Jan 29

Five things we have learnt from United – Cardiff

Tag: Tactics & Analysis @ 5:01 pm

ManUnited-v-Cardiff-30868591) The (not yet) Special Juan

From the moment he signed, last night was always going to be about a man and one man only: Juan Mata.

The atmosphere as he entered the pitch was one of febrile anticipation, one we hadn’t witnessed at Old Trafford since Robin Van Persie made his debut in a red shirt last season and while the expectations were only partly met, Mata’s first game for United was a largely positive one.

Considering that he hadn’t played for almost a month and that our midfield comprised a 40-year-old man, a centre-back deployed in a central midfield role and two wingers who do everything wingers shouldn’t do, Mata did reasonably well, even though he flickered only occasionally and seemed some way off of grabbing the game by the scruff of its neck.

The pass that started the move that led to the first goal was outstanding and Mata’s eagerness to combine with Van Persie – and Rooney when he came on – was pleasing to see, but the sooner United ditch their archaic 4-4-2, the sooner Mata will settle into the team.

United’s record signing is at his best when he can deliver short, sharp passes to like-minded players, rather than when he’s surrounded by acres of space with no teammates in sight. Still, he definitely lifted the fans and his teammates and there’s definitely more to come.

2) Welcome back, Robin

It took Robin Van Persie just six minutes to show us what we’d been missing over the last 11 games – a striker who only needs a chance to get on the scoresheet and one with the ability to participate to the build-up play, thus involving his teammates into the game and facilitate their lives.

RVP’s return provided a calmly influence in the final third of the pitch, something Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez, for all their qualities, have delivered only intermittently during the Dutchman’s absence and seeing Van Persie on the team sheet seemed to galvanise the fans as much as it lifted the team.

Speaking of lifts, Robin had never looked so happy this season as he did when he linked up with Mata and he looked genuinely pleased simply at having the Spaniard entering the pitch alongside him. Promising signs all around.

3) A soft core

Those who thought Mata’s arrival would solve our midfield problems, were left bitterly disappointed last night. At best, the former Chelsea man can masquerade the staggering paucity of midfield options at David Moyes’ disposal, at worst the shambles that duly unfold in United’s middle third could stifle Mata’s attacking skills.

With Adnan Januzaj and Wayne Rooney on the bench, Moyes didn’t take the tactical leap many expected and wanted him to take as he set United out in a 4-5-1 formation, with Mata roaming behind RVP, while Ryan Giggs and Phil Jones were tasked with patrolling the middle of the pitch and Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia spent 90 minutes hugging the touchlines.

Valencia and Young were their usual mono-dimensional selves, but while the latter at least scored a cracking goal and whipped in the odd interesting cross, Valencia was at his frustrating best, ponderous in possession and scared to take his man on, let alone getting to the byline and put a cross in.

The feeling is that Moyes wants to move towards a 4-2-3-1 formation with Januzaj, Rooney and Mata behind RVP but to do that he needs two quality midfielders given that, of the current crop, only Carrick can be trusted in that role. Freeing the team from the shackles of 4-4-2 could finally spell the end for Young and Valencia, neither of whom, hard as they might try, is United quality.

On the other hand, for the first time this season, United have been able to make like-for-like substitutions in terms of quality, as Rooney replaced Van Persie and Mata departed for Januzaj. A small step, perhaps, but definitely one in the right direction.

4) Attack, attack, attack

After the game, Moyes spoke of how he had hoped for a better performance and that he wanted his men to go for a third goal, rather than sit back and control the game.

Moyes’ attitude was refreshing given the terribly dire stuff we’ve played this season and supported the thought that we will, gradually, see a different and more attacking United, once Moyes has brought in the players he wants and deems necessary to improve our squad.

While last night was hardly the sort of game that will live long in memory, United looked more fluid than they had done in the majority of games this season and they finally started a game on the front of foot, like they were used to. That Van Persie’s goal was the first time United scored in the first 25 minutes of a Premier League game at Old Trafford this season spoke volume of how much ground we still have to cover.

5) 20LEGEND

It was heartwarming to see Ole Gunnar Solskjaer being welcomed to such a fantastic reception at Old Trafford and it was exactly what Ole deserved.

One gets the feeling that by choosing Cardiff, Ole might have jumped straight into the dragon’s den – pardon the pun – but it was also hard to think that, at some stage, he will not return to United. Suggesting he should replace Moyes it’s simply ludicrous given his limited managerial experience, but don’t bet against Ole returning to his spiritual home in the future.

You wonder, if he had the same thoughts as “You’re my Soslkjaer” thundered around the ground.

Dan

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  • This season remains a write off. Bringing in Mata helps to make sure that if Van Persie or Rooney are injured we still have some firepower and creativity. But with a pedestrian midfield and defence I do not imagine we will improve much on our current league position.

    At least Moyes understands we still need a central midfielder (or two!) and a left back. I would add a central defender but I guess maybe Evans, Jones and Smalling can do a job for a while.

    Personally I’d bring Nani back from the cold. He can’t be much worse than Valencia and with the world cup coming up he must have some kind of motivation to improve. There is still some ability there and at his best Nani is world class and we are lacking a world class winger.

    Also Fellaini needs to be given a chance. He is overrated but along with Fletcher he is a better option than Cleverley and Jones needs to move back into central defence.

    I hope Mata is as selfless as all the papers make out because when Rooney and Van Persie are fit he is playing left wing. I can’t see how else he fits in with our current tactics

    • @colver: “Bringing in Mata helps to make sure that if Van Persie or Rooney are injured we still have some firepower and creativity”
      We already had that before Mata (in Kagawa). We just didn’t use it (properly).

      • @Karl: There are pretty much huge differences between Kagawa and Mata. Kagawa is a sneaky no 10 who plays with ball to feet and has tremendous off the ball movement. Mata is better with ball to his feet, he can dribble and shoot better, he lifts the ball over defences (something I never saw by Kagawa), but he is not that good without ball to his feet.

        Kagawa is a more modern-football player. Mata has that classic essence in his football. In fact, his style of play is that of a classic No.10.

    • @colver: Whenever I compared Nani’s stats to Valencia’s stats I found out that Nani does the same things (assists and goals) that Valencia does in a whole season, but with much less playing time. Or at least Nani has better assists/time ratios and goal/time ratios, compared to Valencia’s ratios.

      Fellaini has no idea when to go upfront and when to stay back. He had all the freedom to be outside the area when he played for Everton, but he as a CM he’s got another role. He is not very creative but he has a footballing mind and a more or less weighted pass – not of Carrick’s or Mata’s class though. He also has stamina. So, he can play the CM role as long as he learns his role. I would be happy if he was paired with a more competitive CM. Carrick has to go or stay as a last solution. He is fcking slow and offers nothing than calm passing. Can’t defend, can’t run upfront and come back quickly. If Fellaini gets paired with a competitive CM next year, then he will look better and our CM safer. Amen.

      • @Warzycha: Stats for footy players are stupid unless they relate to goals scored, appearances, and yellow and red cards. The rest of it will generally mislead you unless you are a qualified scout who has the experience to read them.

        • @Redrich: I know Nani offers nothing when defending and has no good decision making. The second is because he was never trusted by Fergie, because he was never a regular starter. The first can be forgiven for a very creative and charismatic but also effective player. So, all I’m saying, is give him a chance, cause in less time than it takes Valencia to do, he creates more end-product for his team.

          In terms of technique :
          Nani >>>>>> Valencia

          the rest is a matter of maturing, which never happened with Nani, cause he was never a regular starter, cause Fergie ruined some talented players in his late years.

      • @Warzycha: Nani, Valencia, Young, Butner, Evra and Rafael, between them, will have a a hard time crossing the road.
        Damn. that’s what we need, a “Crossing Guard”, not a new manager. :mrgreen:

  • Bottom of the league Cardiff, at home, we’re desperate for a great result and a great performance…what do we get? More cowardly football.
    If we can’t muster the balls to really have a go at a club like Cardiff then we are screwed.
    We went at Cardiff as though they were Bayern, or Barca.
    Cautious, that all too familiar lack of tempo, all round general lack of cohesion. Essentially a team without a plan.
    Still hitting Valencia so he can fuck it up and lose posession, or hit in a high altitude hit and hope cross.

    Moyes keeps talking about his idea of how he wants us to play and how far we are from that level…saying he wants attacking, entertaining football….but wht we’re getting is god awful tactics, a total lack of progression – some might say we’re actually regressing, it’s far from clear what it is Moyes is looking for. I hope he doesn’t think that long ball, hit and hope football is considered attacking or entertaining football. If we can’t even boss Cardiff at home then i think Moyes needs to rethink his “plan”.

  • One thing I’ve learnt (not really, I always knew it)

    Moyes is simply not good enough to be manager of Manchester United. The only reason he was brought in was because he was Scottish (he won’t ever lose that trait, good for him) and that he could get his teams to over-perform while operating on a strict budget. So really, after conceding the majority of possession at home to the league’s bottom team despite having a champions team with the likes of Rooney, RVP and Januzaj injected with £70 million of acquisitions, that logic goes down the drain.

    The fact that we are all just relieved to get a result which may or may not help us push for that 4th place trophy is a sign of severely lowered expectations and a measure of just how much of a disaster Moyes has been to our club. ANY other manager would have been sacked by now, and the only reason we have to put up with this dross is the cancer that is the expired Ferguson and Charlton. It would be naive to blame the Glazers for our current predicament as they have made funds available, what the management staff does with that money and support is the important thing. Mata can forget about that World Cup place so long as the spotlight is on Valencia receiving the ball, run down the touchline and hit it as hard as he can in the general direction of the penalty area. What must be going through RVP’s head when he has to run back to midfield to try and see some of the ball?

    Encouragingly though, it looks like we’re going to buy a whole new team. My wish is that it is not one in the image of Moyes and his shapeless philosophy. Sack Moyes, sack Ferguson, sack Charlton and bring in the ambitious setup that will truly progress our great club.

  • I’d like to challenge all you Moyes haters to make the case of when a top flight team brought in a new manager, when the shit-hit-the-fan, and the end result made a discernible difference.
    The difference between success and failure is always about the players, always – the manager is all about the fans!

    • @Redrich: What is the point of employing a manager on £5.5m a year then?
      Was all of the success which we have had as a club, over the past 20 years all down to the players, Fergie had nothing to do with it then?
      The success and failure of any organisation is down to the manager, his or her job is to motivate and organise the work force.

    • @Redrich: were you not the one to continually state that Fergie (the manager) got this team to “over-achieve”? Is that not a contradiction?

      Regardless, I disagree. It has Most to do with the manager. You don’t have to believe me, ask Jose about his Porto band of misfits.

    • @Redrich: Rubbish.
      I’ll look forward to all the lovers of Moyes’ average football explaining why, even after assembling a team of super players, Moyes still can’t nail down a playing style that is anything other than kick and rush. He’ll still play cowardly football. And he’ll still use hideously outdated tactics. He’ll continue to dither at key moments. And he’ll continue to look like an amateur.
      He spent near £30million on Fellaini. A guy he’s worked with for five years and he still doesn’t know how to play him. He’s spent an obscene sum of money on a player that is without doubt one of the worst footballers i’ve ever seen. And he can’t figure out what to do with him. You think his other signings will work out any better?
      It remains to be seen if Moyes can get the best out of Mata. I doubt it if he’s going to persist with his 442 nonsense.

  • What a rubbish logic. So why would a manager be employed at significant cost if he is not critical to the success and failure of a team? It seems a very convenient means to escape reality. These very same players were highly competitive last season and they have now all turned useless. Amazing.

    Top team bringing in new manager for a discernible difference when things went south. Juventus-Conte. AC Milan- Ancelotti. Barcelona-Rjikaard. This season City-Pellegrini. Barca-Martino. What’s the point?

  • I am still trying to stay optimistic about the future. A part of this is to do with the fact that Moyes is going to be with us for the best part of two seasons whatever happens, whether we like it or not – that much is clear. The Glazers have decided to give him a fair amount of wherewithal to re-build the team and he’s started out quite well with the capture of Juan Mata. However, the doubts linger and will continue to do so until such time as Moyes proves himself a success, or at least firmly on the road to success. By that I mean taking Utd to ECL qualification this season and maybe a trophy next season in addition to a top four finish which is the minimum in terms of expectation. In so doing he has to show that he can beat the main rivals on their patch. This remains a significant blot on his cv – apart from, of course, the inability to actually win anything at all over the best part of 12 years. Moyes has everything to prove and I think his “honeymoon” period, if there ever was one, is now over. There can be no more excuses along the lines of “I need to get to know the players” etc. Yes he needs to continue to “grow into the job” by “learning everyday” but it’s delivery time now.

    Many have said that it doesn’t matter how much money Moyes is given he wont know how best to utilise the players he buys. Frankly, I don’t know but I’m not encouraged by the remarks, post the Cardiff game, regarding where Mata plays. It looks as if he might end up where Kagawa was so patently ineffective – the left wing. That would be a travesty and a waste of Mata’s ability to dictate play from the centre which is his favoured position. With RVP and Rooney fit and Januzaj really undroppable, Moyes faces an immediate test of how to deploy all four at the same time. I fear he wont and rotation may be the order of the day. It’s difficult trying to be positive. Let’s hope that Moyes can give us something to be really positive about by setting down a clear marker in the next few games as to where this team is going.

    • @Julian: What I admire about your optimism is the homage to reality. It really takes something to extract positivity in this situation. However I cant help you with much good news. Management is not as simple as we may perceive to be honest. Combining different elements into an effective unit is easier said than done. But let’s be honest with ourselves here. Just how hard can it be to at least get the basics right? It’s perhaps admirable and noble to try and give all the players a chance but it is also a poor management decision. If you are a new manager, you need to come into the job with a plan beforehand. You don’t say “I’ll just go there and see what happens”. Even if your plan is to utilise the resources available to you,there is still a need to formulate the best plan to use for those resources. Now it seems logical to me to come into the job and identify the best players you have. You don’t need a several training sessions to figure out that RvP,Rooney,Carrick,Kagawa,De Gea are on paper the best players ability wise. Especially with a rising talent like Januzaj on board,the best players seen to gravitate towards a pass and move system. Regardless of how he should have made his decision,we don’t even have the personnel for the outdated system he wants to persist with. This is not an insult unfortunately but a simple reality. Moyes is clueless. Even just watching the structure of the team after buying Mata,you can see he has no idea how to use these players. Especially the world class players. Obviously with new world class players next summer,inevitably there will be improvement in performance in the same way that a rocket powered F1 McClaren will at least compete when driven by my grandmother in a race with buggies. Similarly,world class players will give us a realistic shot at 4th place and an almost guaranteed spot in the Europa League with Moyes in charge. Point is it’s more efficient to replace my granny with Lewis Hamilton instead of powering her race car with rocket engines. Change the driver,change the manager and we can begin to think of ambitious things like league titles and the Champions League trophy

  • Also to answer the question”why do I think these players deserve better than 7th place”. The answer is quite simple. With the exception of Giggs,Rooney,Vidic,Evra,Rio and Fletcher,non of these players know anything worse than second place. In fact 2nd place is the lowest failure these players know in the league. That’s the worst they have ever done. So now suddenly they don’t deserve better than 7th place? These players are champions who have defended nearly all the records held for this club for decades. In 7 months Moyes has managed to ensure every single proud record we have held for decades has been decimated. In 7 months,Moyes has ensured that a team which has never known the territories below 2nd place right now has no hope of making the top four and seem a dark horse for Europa League qualification. Seven months. Whichever way you look at it Moyes has been the architect of our downfall. As much as we lacked high quality central midfielders,with the exception of Carrick, the reality is we have always had a world class attack. And our midfield has been of a higher quality than the lower teams. A team like Cardiff in all honesty,should be totally dominated without needing a Vidal or a Schweinsteiger. Top class players are mostly crucial when facing the very top teams. There is no excuse. Moyes is the worst thing that could happen to United.

  • We should certainly be higher than 7th, to say any different is illogical. We won the title by 11 points last season, any lower than 4th is unacceptable. The main issue is the buck stops at the manager, it is his job to manage the side and motivate players, as well as setting the tactics. Moyes has struggled due to many issues. he has been unlucky with injuries to key players. But he also should have addressed the midfield in the Summer as well as in this window. Hopefully the Mata signing will invigorate the team. Yes the Spaniard is a great signing, but he wasn’t an urgent one. Januzaj, Kagawa, Rooney all want to play in the 10 role and the argument that you cannot have too many good players is valid, but when we have 40 year old winger and a centre half playing in midfield than you have to prioritise. I am delighted we have finally brought in a player who is genuinely World Class, but with Fellaini injured, an proving to be a comfort signing and out of his depth, we should have brought in even a stop gap. Also how can any player be out for 2 months with a wrist injury, Cantona played for months with a cast?
    I also believe, with no real evidence that the Mata signing was more Ed Wood, than Moyes. He clearly has no real plan of how to play him, he has pretty much stated that fact. Maybe I am being too cynical, but the past 7 months have made me that way!

    • @Stephen: I think you’re right about Mata being a PR signing (and all the other things you mentioned of course).

      And to think we seldom – if ever – agree.

  • Agreed. While we have weakened considerably compared to teams like Chelsea, Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal we still have more talent than the other teams in the league.

    Losing at home to Everton, WBA, Tottenham and Newcastle is all Moyes. Those 12 points dropped go a long way towards explaining why we are barely in contention for a top four finish. And those losses are in large part due to negative predictable tactics and Moyes’ inability to inspire his troops and give them that winning mentality.

    He abandoned Ferguson’s carefully set up plans to bring in Thiago and Garay in the summer in favour of a hapless pursuit of Fabregas which ended up with us settling for Fellaini who is not even good enough for Everton these days.

    Still at least Mata will be a good long term signing but having failed in two transfer windows to properly address our glaring weaknesses this summer is Moyes last chance to salvage his Manchester United career. Fail to make the right signings in the summer and continue with these crappy tactics and it will be two seasons out of the top four and with our share price plummeting I can hardly imagine the Glazers will continue to show such patience.

  • If there’s one thing that has been learned this season, never mind the Cardiff game, it’s that Moyes cannot utilize the “Doughnut formation” as well as Fergie did. But having a hole in the middle can easily be remedied by Moyes. As soon as he buys a decent holding midfielder that can break up opposition attacks, get the ball moving forward again and is comfortable with possession football, the hole will disappear. Then we might get back the fear factor and start to look as if we can realistically challenge again.

  • One more thing we learned. Moyes still doesn’t know his best team. Moyes, please stop this player rotation nonsense, find your best team, play them together every game, only change the line up when it’s necessary, otherwise how can the team settle into any kind of rhythm, how can partnerships form and how will individual players know what they’re supposed to be doing?

    • @red astair: Don’t forget Fergie became the master of rotation. Last year he used 25 players in the PL alone. But I get your point. Moyes has got to settle on basic combinations and only tinker when necessary. He’s had long enough to see what he’s got and injuries apart we do need a more settled side. His biggest conundrum now is how to play Mata together with Rooney and RVP plus, hopefully, Januzaj. He really shouldn’t be rotating these, our best players, on a week by week basis. Over to you David!

  • Another thing we’ve learnt is that Kagawa is completely out of favour and his time is numbered. Pity because I just started to really like him.

    • @Karl: I must say I cant see Kagawa staying after the end of the season. He might have gone in this window had Mata not been cup-tied for the ECL.

    • @Karl: I picked Kagawa as my Utd player of the year for this season, I really thought this would be his year. Unfortunately it’s not working out. I don’t know who if anyone is to blame, maybe it’s just one of those things. I think Julian is right, at the end of the season he’ll probably be gone. Perhaps if he can be used as bait to get Gundogan it won’t have been a waste.

  • I am sure some sort of swap deal could be arranged with Kagawa. Sadly with Mata’s arrival Kagawa will be surplus to requirements – at least from next season. If we could get either Reus or Gundogan as part of the deal then it might be very good business. Klopp would no doubt welcome Shinji back with open arms, albeit at the loss of one his top players.

    That’s business for the next transfer window. As for this one it doesn’t look as if anything further will happen. Kroos is unlikely to come now and perhaps with thoughts of one of the aforementioned joining in the summer, possibly Moyes isn’t even going for him. This means we are still vulnerable in central midfield, left back and central defence. Clearly Moyes is going to have to rely on what he has. He must be hoping to perhaps get Vidic back into top form so that he can lend some much needed experience to the back four which has looked uncharacteristically shaky recently. Evra is a problem. He shouldn’t be playing every game but because there isn’t really adequate back up he tends to be continually involved (most appearances this season). Still great going forward but a defensive liability invariably. I’d discount any thoughts of Shaw joining. Even if he were to leave, he and his family are, apparently, avid Chelsea supporters, so no guessing which club he’ll choose. We’ll have to make do with what we have in central midfield too with, maybe two of Carrick, Cleverly, Jones, Fellaini and Fletcher as back up to what is now a pretty potent attack. Moyes must be hoping and praying for an injury free run in. Third or fourth still seems a long way off though. Not impossible by any means.

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