Sunday, 31 July 2011

United vs Barcelona Match Review & Highlights


Manchester United concluded their tour of the United States with a hard fought 2-1 victory over European Champions Barcelona in Washington. While the result matters little in the grand scheme of things, it does show that United are not mentally scarred by the Catalan giants' clear superiority.

Both teams were much changed from that fateful night in Wembley back in May. The only survivors for United were Evra, Vidic and Rooney as Sir Alex Ferguson chose to give some of his younger players a game in the build up to the new season. Danny Welbeck was selected up front as partner to Wayne Rooney and Tom Cleverley was given a chance in centre midfield alongside Anderson.

United looked lively in the early exchanges with Welbeck to the fore and the game often resembled an intense Premier League encounter with both sides pressing swiftly when their opponent had the ball. The first real chance came in the 9th minute when Nani crossed to the near post and Rooney could not quite get his foot around the ball and steered the ball wide.

The opening goal came in the 22nd minute when a Barcelona corner broke down and Welbeck emerged with the ball and swept towards the opposition half before releasing the fleet of foot Nani. Initial thoughts were that the Portuguese had made his run a fraction too early but replays showed he was level and he continued towards goal before easing the ball through Valdés' legs to give United the lead.

The rest of the half continued without incident in the main but with both sides passing neatly and with precision. Cleverley and Anderson while looking lightweight on paper were very much heavyweights in terms of performance as they buzzed here, there and everywhere. Nani was a constant threat to the Catalan defence with his trickery and determination whilst still finding time to help out his full back. Welbeck continued his fine pre-season form as he showed once more that this could be a real breakthrough season after such a promising loan spell with Sunderland. To perform against Chicago Fire is one thing but to do so against the European Champions, albeit in a meaningless friendly, augurs well for his future development.

David De Gea had a quiet half in the United goal as the attacking threat of Barcelona failed to materialise. He was, however, neat and tidy with the ball at his feet and claimed any cross that came his way.

The half time break saw Owen, Giggs and Smalling replace Evra, Rooney and Anderson.

Master and pupil in close proximity
The Spanish champions carried greater threat as the second half progressed without forcing De Gea into anything too exceptional. As the half edged toward the mid way point, Evans clipped the ball out to Smalling on the right who controlled the ball expertly before releasing inside to Nani who in turn played in Welbeck on the edge of the area. The Englishman did a great job adjusting his feet and getting the ball in front of him before firing a crisp shot that was parried by Valdés. Nani blazed over from the rebound when well positioned.

When the equaliser came, it was a moment of great beauty. Thiago, not for the first time this summer, unleashed a powerful strike that arrowed its way into the top corner past a motionless De Gea. To be honest it had been coming as United failed to command the second half as they did the first.

It was therefore with some surprise that United re-took the lead in the 76th minute when a Busquets inside pass was intercepted perceptively by Cleverley who strode towards goal before releasing Owen alongside him with the former England international delightfully lifting the ball over the on-rushing Barcelona keeper. To be fair, Owen offered next to nothing in terms of contributing to the general play but there can be no doubt as to his finishing prowess as he has shown on numerous times in pre-season.


The match winner celebrates with the man of the match
Owen had the chance to add the coup de grâce to proceedings when Obertan crossed along the six yard box following a fine run, only for the part time horse trainer to balloon the admittedly bobbling ball, high over the bar with the goal at his mercy.

The reward for victory was a trophy presented to Captain Vidic by renowned netball player Kobe Bryant and United could leave their tour of America in fine fettle ahead of the new season. Next up for the Reds is the Community Shield next Sunday against Manchester City at Wembley where the team will be looking for a modicum of revenge for the FA Cup Semi Final loss back in April at the same venue.

You can see full highlights from the game below:



The photos in this post come courtesy of TriciaRKG and her Tumblr site Come on You Reds!

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Thursday, 28 July 2011

United vs MLS All Stars Review and Highlights


Manchester United continued their pre-season trouncing of American opposition with a comfortable 4-0 victory over the MLS All Stars that contained the likes of David Beckham and Thierry Henry in their ranks.

United took to the field in New York with a strong line-up as the manager looked to give more game time to the senior members of his squad. The one exception was the inclusion of Phil Jones at right back emphasising the view held by many that he could inherit the utility role at United this season following the departure of John O'Shea. The tried and trusted partnerships of Vidic and Ferdinand and Rooney and Berbatov were back on show as the tourists looked to kick on in their preparations for yet another busy campaign.

The early exchanges were frenetic but neither side created anything of note apart from a few speculative long range shots from Beckham that were dealt with comfortably by Anders Lindegaard in the United goal.

"Look at my hair Wayne, isn't it lovely? How much did you spend on yours?"
The opening goal came in the 20th minute from the unlikely source of the right boot of Anderson. The goal, however, owed much to outstanding inter-play between Rooney and Berbatov who combined imperiously before the stocky Brazilian was picked out by Rooney before slotting beyond the keeper. Goals from midfield will be essential in the season ahead and it was good to see Anderson venturing forward and beginning to look like he can be a threat in the final third.

United doubled their lead shortly before half time when Park continued his prolific pre-season with yet another strike. Picking up the ball from his good buddy Evra on the edge of the box, he jinked his way past a defender before unleashing a firm shot across Mondrogon into the far corner with his left foot.

Ben Amos replaced Lindegaard at half time and once more the Dane can be well satisfied with his display as he embarks on his quest to become United's first choice.

The decisive third goal came in the 52nd minute as a fine Rooney clip over the defence found Berbatov who shrugged off his man before deftly lifting the ball over the on-rushing Colombian keeper. Although the ball rebounded off the bar, the silky Bulgarian was on hand to cushion the ball off his chest before volleying the ball home.

With the match won, Ferguson had the luxury of making six changes on the hour as Welbeck, Cleverley, Macheda, Smalling, Owen and Nani all made an appearance from the subs bench.

The first two certainly made their mark as they zipped passes around and generally looked to get on the ball which was good to see and it was Welbeck who rounded off the scoring with a deflected shot past the veteran in the All Stars goal.

It is a big season for them both after promising loan spells last year.Welbeck has plenty of competition in forward areas but he has the skill and the ability to really make an impression in my view. Cleverley will look to fill a central berth rather than out wide as he has done in the past but his technique and creativity could be a real asset to the club in an area many see as a weakness.

The squad now moves on to Washington for the final match of their pre-season tour stateside with a game against Barcelona on Saturday. The likes of Giggs, De Gea and Rafael will all start the game as they sat this one out. The Spaniards will arrive in the capital fresh from victory in the Audi Cup in Germany and without several key players who will be on extended leave after a busy summer with their countries. Thoughts will go back to Wembley back in May naturally with United looking to inflict a defeat on their benchmark of quality ahead of the new season.

For full match highlights, watch the video below:



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Tuesday, 26 July 2011

The Scouting Report - Ashley Young



Assessment of technical aspects during the games against The New England Revolution and The Seattle Sounders.

By Magnus Nordman


I wanted to assess the technical aspects of Ashley Young's game and did so during the first two pre-season games of the 2011-2012 season. Young played left winger in both games and played a total of 67 minutes against The New England Revolution and 63 minutes against The Seattle Sounders. The stat-zones are based on the following scheme:

Defensive halfAttacking half

Offensive principles

A) Offence

Ashley Young gave support to the player on the ball in a variety of ways. Either by moving inwards behind the midfield, staying wide or running deep.
  • Against Seattle, Young did a lot of running in behind the midfield of the opposition. Although he didn't always get the ball, he also created space for others. This can be seen from the passing % zone chart below. Young performed 7% of his ball touches in zone 5 and a staggering 31 % in zone 8 against Seattle. I compared these stats against the ones that Nani produced. I found out that also Nani tends to drift inside, while at the same time getting a lot of touches in the flank zones. 
  • Against New England Young played a lot wider which can be seen from the % of ball touches in zones 7 and 10. When comparing the two matches, Young seemed to play a lot higher up the pitch against New England. This was possibly the result of Seattle's high pressing game.

  • Young did meet the ball in a variety of ways to create space for turns, flicks, crosses and shots. He was pushing up to the defender to create space in front of him on several occasions and when moving without the ball, he is often either: 
a) Coming to collect and changing direction to run deep.

b) Going deep and changing direction to come to collect.

Young's combination work with both Patrice Evra and Fabio got off to a fine start. He created space by co-operating with them both in United's own and the opponents half. Young seems a player who makes frequent moves without the ball and especially against Seattle he moved behind the midfield on several occasions. In addition, he made a couple of runs behind the defence. Looking at the pictures below I've tried to highlight Young's movement without the ball.

First picture above to the left: Here you can see Young moving out of the passing shadow to give Evra a better passing option. In the second picture above to the right, Young has created space before receiving the pass by moving away from the ball and then coming to collect.

First picture below to the left: Young runs with the ball up field and creates a 2v1 with a simple overlapping run from Evra. Second picture below to the right: Young creates space by challenging the wingback and playing it to - again - an overlapping Evra.


Other noticeable observations were as he was playing on the left side of the midfield, Young did a lot of his crossing with the right foot. Below a picture from the New England game of him crossing the ball. By turning inside, Young at the same time opens up more passing options.



From the diagrams above it is noticeable that Young - against New England - did hit a lot more crosses with his right foot and that he only managed two of them against Seattle .

B) Offensive transition

This has really become a trademark for United, and especially so against the challenging teams both in England and in Europe. Looking at how Ashley Young could contribute to this phase of attack, one could anticipate that he will become a really good addition. When looking at Young's playing in the pre-season matches, it is noticeable  that he contributed by either moving out wide, going deep and/or asking for the ball behind the opponents midfield.

First picture below to the left: Young moves inwards to create a second passing option for Anderson. When moving from defence to offensive transition, an important factor in gaining an advantage is to control the space behind/or in between the part of the opposition team pressing the ball carrier. Second picture below to the right: Young gives Evra a decent passing option by moving behind the midfielder. After receiving the pass he is able to turn towards the opponent goal to create a scoring chance.


First picture below to the left. Young shows the player on the ball a passing alternative by running deep. Second picture below to the right: after winning the ball in midfield, United attack and Young makes a penetrative run behind the midfield. Notice the space in the zone between the opponents midfield and defensive line. This is a zone that players like Young could make good use of, keeping in mind that he can also play as a central attacking midfielder.


The pictures below from the Seattle game give a good indication of his movement without the ball when moving wide.


First picture above to the left: Even though the ball is on right side, Young already has created space for himself and attacker on the weak side by staying wide. Second picture above to the right: As Giggs is changing the direction of play and driving over to the weak side, Young gives him a passing option by playing wide. As the defensive line is moving upwards, Young is also in line to receive the pass behind the defence.

Defensive principles

A) Defence

As defence is a naturally important part of Sir Alex's game plan, Young really needs show quality defensive abilities. When judging his abilities to press & support the player pressuring the player on the ball, one can see that Young:
  • Did have good support when pressing in the defensive half and there were bigger distances when pressing in the offensive half. This was naturally a result of the game being a pre-season contest and also due to the fact that United didn't press high up the pitch. 
  • When functioning as: 
a) First defender. Aggressive in own half and patient in offensive half.

b) Second defender. Covered space and held good distance to the first defender. Moved into pressing distance and pressured player on the ball when needed.

c) Third defender. Covered space and communicated with second and third defenders




First picture above to the left: Young doesn't have to be as aggressive in the opposition half when pressing the player on the ball. Distance between players is also a lot bigger than in United's own half. Second picture above to the right gives us an indication on Young pressing in the own half. Has better support from the second and third defenders, and is therefore more likely to commit into pressing the opponent.


First picture above to the left shows Ashley defending the area in front of the back four. Special notice could be directed towards the distance between him and Evra and the fast that he is T-marking the opposition's right wingback. Second picture above to the right shows him dropping back as the left defender, while still T-marking the player out wide.

First picture below to the left shows Young acting as the second defender in this particular situation. Second picture below to the right shows him tracking back, covering up for Evra who has moved more centrally because of opponents counter-attack. Young did in fact - as previously mentioned - act left back when Seattle were moving players high up the pitch.


B) Defensive transition

For both New England and Seattle a vital aspect of their transition play was to play the ball past United's midfield as quickly as possible. Therefore United's midfielders had to be extra alert in these kinds of situations. As Young often finds - and will find himself during the season - he will have to do a lot of running in the defensive transition phase. It will certainly be interesting to see how he will cope in this phase against Premier League or Champions League teams.

First picture below to the left. Young works his way back in United's own half. Second picture below to the right shows Young getting back below the height of the ball.



Other observations:
  • Right footed, but is also comfortable with his left foot 
  • A player who can challenge defenders by dribbling
  • Likes to both cross and shoot the ball
  • Versatile player
  • Seems to have good stamina and focus
  • Will be challenged to improve passing play, tackling and defensive work rate

What did you think of Ashley Young's contribution in the first two pre-season games? What part do you think he will play for Manchester United in the coming seasons?

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Monday, 25 July 2011

"On the Road" Book Review and interview with Daniel Harris


"On the Road - a journey through a season" was published in June 2010 and originally appeared as a blog on ESPN Soccernet. It is a week by week tale of the ups and downs of following the mighty Manchester United on their trips around the footballing landscape of Europe. Daniel gave up his season ticket in protest at the increasing influence of the Glazer family at Old Trafford and the knock-on effect on the average fan.

I think the fact that Daniel only watches United live away from home gives us a greater insight into the true United fan. Not the oblivious sycophants who parade on the Old Trafford forecourt on match days resplendent in their green and gold scarves but wearing the Aon first team shirt and certainly not the day trippers who prefer to capture every kick with a snap of the camera on their mobile.

This is the story of a true United supporter in the 2009/10 season as the author makes his way from Burnley to Sunderland as the Reds fight for the league title and from Besiktas to Munich as the quest for the Champions League ultimately ends in failure.

What shines through on page after page is the cutting wit and humour in the text coupled with sharp analysis of the games and where the team are lacking. A constant theme running through is the disgust at the Glazer family's actions and the level of debt they are piling onto the once sound foundations of our historic club.

Do not just take my word for it, plenty of others have heaped praise on Daniel's work:

"A stylish, swaggering view from the stands, with not a prawn sandwich in sight. Every modern football writer should write like this." Rob Smyth, The Guardian

"Daniel Harris has repeatedly shown he is an authority on all things Manchester United. Classic tales, superbly presented. Informed, funny and always close to the heart." Daniel Taylor, The Guardian.

"At last, a Nineties fashion revival one can welcome - the fan's eye season review, and one that puts a premium on leftfield intelligence to boot." Richard Kurt, United author.

"Daniel Harris could well become the new United author for his generation. His pieces will provoke and animate, as all such reviews should, and though you may agree or disagree with his comment, you will want to read more of what he has to say. Because just like United themselves, Harris has that great ability to never be dull." Red News.

"This is the voice of the true fan, passionate yet reassuringly fair-minded." Patrick Barclay, Chief Football Correspondent, The Times.

If you are a Manchester United fan, then it is an essential read and you can purchase it here from Amazon and  any leading book store.

Daniel kindly took the time to answer some questions:

1) Briefly describe your United supporting history?
My grandad started going to United in the 30s, and passed it on to my dad, who grew up in Cheetham Hill. He moved to London for university, but there was never any danger I'd suppowt mye lowcoowl tame. My dad always regretted not taking me to the 83 Cup Final (I was four, and not compensated by the rosette that was brought home for me), and when he sneaked off to the 1-5 with Watford prior to the 85 Cup Final, and I still moaned afterwards that he'd not taken me, he promised to take me soon after. So my first game was a 2-0 win at home to West Ham at the start of the next season, sitting on a bench at the back of the Stretford End. After that, I got London aways and a few OT trips a season, visiting my gran or a mate, and the occasional skiving of school, until I was old enough to decide what I got up to in my own time, at which point I became a regular.

2) If you could pick one iconic moment that stands out from games you have been present at, what would it be?
I've been lucky to see lots of incredible things, but the most significant was Eric jumping into the crowd at Selhurst Park. A perfect encapsulation of Redness and United, which also taught me something.

3) What has been your worst moment as a United fan present at a match?
In a way, I find that significant defeats give me some kind of closure - I certainly felt that when we lost at home to Arsenal in 2002 - though had I been at Anfield in 92, perhaps I'd feel differently, and similarly, I couldn't get a ticket for West Ham in 95. I remember a 0-4 at Spurs in 1987, just before the Cup Final, which as an 8 year-old, was very hard to take - it was an absolute degrading, and a stark indication of how far from good we were.

4) Tell us a bit about how "On the Road - a journey through a season" came about?
I write stuff for a job, and had done a few pieces for Soccernet. My boss there asked me to do a weekly piece, and suggested it be about following United around, which sounded ok to me. I certainly never got bored of saying to my girlfriend right, I'm off to work in Istanbul/Munich/Wigan, see you in a couple of days. 

5) The humour in the text is a huge part of the book, who would you class as your comedy inspirations growing up?
The gobshites I spent my time with, mainly - we spent a lot of time taking the piss out of each other and each other's families as savagely as we could, and competing to develop the best routines describing our tedious derring-do. And when we got bored of that, we'd move onto other people around, whether teachers, those in the public eye, or just those who happened to be nearby. In terms of actual things that are meant to be comedic, the usual kind of thing I suppose - Blackadder, Fawlty Towers, Monty Python, Simpsons, Viz, The Beano, The Blues Brothers - and then once I was a bit older, as many things as I could get my hands on, but the thing that stands out as inspirational in terms of becoming a writer was Pulp Fiction.

6) Your disgust at the Glazer regime is apparent throughout the book, how do you see the next few years of their club ownership turning out?
They'll have to sell or go bust at some point, when the principal on the debt needs repaying, but until then, more of the same. Ever-increasing ticket prices, and under-investment in the playing staff.

7) Once the club is out of the Americans hands, do you envisage returning to Old Trafford and is it something you miss?
It's hard to say, really. If United became - legally, at least - the property of some high net-worth individual, it wouldn't be that much better than where we are now in some ways, but on the basis that the future of the club would no longer be imperilled, I'd think very hard about going back. It might depend on the ticket prices, though.

8) The new season is fast approaching. What are your thoughts ahead of the big kick off?
I'm trying to look forward to it, but the summer contains everything that's bad about football with none of what's good, so it's hard not to detest it all with filthy resentment. Once the games start, though, it'll be diluted with the usual obsession.

9) I believe that your novel is next on the list to be published. Can you tell us what that is about and any other future plans?
Well, I've just submitted what's hopefully a final final draft - though I've said that before - and then, hopefully, a publisher will pick it up. In the meantime, I've started another one, and am finishing off a proposal for another sport book.  

A huge thanks to Daniel for taking the time to answer my questions. You can follow him on Twitter by clicking the button below.

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Sunday, 24 July 2011

United vs Chicago Fire review & highlights


Manchester United continued their 100% record on their US tour with a hard fought 3-1 victory over Chicago Fire at Soldier Field. The heat and humidity coupled with a poor quality pitch were a great leveller as the home side made United sweat for their victory.

The tourists made numerous changes to the line up with debuts for De Gea and Jones and first appearances on tour for Smalling, Welbeck and Cleverley after their exploits in the U21 tournament in early summer.The wide berths were occupied by Obertan and Diouf as they attempted to make an impression ahead of the new season.

The home side shocked United by taking the lead after a free kick was headed in by Gibbs who rose unchallenged.The Fire continued to carve open a nervy United back line throughout the opening period spurning numerous scoring opportunities to further embarrass the Premier league champions. At the other end, Welbeck stood out with plenty of silky touches and incisive passes whilst lacking composure in front of goal at times. Obertan looked to have the beating of his opponent down the right yet was unable to pick out a team mate when well placed. Tom Cleverley settled into the game after a nervous start but failed to impose his ability onto proceedings in the soaring temperatures.

The expected changes came at half time with the likes of Giggs, Anderson and Rooney appearing off the bench and the second period was broken up by mass substitutions by both teams as they looked to best cope with conditions.

Finally, the Reds made their pressure pay when a sublime ball over the back of the home side defence by Ferdinand was deftly clipped over the on-rushing keeper by Rooney for his 4th goal in the space of two matches. His all round display was of the highest quality in the second half as he dropped deep to set up play reminiscent of his fine contribution to the climax of last season.
Picture courtesy of the Mail on Sunday
United took the lead shortly after when Rafael burst down the right flank after combining with Nani before expertly steering the ball home from an acute angle. Bearing in mind it came less than a minute after his appearance from the bench makes it even more remarkable.

The scoring was complete late on when Nani rather fortuitously found himself through on goal before a delightful chip cleared the home side's keeper. His trademark somersault celebration brought cheers from the capacity crowd and made the scoreline a touch flattering. Chicago continued to make chances throughout but lacked the killer instinct to make United pay.

The debutants can be happy with their displays overall. De Gea, whilst looking understandably nervous early on, grew in stature as the game progressed and made a couple of smart saves. His command of the penalty box will develop as he overcomes the language barrier while his skills with ball at his feet will be important considering United's style. Phil Jones also grew into the game as it progressed despite being culpable for the Chicago goal. His passing was crisp and accurate which perhaps helped to emphasise the thought he could play a role in central midfield if required.

United now move onto New York where they play the MLS All Stars including Beckham and Henry on Thursday morning UK time. The squad will be bolstered by the arrival of Javier Hernnández after his extended break due to international commitments.

There will be further analysis of this game and previous pre-season matches in the next few days on the site so please check back soon or follow me on twitter.

Full highlights of the match versus Chicago Fire can be found below:



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Thursday, 21 July 2011

United vs Seattle Sounders Review & Talking Points


Manchester United crushed the Seattle Sounders 7-0 in their second pre-season game in front of a capacity 67,000 crowd. Full highlights of the games can be found at the bottom of this post.

The eleven that started included Giggs and Anderson in midfield with Owen and Macheda picked up front looking to continue their partnership that brought three goals last week against New England Revolution. The early exchanges saw an aggressive home side compete well with their more illustrious opponents and chances were few and far between. The deadlock was broken for the second successive match by Michael Owen who nodded home unmarked in the six yard box following good interplay down the left by Young and Evra. The Frenchman was making his first appearance of pre-season and looked lively throughout the first period especially in the final third where his support of Young caught the eye. The opening period was also notable for a double save from Anders Lindegaard who once more showed his capabilities between the posts and took full command of his penalty area when the need arose.

The second half saw numerous changes for the home team and as a result they capitulated to a United team brimming with pace and incisive passing. Mame Diouf doubled the Reds lead with a smart finish from a tight angle after a intelligent run was spotted by Nani. After looking understandably rusty in the opening half last week, Wayne Rooney burst into life in typical fashion with a quick fire double to break the spirit of the lively home side. His first resulted from good combination down the right from Nani and Rafael and his second was from an astute pass from Park before a fine finish with his left foot. Regular readers will know I have an issue with players being so one footed so it was promising to see Rooney strike so clinically with his weaker foot. Coming on the back of training footage of him attempting left foot volleys, it proves that good practice can transmit itself to the game.


Rooney repaid Park a few minutes later with a clever step over to leave the South Korean with an easy finish before the Scouser completed his hat trick after good work from Obertan. The temperamental Frenchman has had a chequered United career thus far but has looked lively in pre-season and one hopes that he can begin to show the skills that led him to attend the fabled Clarefontaine academy back in his homeland. He rounded off proceedings with a cool finish after a Rooney pass was deflected into his path.

Talking Points:

The battle to be United No 1
Although the three contenders to be the Manchester United goalkeeper this season have a total number of five first team performances amongst them, the battle lines have been drawn. Spanish starlet David De Gea has now joined up with the squad on tour and has looked sharp in training while Lindegaard and Amos have impressed in the opening couple of matches on US soil. I wrote about Lindegaard's capabilities in my review of the previous game and he continued this form in the first half last night. Ben Amos replaced him for the second period and it was instantly noticeable that he looks focussed and keen to impress. It looks like he has been doing plenty of sessions in the gym as he is certainly the bulkiest of the trio and combined with his height it is quite a package. As you would expect he is a fine shot stopper and pulled off a number of these that caught the eye. His command of the penalty box will improve as his confidence rises and he also looks to have ability with the ball at his feet. After a loan spell at Oldham last season, it may be beneficial for him to get regular first team games for the experience rather than playing in the reserves at United. The boss confirmed that De Gea will start against Chicago on Saturday and it looks to be a fascinating battle to become the first choice between the sticks following in the massive steps of Edwin Van der Sar.

Fringe players stepping up
As mentioned above, both Diouf and Obertan made an impression in the second half as the Sounders wilted under the combination of United pace and pressure. Many observers see little future for this pair at the club and I would tend to agree based on the limited opportunities afforded to them since they arrived. Diouf struggled in a poor Blackburn team last season after a bright start and looks short of true United class in what has become a congested part of the first team squad. It is hard to fault him so far on tour and if it leads to a move away from the club then his hard work will stand him in good stead wherever he ends up.

Obertan clearly has talent but one worries about his mental state of mind at times. There have been numerous examples over the years of players with plenty of ability but have failed to make the grade due to what is between their ears rather than the ability in their feet. Perhaps he sees pre-season as a fresh chance to impress the management and he has done just that as his pace and trickery have led to assists in the two halves he has participated in. If he can stay fit and continue to work hard then there is a chance that he could retain a squad place for the new season or at least depart knowing he has given his all.

Wide players
The battle to be first choice winger at United this season looks to be an intriguing one with some of the contenders  making an early case for inclusion on tour. Ashley Young was brought in from Villa and has started both games on the left hand side using his right foot to good effect cutting in. He is also slowly building confidence in his weaker left foot which opens up the opportunity to go either way and makes life so difficult for his opponent. As already mentioned, he combined well with Evra last night and the pair look to have the makings of a potent partnership from an attacking sense. His ability to play right as well as through the middle gives the manager a range of options when it comes to best utilising the former Watford man. I also like his willingness to work for the team which was amply demonstrated by his regular appearances assisting Evra and at some times covering for him when he was caught upfield.

The other contenders, Nani, Park, Valencia and Obertan will all get plenty of chances to prove their worth in the coming weeks as we head towards the new season. Rotation will be in force and it is unlikely that the manager will have a first choice pairing out wide. Instead he will surely adopt a "horses for courses" mentality and select the players based on the role required for each opposition. Park will no doubt play in many of the big games as the manager loves his mentality and ability to come inside to assist the central midfielders. Nani may well be the one to miss out on the starting line up in these high profile games but instead be used against lesser opposition intent on defence in order to assist with a breakthrough with a piece of magic. Valencia is back home after injury saw him return to the club early after an appearance in the Copa America. It is hoped that he will soon be back to fitness as his unselfish displays were a cornerstone of the team in the run in to the climax of the season last year. He made a remarkable comeback after his horrific ankle injury and will be looking to hit the ground running in the new season. With Nani and Young both able to play in his favoured right wing berth, competition for places will be tough and the boss would not have it any other way.

The team now moves onto Chicago where they play their next match at 10pm UK time on Saturday.

You can watch highlights of the game versus Seattle Sounders below:



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Sunday, 17 July 2011

The Scouting Report - United players vs NE Revolution

By Magnus Nordman

Manchester United got off to a fine start to the 2011-2012 pre-season, by winning 4-1 (0-0) against the New England Revolution in front of a packed Gillette Stadium.

Here we look at some of the players starting for United. Of special interest were Jonny Evans, Anderson, Ashley Young and Anders Lindegaard. The stats were collected by following the game itself, while the zones that I refer to on many occasions, are as follows:

Jonny Evans
Jonny spent much of last season looking at games from the bench or from the stands and was said to have lost a bit of confidence. Therefore it must have been really pleasing for him to start the game and get the chance to show the manager that he is one for the starting eleven. Evans played a total of 18 games from start last season, compared to 28 (2009-2010) and 29 (2008-2009). He played 90 minutes and gave a steady impression, hopefully earning some brownie points for possible future starts.
 
The full backs weren't pressured all that much, although NE were more active during first half. This can be seen in the efficiency of Jonny's passing. A total of 26 passes were between 0-10m, often the result of Vidic/Ferdinand/Evans switching the focus of play. Most of these passes were hit in zone 5. A total of 8 passes were between 10-20 metres, especially when playing the ball out wide to the wingers or fullbacks did he use longer passes. 

Jonny won 3/5 headers, 1/2 tackles and made 4 interceptions, many of which stealing the ball from in front of the attackers or in some cases even the midfielders.


Evans completed most of his passing in the 5-zone (68%) but also quite evenly in the 3, 4, 6 and
8 zones. The dominance of the 5-zone comes quite naturally as this is the zone where centre backs ply their trade. The reason for his many touches in the 4 and 6 was the fact that he started the match as centre back on the right side, while playing as CB left in the second half after Rio had been brought on. The one thing that you could possibly hold against Jonny is that he doesn't play many penetrative passes behind the midfield or defensive line.


Anderson
The midfielder completed 75 minutes, and just like Jonny, was probably pleased to be getting the season under way. Anderson's previous seasons have almost all been hampered with different types of injuries and he has therefore never really cemented a place in the first eleven. Last year he started 22 games, 19 (2009-2010), 29 (2008-2009) and 25 (2007-2008). Still, for once having been an attacking midfielder without much defensive conscience, one must admit that he has the potential to be a fine all round midfielder.

Anderson completed a total of 58 passes, many of which were 0-10m passes. 14 passes were in the range of 10-20m and 3 passes 20m +. As there was quite a lot of room in the midfield, there wasn't a lot of tackles, headers or interceptions, still he managed two of them. One could also keep in mind that the midfield of NE played quite narrowly, making it hard for United's midfielders to hit penetrative passes to the third zone of attack (the zone between the opponents midfield and defence).

Anderson's passing is, as Evans's, focused on playing the safe sideways pass or dropping it back to a midfielder/defender with better positioning (facing the opposition's goal). As pre-season progresses being able to play the forward pass more often and more quickly Anderson will surely start producing more goals, chances and assists.

As noticeable from the chart below, Anderson's passing was pretty much focused on the fifth and eight areas. When playing the 4-4-2/4-2-3-1 systems there really isn't much room for midfielders to roam around because as soon as the team loses possession, both of the central midfielders need to be in the right area to stop opposition players from gaining a numerical advantage. As this was a pre-season game, Michael Carrick played with a lot more freedom than he normally does. Michael didn't score any goals last season, compared to him scoring 5 (2009-2010) 4 (2008-2009), 2 (2007-2008) and 6 (2007-2008. 

Ashley Young
Ashley played 67 minutes on the left wing and was quite active with a different types of passes. He did also manage one interception and 3 tackles.

Many of his passes were hit from the 4, 5, 8 and 10-zones. The biggest percentage of his passing happened in  zone 7, with him either dropping the ball back to Fabio/Anderson/Carrick/Evans, when hitting deeper passes to attackers running behind the defence or when playing a 1-2 combination with a midfielder or an attacker. It would certainly be interesting to compare these stats against the ones playing against a stronger team. One would assume that he wouldn't have as many touches so far up field than he did in this match.

As James wrote in his excellent post match thoughts, Young did a lot of crossing with his right foot while playing on the left side of midfield. As you can see from the chart below, Young crossed the ball a total of eight times, seven of these were with his right foot.

Jonathan Wilson wrote an excellent piece in 2010 on inverted wingers. Wilson argues that with a lone centre-forward there is a need for the advanced midfielders to provide goals,so that perhaps, to an extent, explains the modern directness. Still, it seems hard to explain the idea that the most lethal cross was a ball dragged back from the goal-line. It can be dangerous of couse, raising doubt in the goalkeeper's mind as to whether he should come to claim it or not. Still there seems no reason why it should be more threatening than an inswinger delivered at pace.

The fact that Young provided eight crosses tells us a bit about his game against the NE Revolution. He did often find himself one on one against the winger, and as he is accustomed to, did a lot of challenging. Many of these challenges resulted in him cutting in and providing the attackers with a cross towards the far post.

Anders Lindegaard
The final player that I wanted to analyze was the goalkeeper. Anders had a total of 28 passes, with only three of them ending up at the feet of the opponent. Many of his passes were drop-offs to the center backs or full backs but also a couple of really good passes to the left side winger in the fourth and fifth zones.
 
United's next game is against the Seattle Sounders on the 20.7.2011. Sir Alex is likely to make changes to the starting eleven and give some of the other players minutes. The competition in defence and midfield will be an interesting one to follow, with the likes of Evans, Anderson, Lindegaard and Young really wanting to impress the manager.

What are your thoughts on United's performance against the New England Revolution? What did you think about the players that were analyzed in this post? Please leave your comments below.

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Thursday, 14 July 2011

United vs New England Revolution - Post match thoughts

Manchester United kicked off their United States tour with a comfortable 4-1 victory over New England Revolution in front of a capacity 51,000 crowd.

Sir Alex picked a strong first XI and was able to give plenty of the squad a run out over the course of the game. The first half was a tight affair as United looked to find their rhythm. Carrick and Anderson looked sharp in midfield and debutant Ashley Young saw plenty of ball on the left flank.

The game burst into life after half time following the introduction of Owen and Macheda up front amongst others. The former England marksman notched the first goal of pre-season after a fine through ball from the impressive Carrick. Owen raced clear before sliding the ball past the dive of the keeper. Macheda doubled the tourists lead with a comfortable left foot finish after he and Carrick had broken the inept New England offside line. The home side did manage a rare excursion into United territory soon after and fortuitously found the net from a deflected free kick on the edge of the area.

No sooner had United's lead been halved that they restored a two goal cushion when Macheda found space in the box following a corner to fire confidently home. The scoring was wrapped up with the goal of the night by Park following neat inter-play from Obertan, Giggs and the South Korean led to a deft chip over the advancing keeper.

Overall, a great start to pre-season with plenty of minutes under the belt for the United squad to send the large crowd home happy with the performance of the visitors.

To watch highlights of the game, please see the video below:  




Here are a few talking points to arise out of the game:

Ashley Young - right footed left winger?
The former Aston Villa man made his United debut last night and can be satisfied with his overall performance primarily appearing on the left wing. A possible issue with Young is his propensity to cut back onto his favoured right foot continually to deliver crosses when the option to go with his left foot would sometimes be more effective and would help keep his full back guessing. He showed that he does have ability in his left foot in the second half when an inch perfect cross found Macheda in space but the Italian failed to find the target. If Young can find a balance then he will be a welcome addition to the squad and help to increase the threat offered down either flank. Although he was often played in a central role at Villa last season, he seems likely to be given a wide role this campaign although this will be flexible as he can inter-change with the likes of Rooney and Nani as the game progresses.

Kiko Macheda - a mature Italian
Macheda makes an early impression (picture courtesy of The Telegraph)
Although he only played 45 minutes last night, the young Italian did enough to suggest that he has matured during his unsuccessful loan spell at Sampdoria to an extent that he could be a fixture in the United squad for the upcoming season. It was especially impressive to hear his post match interview in which he spoke eloquently and maturely about the realisation that he is part of the best club in the world and that there is no substitute for hard work in order to succeed. It has been rumoured that he had lost a little focus recently and a tough loan spell has apparently crystalised his views about his position and he has returned hungry and ready to work hard. His two finishes last night were clinically executed into the corner while his all round team play looked impressive. To be fair, Macheda has looked promising in pre-season before and one swallow does not make a summer but the signs are positive. If he can continue this work ethic throughout the close season then he will give the manager a headache when it comes to team selection.

Rafael & Fabio - similar in every respect
The Brazilian twins were on show last night filling the full back berths once more with their usual verve and effervescence much to the delight of the large crowd. Both were equally adept in a defensive and attacking sense against New England as they supported their respective winger with overlapping runs and lively movement. The other positive is that they both lasted the full 90 minutes which will do them the world of good in terms of match fitness and also confidence that they can survive the intensity of matches rather than pick up a knock which has become a worrying tendency throughout their United careers. Both are capable of playing in several positions and with the loss of John O'Shea, it could well transpire that they are seen as a versatile option at certain times during the season when the need arises. 

Competition up front - 7 into 5 does not go
Looking at the current make up of the squad shows that United currently have seven forwards at their disposal. While it is always nice to have options, this situation is not practical going into the new season using up valuable squad places. It is therefore effectively a pre-season shoot out between Macheda, Welbeck and Diouf as to who accompanies Rooney, Berbatov, Hernández and Owen on the roster. Many would see Diouf as a certain fall guy from this list after an average season with Blackburn but the manager clearly sees something in him to afford him a space on tour. Danny Welbeck will join up next week after his exploits in the U21 competition this summer and must hit the ground running to catch up with Macheda in terms of fitness and performance. He had a sound loan spell with Sunderland and the thought was he would be a fixture in the squad for the new season. Although he can play wide, this does not show him off in his best light and he may struggle for games if he stays. I could therefore see another Premier League loan for the young Englishman but this time perhaps under the guidance of Owen Coyle at Bolton who nurtured the talents of Daniel Sturridge in the last campaign.

Other notable performances
Anders Lindegaard was chosen between the posts and once more demonstrated his composure and confidence in all he was asked to do. His ability with the ball at his feet is impressive and in stark contrast to his predecessor Kuszczak who spread panic through the veins of the men in front of him. It is easy to forget that Lindegaard is the current Danish first choice and they have a rich heritage of impressive custodians that he is looking to emulate. He may well have a key role to play this year as David de Gea settles into the club and the English footballing culture in general. There will be times, one imagines, that the boss will look to rest the young Spaniard and Lindegaard must be ready to grasp the opportunity and in his brief United career, he has done nothing to suggest this will not be the case.

This is a big season for Jonny Evans after a patchy one last time out. With the arrival of Phil Jones at the club to add competition across the back four, the Northern Irishman will look to hit form early in order to secure a place at the forefront of the manager's thoughts. With the departures of O'Shea and Brown and the retirement of Neville, the full back berths are currently only covered by Evra and the Da Silva twins so Evans may well get plenty of game time in his regular international role of left back. Ferguson clearly sees Smalling, Jones and Evans as the three finest young centre backs in the country and all three must take every opportunity while it exists to learn from Ferdinand and Vidic as they look to develop the art of defending.

United's next game is against Seattle next Thursday at 3am UK time. We will have further analysis of the game last night in our new feature "The Scouting Report" in the next few days.

What did you think of United's performance against New England Revolution? Which players stood out for you? Please leave your comments below.


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Monday, 11 July 2011

The Scouting Report - New England Revolution



I am delighted to welcome Magnus Nordman to the Written Offside team for the 2011/12 season. He has been supporting United since 1992 and lives in Finland. His favourite current player is Michael Carrick. His primary role will be posting "The Scouting Report" which will analyse teams and players, both pre and post match. His first submission is below:

As Manchester United prepare for the pre-season fixtures over in America, The Scouting Report thought it would be a good time to introduce their first opponent with some relevant facts. The stats were collected by studying game recaps of all available New England games in the MLS-series.

United will kick off their pre-season campaign on the 13th of July against The New England Revolution at the Gillette Stadium. The Revolution are coached by former Liverpool and Scotland great Steve Nicol, who is the longest serving coach in MLS history. They have so far played 18 games in the Eastern Conference of the MLS Championship and are bottom of the table with 16 points. Their home record is 3-2-4 and away record 0-6-3, as you can see from the table below. Up till today they haven't won in five games and are therefore very likely to be up for the challenge of playing against Manchester United.


Regarding New England's goal scoring ability, a notable fact is that they score most of their goals during the first 15 minutes of the game. This could probably be a result of great amounts of energy coming in to the game, or perhaps a result of the opponents' underestimation? The opponents’ goals have quite evenly been divided. 10-15 minutes before and after halftime, as well as the whole second half, have so far been the most critical periods for The Revolution.


 To get a better understanding of what type of goal scoring team The Revolution is, we could look at the following chart. This gives us an understanding of from where the opponents in the MLS League score their goals against NE. I used the following pitch-breakdown for my analysis.
As expected, most teams score the majority of their goals from within the penalty area. The Revolution score most goals from the E and F areas. These could best be described as rebounds, headers from and finishes from crosses along the pitch. No goals were scored from the A and B areas. The Revolution conceded goals from three penalty kicks and converted two of them. Furthermore, one could add that The Revolution scored as many goals from outside the penalty area, as their opponents did (G and for the opponent G and H).

Assist for these goals were hit from the following areas. Below a breakdown of the pitch for analyzing this type of data.
The assists that NE produced were hit from the 8, 9 and 11 zones, pointing out their strongest areas. Benny Feilhaber (Offensive midfielder, 3 assists) and Pat Phelan (Midfielder 2 assists) are the leading players in this category. Feilhaber is described as a skillful and a deft passer. He brings vision and composure on the ball, while Phelan is described as a physical converted central defender who displays effective ball distribution in the defensive midfield.


When comparing different types of finishes we can see that most of them have been driven shots, while they've also scored three from headers. The opponents’ stats are almost the same, differentiating the most when shots are being placed in the net.


Three goals have come from crosses for NE, while two are a result of long passing. Opponents seems to have been most successful when either crossing the ball, or short passing their way to the actual goal scoring opportunity.

Below, is a breakdown of the pitch for analysing in what part of the goal the ball was shot when either NE, or the opponent, scored.


Most of the goals that NE scored were finishes to the left side of the goalie. Three finishes where directed towards the other side of the goal. Of the opponents goals most were placed in the right side lower corner, while four in the left corner. 

Summary
As we get ready to face our first opponent of the pre-season this is what we can look forward to. A hard working team that plays with pride in front of their home crowd. They have played 18 games, winning a total of three games. As the table stands today, The Revolution haven't won in five games. It is noteworthy that The Revolution score most of their goals during the first 15 minutes of games, while opponents from the 30th minute and beyond have had success scoring.

The game itself will be an interesting part of Manchester United's pre-season campaign. Next up after this game will be the Seattle Sounders on the 20th of July.

* The stats were collected from http://www.revolutionsoccer.net/-site. All games weren't visible, therefore some stats may be missing. The summary was made to give an overview of the New England Revolutions 2011-2012 season.

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