Tuesday, 27 December 2011

United vs Wigan Boxing Day Thoughts

A hat trick from Dimitar Berbatov and goals from Ji-Sung Park and Anthonio Valencia sealed a 5-0 victory for Manchester United on the 26.12.2011 against Wigan Athletic. With United going on to win the last 4/4 games since the defeat to Basel, they now look to hold down a decent league table position going in to the second half of the season.

A loaded schedule meant that Ferguson always was going to make at least a couple of changes to the starting line-up. Even more so with the likes of Anderson, Fabio, Vidic, Ferdinand, Young, Owen, Cleverley and Fletcher unavailable for the game. With De Gea getting a breather Lindegaard continued in goal with a backline consisting of Valencia, Carrick, Evans and Evra in front of him. Nani, Gibson, Giggs and Park started in midfield with Berbatov and Hernandez playing up front.

Moving on from defeat:
"As I said some weeks ago, somebody was going to suffer," Sir Alex told MUTV. "We're really hitting good form now and there's a real goal threat about us from all departments. If we're top of the league or joint top with City by New Year's Day I'll be happy."

United moved level on points with City after they drew against WBA, with a total of 45 points from 18 games, moving on from the Carling Cup and the Champions League exits have really proven an important and motivating factor for the team. Ji-Sung Park commented after the game that: "It's our aim to be at the front. We always try to perform in this period of the season and we're just trying to make our performance higher". He continued, "we're still only halfway through the season and we will continue to press City. 

Quite a few players changed compared to the last game, but we still kept up the same performance as we did against Fulham. It's good for the team and proves that our squad is strong".

Patrice Evra added that: "I think it was a big disappointment when we went early in the Champions League but it was a wake-up call, because everyone looked at themselves in the mirror and said 'we can do much better' ".

Michael Carrick - The defender
With Michael Carrick playing at a makeshift role in central defense United's possession of the ball was even more distinct than usual. As seen below from Carrick's two passing charts from the Fulham and yesterdays game against Wigan, he could have been argued to have been more direct in his play. This of course as a result of him getting more time on the ball and more space to operate in. The one area were Wigan was causing United's defense, and especially Carrick, problems was when crossing the ball. 

Patrice Evra made a great point in the his post-match interview when speaking of the United spirit. He noted that: "This is the United spirit; you can play everywhere. If you want to win, you have to accept it. You can see Antonio Valencia playing right-back as well. Only because United play like a team. The team is the star, not only one player and that's why you can put me and Michael Carrick at centre-back, we're going to win because it's the team effort and team spirit". 

Nani & Valencia
United's right wing consisted of Nani and  Antonio Valencia and was of special interest as the former wasn't really playing as a traditional winger but more so as an attacking midfielder with freedom to roam around. The offensive play of Valencia was especially visible yesterday as United were given time and space to keep the ball under control in the opponents half for large parts of the game. As Wigan's starting lineup consisted of three central defenders and wingers dropping back as extra defenders, United's possession dominance became even more distinct. This served a player like Nani fine and gave him time to move around without the ball, mostly moving inwards giving Valencia room to operate on the flank. 

Outstanding game from Park
Ji-Sung Park is hitting form at the moment and was really a vital piece of United's victory. His work rate, movement, defensive play and penetrating runs made him the standout player he was. Park had a total of 3 shots, 4 tackles and 3 successful dribbles, played overall in a rather free role and as seen below far more active than against Fulham. Especially getting him the possibility of moving around behind the opponent's midfield seems to be a good recipe for success because he is still going to be a solid defensive player no matter what role he plays. Or as @thebusbyway puts it in his post on the game "Park can often be the forgotten man and is criminally underrated but he offers a lot to United and is usually dependable when called on".

Other observations:

* It is really enjoyable seeing the likes of Ezekiel Fryers getting playing minutes.

* Interesting to see Federico Macheda being deployed out on the wing as he needs both playing minutes and especially development triggers.
* Darren Gibson had a total of 90 touches, completing 96% of his passes and getting the one assist.

* Anders Lindegaard is commanding the area and feels a lot more comfortable with the ball at his feet than Tomas Kuszczak does.

What were your thoughts on the game? Did United convince you of similar dominance against other teams? 

By Magnus Nordman (Follow me on Twitter)

Thursday, 1 December 2011

United vs Palace post match post mortem

Manchester United suffered embarrassment in the quarter finals of the Carling Cup for the second successive year as Crystal Palace dumped the Premier League Champions out of the competition with a 2-1 win after extra time.  Substitute Darren Ambrose inspired the away side to victory by scoring one and setting up the other.  A Federico Macheda penalty had levelled the scores but the Reds couldn’t find a way through to force the game to penalties after Palace regained the lead.

Sir Alex chose to go with a starting XI that included no less than eight full internationals; Amos, Rafael and Macheda the only three yet to gain full honours for their respective countries.  The only real surprise came with the exclusion of Zeki Fryers who started both previous rounds and performed admirably in both.  He had to be content with a place on the bench but did not have to wait long to get in on the action when Fabio succumbed to injury yet again just after the half hour mark.  The first half was more notable for the injuries that occurred than any goal mouth action. Dimitar Berbatov received a knock and was replaced at half time while Palace’s Scannell and Moxey also lasted only 45 minutes as injuries prevented them from taking any further part.  It was a dire affair and the half time whistle was a welcome sound.  Only flashes from the lively Zaha sparked life in to an otherwise dull encounter.

Hope was given as the teams emerged for the second half when it became apparent that Ravel Morrison would replace Berbatov.  It was the moment most United fans had been waiting for. He would finally get a decent stint on the pitch, and at Old Trafford.  The only downside was he would be playing alongside players who could only dream of having the ability the boy has.  Still, there was sense that he could resuscitate an ailing United.  He did to an extent, testing the Palace keeper twice in the space of five minutes. The first a stinging drive from the edge of the area and the second an angled drive that he struck right at the keepers legs; one he perhaps will look back on and feel he should have done better.  Before these chances Antonio Valencia should really have given United the lead when he went through one on one with the keeper but, as has come to be expected, he fluffed his chance and screwed it wide.

It seemed only a matter of time before the Reds would pay for those missed chances with Palace looking dangerous on the counter attack.  After sloppy play in midfield, Ambrose advanced with the ball and unleashed an unstoppable drive from all of 35 yards.  It was a truly magnificent strike and up there with the very best Old Trafford has seen. Think Gabriel Batistuta, think David Trezeguet.  This goal was up there with them.  Palace were unable to hang on to the lead though and United were level within five minutes.  Macheda turned neatly in the box and had his shirt pulled by McCarthy, the Italian went down and Chris Foy obligingly pointed to the stop.  Macheda dusted himself down and made no mistake from 12 yards to give him his first goal for United when he has started a game.

While the second half was slightly more fluent than the first, United couldn’t break down a resolute Palace defence and so the game lurched in to extra time.  The last thing the 50 odd thousand in attendance probably wanted.  The Eagles grabbed the winner in the first half of extra time when Murray outmuscled Jonny Evans to get on the end of a delightful free kick from Ambrose.  The ball flashed past Amos before he could get his hands up to stop it.  The Reds huffed and puffed but to no avail.  The third game at Old Trafford in eight days, all winless. They were out, a fate which will surely befall some of the players on show last night.

Post Match Analysis

Come in Diouf and Macheda, your time is up
If Wednesday night and the aforementioned player’s respective performances does not draw the curtain on their United careers then there is something not quite right at Old Trafford.  Leeway has been given to both as they have been played out of position this season but, against Palace, they both had their shot up front.  

Diouf started up front with Macheda on the left and, although he didn’t get long, he did absolutely nothing to warrant his selection there.  There was very little service to be fair but his movement, sense of awareness and understanding were awful.  Rightly, he was shunted wide left where his work rate and pace may have been more beneficial to the team. It wasn’t.  He was terrible. He isn’t as bad as his performance suggested, you only have to look at him in the reserves, but he isn’t cut out for this level. And certainly not at United.  When you can’t even shield the ball properly, you know it’s the end of the line.

Macheda, although narrowly better and grabbed the goal, was still woeful.  It may be unfair to say his time is up given he is only recently back from injury and had to play as a lone striker from the second half onwards but it’s the simple things that let him down.  His second touch is invariably a tackle, his passing is awry to say the least and his propensity to take four touches instead of two almost always leads to surrendering possession.  He should have gone on loan but he didn’t so he had to make the most of these chances. He hasn’t. Even a loan move in January is unlikely to save his United career.  If you can’t do the basics after two years of being around the first team, you are not going to make it here.  Defeats like these usually spell the end for some players who were involved. It was Obertan and Bebe last year. It’s Diouf and Macheda who could be culled twelve months on.

Ferguson’s apology
“I don't know where to start to be honest. My apologies go to our fans tonight because that was not a Manchester United performance.”

Firstly, the United manager should very rarely, if ever, have to apologise.  He put out a team that was more than capable of beating a Crystal Palace side who had failed to score a single goal in their previous five games.  But, seeing as he has apologised for the performance, why has he not apologised for most of the season? When was the last time we put in a “Manchester United performance”?  I’m neither expecting nor wanting an apology, that’s football but why say it after a defeat like last night? I’d say it was more expected than at any other point this season given the players involved even though they should have got the result.

If an apology was to be given it should have came in various other forms.  An apology from the hierarchy for the ridiculous prices paid by those who attended Old Trafford to witness that dross would have been nice.  An apology for paying somewhere in the region of £4 million for Mame Biram Diouf while negligently failing to pay money to address serious issues in our squad would also have been nice.  An apology for sticking with a player who we actively tried to sell in the summer ahead of promising youngsters who have been talked up by everyone at the club would have been even nicer.

But like I said, an apology is neither wanted nor necessary.  An improvement is what we want.  A change is what is necessary.

Ravel Morrison, welcome.
At some point between 8.45pm and 8.50pm on Wednesday night, the moment most United fans had been waiting for arrived. Ravel Morrison was introduced to Old Trafford and was going to get meaningful minutes on the pitch. It turned out to be 75 minutes.  Probably the only positive of extra time was Morrison getting an extra 30 minutes.  Some, rather inexplicably, failed to see his talent.  Others, thankfully, did.  He wasn’t exceptional by any stretch of the imagination but he stood out in a United side that was full of unadventurous, under-performing internationals.  It was too much to expect he would thrill, dazzle and ultimately win us the game single handedly.  Although in the back of the mind, I’m sure there was a thought that “just maybe, what if, he could you know”.  He didn’t which is probably just as well. More tellingly he put in a mature performance, one that contradicted his tender years.

He spent the first ten minutes feeling his way in to the game, finding space but not being found with passes in to his feet.  When he did get the ball he wasn’t afraid to dribble with it, he came deep to collect it, moved forward, passed it on and moved to create more space. Pass and move. If only others could have followed his lead.  He made it look simple.  The thing is, it was simple.  When he did get in and around the box, life was breathed in to our attack.  A ball fizzed in to him was nonchalantly flicked on and space was created for a chance.  The flicks and tricks are the swagger he has to his game but they are effective.  They were incisive yet embarrassing to his teammates who struggled to accurately pass the ball five yards never mind back heel it that distance.  He also had two of our best chances; it would have been no surprise if he did get on the score sheet.  He’ll probably kick himself that he didn’t.  He won’t let it affect him though.  He’ll make sure he takes those chances next time.

As I alluded to before, he stood out in that team which is the most pleasing aspect of his performance.  Too many times you see promising youngsters thrown in to a patch work side and suffer because of it.  It’s easy to fall to the level of those around you in that situation.  Morrison didn’t.  He still showed his undoubted ability and class.  Perhaps disappointingly for him it was Berbatov he replaced, the one player in the line up who could have brought out more in him.  However, it bodes well for the future. One can only assume if he plays this well with the stiffs, he will excel with the superstars.

All that said, I don’t expect him to feature much more in the first team this season. Depending on the FA Cup draw he could get some minutes but Ferguson won’t pitch him in to Premier League battle. Not while we have 18 fit first team players. The hard part will be telling him that and controlling the undoubted disappointment that will follow. He’ll (rightly) feel he belongs now in light of the abject performances around him but he’ll not be thrust in to the first team yet.

End of the road but new beginnings for others
Defeat to Palace brought an end to a Carling Cup run that was far from exciting but it did bring a few positives.  The competition brought debuts for Paul Pogba, Michael Keane, Larnell Cole and Zeki Fryers.  While Tom Thorpe, Reece Brown, Jesse Lingard, Marnick Vermijl and Will Keane got a taste of what it is like to be involved in the 18.  This competition is, and always should be, about introducing young players in to the first team.  In that respect, this season has been a success.

He, who will feel most benefit from it, is Zeki Fryers.  A surprise inclusion against Leeds, he excelled in that game and put in another solid performance against Aldershot.  It was not thought his time would come this season especially after a terrible injury last season but it did and he grabbed it.  So much so he has also had a taste of Champions League action.  He was stable last night but was guilty of being sloppy in possession.  It was he who lost the ball that led to the Ambrose strike by trying to dribble forward instead of passing it.  

A mistake was inevitable, they happen to the best of players.  He’ll recover from the disappointment of being involved in the team that was knocked out and look to push on.  The left back spot needs competition and he has given Sir Alex an option with his performances.  He has been the noticeable positive in a campaign that offered very little.

Ratings: Amos 5, Rafael 5, Smalling 6, Evans 5, Fabio 4, Valencia 3, Park 4, Gibson 5, Diouf 1, Macheda 3, Berbatov 3
Subs: Fryers 5, Morrison 6, Pogba 5,

By Mick Higgins (Follow me on Twitter)