SUNDERLAND VS MANCHESTER UNITED
Sunderland, who now appear in a ‘better place mentally’ without the demonstrative Di Canio on the sidelines welcomed United, who were returning to domestic action after securing an point at Donetsk in the Champions League in midweek.
In: Januzaj, Jones, Nani, Rooney
Out: Welbeck, Smalling, Valencia, Fellaini
- Moyes’ election was bold and welcomed, particularly in the 3 of the 4-2-3-1. It did Man United were under the cosh in the first half but a more energetic approach in the second brought out the best in it (for a certain period).
- Again, there was a lack of linking play; van Persie currently looks bereft, being isolated.
- As @mrmujac put it in his recent article on Strettynews, “United were looking for a spark” and it was found in Januzaj. The lad’s goals were just what United needed, decisive, technically superb and celebrated appropriately. It was a class performance. Let’s support him as he grows into his role.
- Sunderland’s 4-1-4-1 was bold and this may have been because the space between United’s midfield and attack is just too big. In this situation one anchoring midfielder will suffice.
A tough start for United as within the first five minutes Sunderland scored. How did this goal come about? To start Evra was not close enough to his man as Jones made a poor clearance which bounced off Vidic for Gardener to score. This showed hallmarks of the goal conceded against Donetsk whereby the midfielders also need to apportion some of the responsibility for not tracking their players. Sloppy is a good way to define this situation.
United were lacking clarity in their play as aimless balls were being pumped forward which resulted in poor ball retention as players were too far apart, particularly the midfield and attackers; a continuation from previous games.
Sunderland played a 4-1-4-1 formation with the central three pressing space. This put pressure on Cleverley and Carrick who sat deep with the three of Januzaj, Rooney and Nani in front of them too far away. Sunderland’s pressing three were fired up for this match and the ease with which they dominated the middle zone was disturbing.
This thread continued throughout the half; poor passing, too many long balls from the front to the back and it was only punctuated with United’s first opportunity when a volley from Nani represented a good chance missed! Apart from Nani occasionally and Januzaj more consistently, United’s tempo was slow. Many things we’d expect from a Moyes team were discussed pre-season but a slow tempo wasn’t one of them.
There were gaps in Sunderland’s formation with space out wide yet United were fairly narrow and didn’t exploit it.
Nani and Januzaj were the bright sparks in an otherwise dull first half; they were probing, drawing tackles and switching wings. It didn’t address the issue of van Persie and Rooney isolation though. The forward pair played quite close together when Rooney could have dropped deeper to get himself and so van Persie into the game with better link up play.
Changes were made at half time as Rooney sat deeper but the link play was not quite there during the early stages; compactness was still an issue as United were stretched. We even saw van Persie dropping deeper, but this was no false 9 tactic.United’s shape after half time
Boom! 54 minutes in and Academy product Januzaj levelled for United with a cool side foot (with power) from the edge of box.
The move started and ended through the composed Kosovan/Albanian/Belgian as he started with a pass out wide and then found the space to strike through sound positioning, accepting the return pass across his body.
Boom! Double delight just 6 minutes later as Januzaj treated us all to a world class volley from the left hand corner of the box, after a cross from the right. Januzaj showed Scholes-esque qualities to send the ball back across goal into the opposite corner.
The difference in taking the lead was immediate as United were not having to chase the game and as a result were more compact, Januzaj and Nani continued to switch, Rooney was deeper and linking play (even Nani was doing this). It wasn’t all peachy though as van Persie still appeared isolated and some of his touches were off key.
In the final 15 minutes United began to back off as Sunderland spirited some kind of comeback. We saw this in the midweek game as United appeared cautious. In Moyes’s desire to close games out is there an anxiety which persists? To steady the ship somewhat, both Nani and Januzaj were substituted with Valencia and Welbeck. These were straight swaps with Welbeck working hard and keeping good retention of possession, often running with ball to escape pressure.
The game petered out with a welcomed victory for United. Talk of United back on track is as ridiculous as it was the previous week saying United were past it; cool heads prevail.
The populist in us would want to highlight the performance of Januzaj to start with. However, it is the more fundamental elements of play which are concerning. Things such as link play, passing, pressing and tempo are missing and need addressing. Rooney as the link needs some work. Do we forfeit him for Kagawa, a better linker or do we incorporate them both? Rooney our best player lately was often staying too high thus allowing the midfield two of Carrick and Cleverley to get overloaded by Sunderland’s three.
All we need to say about Januzaj is that he’s a breath of fresh air for United and for Moyes.