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A tactical look at where it went wrong for Manchester United

Manchester United Old Trafford 2

Crisis bells are ringing at Old Trafford as Manchester United slumped to their second consecutive Premier League defeat on Saturday.

West Brom produced an inspiring display in a match that ended with a small section of Old Trafford faithful jeering their struggling squad and of course, David Moyes.

No Opening from the Centre

According to Moyes, United lacked the required “spark” in the attacking third against West Brom.

Rightly so, because otherwise it’s safe to say that the Red Devils’ midfield and attack did look promising. Only the final product was lacking.

Moyes learnt his lesson from the Derby humiliation, by instructing Luis Nani and Shinji Kagawa to continually drift in from out wide. This meant, United easily dominated the midfield battle.

With a one-sided 4/5-versus-2/3 affair in the centre of the park, Rooney or Kagawa usually always had space in between the lines.

Javier Hernandez also dropped back occasionally to collect the ball, which meant that United managed to breach the midfield pivot easily this time- something they couldn’t do against City.

Now, was the final ball, and, in time because after leaving the gaps initially, Steve Clarke’s men did well to close down on United’s attackers once the latter got behind the midfield.

Here is where United stuttered. One-two’s rendered futile and through balls didn’t work. Either the pass was mistimed or the run of the attacker.

In-fact, most of the time, United were so lost for ideas and slow in their build-up that they over-passed and eventually shifted the play out wide.

Looking at their successful passes from the game, and penetration from the centre is literally nil.

One could say an incisive and creative midfielder was lacking but I feel lack of coordination was the prime reason.

Moyes is using a variety of line-ups and the team that played against West Brom had seven different players to the one that started against City.

So, the players are not really accustomed to each other’s movements and Moyes’ style of play. They need time to gel. United lacked tempo because there’s not a consistent starting XI, hence, slick passing and one-two’s are destined to fail.

United did improve on this avenue for a short period of time after conceding the opener. This period also coincided with Anderson getting higher up the pitch to provide another outlet “in the hole” and United overall speeding their passing around West Brom’s defence.

They became more risky and it started to yield the results. But this didn’t last long and it was clear, wings were the only way in.

Wings and Nani

Nani was United’s most threatening attacker on Saturday. The Portuguese helped United open up West Brom defence from all areas of the pitch.

The 26-year-old successfully completed eight take-ons, signifying how much space he was able to create. But his decision making was mediocre and United didn’t utilize the space opened up by Nani once he’d passed the ball.

The former Sporting Lisbon youngster also completed three of his eight crosses but none were executed by his colleagues. United heavily relied on Nani to provide penetration and he almost did. However, yet again, the final product was lacking- crosses didn’t turn into goals, Nani’s attacking third passes were sometimes questionable and slow and his shooting was mediocre.

United also tried other options from the wings. Overloads were created with Rooney or van Persie regularly drifting out wide as did the full-backs, but Moyes’ men had trouble in getting the ball into the box.

Phil Jones and Alexander Buttner, together, made ten crosses, but only found a man in the United jersey.

Moyes understood that United wouldn’t be able to break open from the centre, so he brought on Adnan Januzaj- technically a better winger than Kagawa. But the 18-year-old wasn’t really prepared for such a game. He made some intriguing runs, yet couldn’t deliver the final ball.

Overloads created space, but the problem was how to get the ball into the box as only five out of United’s 30 crosses reached their targets. West Brom fared much better that United in this segment.

Until David Moyes figures out a way to better supply his frontmen, the Red Devils may continue to struggle.

image: © Iris Chase

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