Manchester United’s 2-2 draw away at Cardiff City on Sunday saw the champions drop another two points needlessly this season.
Following their 1-0 victory over Premier League leaders Arsenal prior to the international break, United had the ideal foundation to build (or re-build) their title challenge this season, having reduced the gap between themselves and the current leaders from eight points to five ahead of the Christmas period.
However, it was yet another missed opportunity for David Moyes’ side who conceded a 91st minute equalizer from a set-piece after a fouls on Jordan Mutch by Wayne Rooney as the hosts broke up field.
Wayne Rooney has been United’s best player undoubtedly so far this term and his wayward challenge was not the reason United dropped two points this weekend. One could blame lacklustre performances in the middle of the park from both Marouane Fellaini and Tom Cleverley who were both pedestrian at best on Sunday but overall what United lacked in the second half was creativity and attacking ambition.
Veteran Ryan Giggs’ pass to Wayne Rooney which the England number 10 should have (and ordinarily would have) buried in the back of the net was probably the highlight of the game but the champions did not create enough chances or take the ones they had.
After 68 minutes played and the visitors 2-1 up Moyes opted to withdraw teenage superstar Adnan Januzaj and replace him with Danny Welbeck – whilst there are of course reasonable factors behind the change including the youngster’s fitness levels, his consistency and Welbeck’s form this season but taking off the one player who has been that real spark for the champions this season after making his debut just a couple of months ago, was likely what lost United the game.
Januzaj is still young, immature and inexperienced but he is a real threat for a United team who have been uncharacteristically poor and looked at times like a mid-table team in some fixtures.
In the game itself, Januzaj had a pass completion rate of 78.5% successful passes in the final third – that is the kind of level of a Rooney or a Robin van Persie and its certainly a higher rate than Welbeck or even Antonio Valencia.
Januzaj also happens to get fouled more than any other player in the Premier League – so far this term he has been fouled 24 times in just four league appearances (three as a substitute) averaging 3.4 free kicks for United earned by him per game. Why is this a positive thing? Because it demonstrates his attacking ambition, his expansive play going forward that makes him so dangerous the opposition have to foul him to stop him. No other player in the entire league has been fouled more than him.
Meanwhile, when a player gets fouled (as Rooney and co found out on Sunday) it often results in a free kick – United have scored 6 goals from set-pieces this season, the second most in the whole league. It’s something they’re good at and keeping Januzaj on would have likely eared United a significant number of chances to put the ball in the box, especially when Giggs came on for Javier Hernandez.
So far this season, Januzaj has scored 2 goals (both on his debut) and made 1 assist, he ‘s made 16 shots in total, averaging 2.3 per game, and has made 5 key passes for the champions, no less than 14 successful dribbles or take-ons.
He has an overall pass completion rate of 80.5% which is impressive given his position and his age, and 12 out of 15 attempted long passes (like Giggs’ or Michael Carrick’s) have been accurate and found a teammate – that’s 80% success rate for long-range passes, not to mention his 100% success rate with through balls this season. United’s overall team pass completion rate is only 83.6% and most of that play is not happening in the final third.
United’s overall pass completion rate with Januzaj on the pitch was 81.5% (which is just a little bit below their average for the season but not too worryingly) but their overall pass completion rate following his withdrawal in the 68th minute falls down to 70.4% which is way below their average for the season.