MANCHESTER UNITED VS REAL SOCIEDAD
Following United’s return from the Ukraine where they became the only British team to take points they squared up against separatists Real Sociedad in the third European game of the season. There were a few changes in the team, the headline grabber was top scorer for Holland van Persie who was out through injury.
In: Giggs, Hernandez and Kagawa.
Out: Fellaini, van Persie and Januzaj.
- Giggs played well and leant a dynamism to midfield. His more mobile play complimented Carrick’s more static, deeper position giving better balance to the central midfield.
- United’s wide players, wingers and fullbacks had a better game than previously seen this season and with Rooney dropping deeper to link play this was a good performance.
- It should have been more comfortable but a failure to take chances saw Real Sociedad take hope and gradually improve. When they got a foothold in the game however United stayed solid at the back.
- A late cameo from Kagawa in a central role hinted at what he might offer as a classic number 10.
What a start and it was down to the application of, firstly Evra, who won the ball high up the pitch and secondly, Rooney, who was slick in his movement and skill to get a shot across the face of the keeper Bravo, it rebounded off the post and was put in the net by Martinez to put United up 1-0.
The game was played within a compact block stretching from just behind the halfway line into the Sociedad penalty box, with success coming via width, to the by-line or ten yards in from the flank. The amount of space afforded on the wings was scandalous (from Sociedad’s point of view obviously!) as United dominated in the early phase. The charge was led by Evra, Rafael and Valencia as they pressed high, feeding balls to Rooney (3 attempts with 2 on target within the first fifteen minutes a key stat) and Hernandez.
Valencia was heavily involved in the game and the graphics below highlight how he came inside, often and working well with Rafael who was keen but slightly impetuous and appeared to give away fouls as many times as Hernandez was caught offside. He and Valencia combined, gave away the highest number of fouls as Sociedad later game into the game with de la Bella and Castro causing issues.
United’s pressing game possessed a solid foundation as United’s midfield two played different but key and complimentary roles. Carrick was very much a single entity whilst Giggs brought energy and dynamism (painfully missing from United’s play for most of the season) to his higher positioning.
Carrick sat slightly ahead of his two junior central defenders, as can be seen in the chalkboard, combined they started the game with authority; essentially setting up as a back three as United’s pace caused great distress to the Spaniard’s (sorry Basque’s!) back line.
The United domination posed a threat to which Sociedad needed to respond and a subtle change was noted in Sociedad’s link up play. Initially, Greizmann swapped to the left side to reduce the Valencia/Rafael threat but then positioned himself closer to Seferovic thus giving them greater support up front.
It was at this point that De Gea was called into action for first time to save a shot from Seferovic. It was good concentration and a good set position from De Gea to make the save. As the half drew to a close there was a sense of frustration amongst the fans that the early lead had not been built upon built upon.
The second half began with no changes and Sociedad building upon the momentum they had gained toward the end of the first half. They forced United back a few yards into their own half as Seferovic, Prieto, Griezman and Vela interchanged. This stretched the United defence horizontally but despite this, Evans and Jones played a very accomplished game and handled the pressure, a fact supported by Sociedad only managing one shot from inside the box.
When United did relieve the pressure they enjoyed more success through the middle and when Kagawa was on the ball it was clear that he is not one for the fast break to feed a central Rooney as Hernandez tended to pull left.
Untied were by now not as fluid or as dynamic, with Giggs and Carrick playing more in-line with each other. Prieto dropped slightly deeper and so enjoyed acres of space as Griezman, Vela and Seferovic played as a front three.
Smalling who had come on for Rafael was introduced to offer more solidity and maintain a stricter defensive shape although the off shoot of this was that Sociedad could exploit space in front of him through their substitute Castro. The danger to a 1-0 lead was very much apparent.
75 minutes in and Rooney was playing very well but the isolation of Hernandez was a concern and this was impacting upon the Scousers role, for a period he was neither use nor ornament as the game became stretched again. We then saw Kagawa dropping inside and having more influence, as his missed opportunity testified. Both teams were displaying very distinct formations with Sociedad as a 4-3-3 and United a 4-3-2-1. However, this didn’t last long when Hernandez was substituted for Young, he went left and, Kagawa went central with Rooney ahead as United formed as a 4-4-1-1. Kagawa was now playing in his preferred Number 10 role and in the last fifteen minutes showed what he can potentially offer.
Mmm. A tale of missed opportunities, again, but let’s take the main positive…dynamism. This was exceptional and how does Giggs do it? His higher line ahead of Carrick saw United offer threats on both wings but in different ways; the right with a winger and a full back and the left with a winger (of sorts), a full back and a midfielder. Giggs’ energy was contagious and the determination shown by Evra, bringing benefit to his positioning, resulted in the ball being with Rooney who was magical with his footwork and to get a shot on goal as he did was ace.
Real Sociedad’s improvement was inevitable and United did look shaky at times. The frustration in not putting their chances away needs to be addressed and it’d be interesting to know how Moyes does this on the training ground. As Sociedad concentrated in the middle then United dropped deeper, this sitting back relies on a solid defence and sound screening by the midfield and United did this well.
Kagawa and Rooney were definitive bonuses and it was good to hear Moyes acknowledge both players’ performances; Kagawa’s in particular, both in wide areas and significantly when moved to a central number 10 role. It does beg the question which we posed a couple of weeks ago; how does Moyes fit him in?