was interesting; going for three in midfield wasn’t a well kept secret but what was, was the ‘V’ shape in which all forward of the defence except van Persie played a part of. Cleverley sat forward of Carrick in a slightly wide left condition as Fellaini kept an inside right alignment. With Welbeck and Valencia ahead of each respectively.

1st half ShaktarUnited’s first half shape

This ‘V’ shape worked relatively well and kept United as the main winners in the early going but Donetsk were very quick to respond to possession from United, particularly through Taison who played well. This meant United were closed down quickly but Fellaini and Valencia didn’t help themselves in the face of the Donetsk press with the Belgian’s play clumsy and his passes intercepted numerously, whilst
Valencia was too ponderous and always seemed to be slowing the play down.

Returning to United’s ‘V’ shape what it did mean was that there were pockets of space available more so in front of Rafael. So to resolve the Rafael influence Lucescu asked the seriously faced Costa to push onto him more and check any foray forward.

Boom! Welbeck scored after latching on to a low level cross from Fellaini who’d become more advanced and find himself in the box. As the cross came in the distance between the Donetsk central defenders was to wide thus Welbeck had space to advance in to as he lost his marker to pick the cross which had been deflected by Rakitskiy.

Donetsk weren’t offering any threat to United by 25 minutes as it became clear that Costa was now playing closer to Adriano who’d been very isolated, more so than van Persie.

Costa was now omnipotent and looked for the return ball fed in by his team mates to Adriano but Vidic and Smalling were relatively sharp to this; the Serbian’s return was welcomed.

Srna who we expected to foray forward did so, playing as high as he had against Sociedad. United responded by sitting deep in a 4-5-1 trying to absorb the pressure from Donetsk’s 4-2-3-1 which was fluid, with overlaps and two versus one situations, forcing United to retreat thus increasing the gap between the midfield and van Persie.

Was this a sign of things to come in the second half? United would do well to improve the overlaps to the marooned van Persie, as currently the play was moved up to him and then he had to wait for them to catch up; the play lacked dynamism in the face of the rising Donetsk pressure.



United were now 4-4-1-1 with Fellaini playing behind and just to the right of van Persie. This was an interesting move as Fellaini’s touch hadn’t improved and seemed odd to integrate van Persie into the game. The Dutchman was pounced upon whenever the ball was fed into him and was often unsupported as he lost the ball.

Donetsk were continuing to ask questions of the United defence as their formation mirrored United’s 4-4-1-1 and in response the first class defending, particularly from the centre backs, continued. This pressure was brought upon the reds by the midfield being easily bypassed.

The pattern of the game continued but the most noticeable difference between the two sides was pace; Donetsk possessed it, United didn’t.

An obvious change came on the 65th minute when Giggs (making his 145th champions league appearance, a record) came on for Fellaini, in an attempt to bring more fluidity to the top zone. Early into Moyes reign it must be said that he isn’t afraid to make subs early. This change saw United revert back to a 4-5-1 with a view to put more composure into the midfield as Cleverley was more occupied with the advancing Fernando and later Taison.

Formation 2nd half_ShaktarUnited’s shape after Giggs introduction

The game was passing without real incident then Donetsk scored and it highlighted the danger of the 1-0 lead. For those few seasons, 2007-9, United mastered the 1-0 lead in Europe but this side isn’t quite that vintage.

The goal had numerous errors leading up to it. Granted Vidic should have cleared the ball better but questions had to be asked of Valencia who let Taison run past and Carrick wasn’t tight enough to the crosser.

How were United to get back into this as they were offering no offensive threat.
You realised what little threat United were carrying after a cross from Rafael was saved, highlighting how little the Donetsk keeper Pyatov had been tested.


Overall a point away from home in the group game should be considered a success. It was that we had the lead and subsequently lost it which leaves a bitter taste. The game was tactically interesting as we saw how the threat of Srna was effectively managed, how Rafael was subdued by Costa and the move by Moyes to get van Persie into the game didn’t quite work. United’s tackling was very poor and Fellaini still needs time to get up to speed, no irony intended considering how slow United were.

Three in midfield was welcomed and perhaps Moyes had learnt a lesson or two in that regards from the recent defeats. Yet it is a concern that when you compare other teams playing with less holding midfielder players, it begs the question do we need three players to do a job one player is doing elsewhere, for example, Lahm at Bayern.

It’s dangerous to compare to others so let’s look forward and enjoy the changes we’re witnessing. The start to the season isn’t ideal but Moyes will get it right.