After an excellent performance on their return to European competition, many were hoping that Manchester United’s improved form would carry to their league game against Newcastle. However, while United looked good for long periods of the game, creating multiple chances, they struggled to put the chances away. The performance was better than the first two league games, but the same old doubts resurfaced.
On the back of an impressive 3-1 victory over Club Brugge, the only change Louis Van Gaal made was Bastian Schweinsteiger coming into the side in place of Michael Carrick.
- Manchester United created numerous chances but struggled with their finishing.
- United attacked with pace, with Schweinsteiger a better fit alongside Morgan Schneiderlin than Michael Carrick.
- Schweinsteiger pressed up the pitch more effectively than Carrick, and also positioned himself further up field during the buildup. This linked the attack and defense better, also allowing Januzaj to stay closer to Rooney.
- Mitrovic’s strength caused problems among United’s back line.
- Manchester United struggled offensively after Schweinsteiger picked up a knock, and had problems getting forward. Michael Carrick coming on for Schweinsteiger compounded the problem.
- Additionally, Newcastle switched to a 4-1-4-1 defensive shape that also slowed down Manchester’s build up.
Getting off to a fast start
Manchester United started this game well, continuing the momentum they showed against Club Brugge in mid-week. Starting Bastian Schweinsteiger alongside Morgan Schneiderlin in the central midfield had much to do with the Red Devil’s success in attack. Schneiderlin plays as a ball-winning defensive midfielder, and as such, he typically remains deep while Manchester United attack. When Michael Carrick plays with Schneiderlin, both of them tend to occupy similar positions and this can cause issues connecting the defense with the attack. In the game versus Club Brugge, Adnan Januzaj and Juan Mata would drop deep to keep Manchester United from becoming disjointed. In the game versus Aston Villa, Morgan Schneiderlin would attempt to advance up the pitch in more of a box-to-box role, but this caused an issue. The timing of his forward runs was poor as he would often get forward in advance of the attack and this would leave the back four exposed after Villa won the ball back.
With Schweinsteiger playing alongside Schneiderlin, the German would often take up more advanced positions. By taking up more advanced positions, this allowed Schneiderlin to stay deeper and play a more conventional defensive midfield role. Another advantage of Schweinsteiger in central midfield is how comfortable he is pressing higher up the pitch. In the games so far this season, Schneiderlin can repeatedly be seen pressing the opposition’s midfielders high up the pitch near Wayne Rooney, and Carrick struggles at times to help press that high up the pitch. Schweinsteiger is used to this work from Germany, and he is much more effective in helping Schneiderlin close down the central midfield high up the pitch.
Mata and Januzaj play their part
Schweinsteiger’s advanced positions helped link Manchester United’s defense and attack, Juan Mata would also come deep from the right side. During the build-up, Morgan Schneiderlin would stay deep near the central defenders. Schweinsteiger would take an advanced position left of center and Mata would come deep to take a right of center position. With Schweinsteiger and Mata providing the link-up, Adnan Januzaj was able to play closer to Wayne Rooney.
Januzaj didn’t have a great game, as he was sloppy in possession and didn’t provide the forward runs past Rooney that are necessary to push the defensive line back. He did, however, provide speed for Manchester United’s counter-attacks. He was instrumental in taking the ball and pushing it forward quickly. His ability to run with the ball and pressure the defense created several chances, but his final ball would frequently cause the attack to sputter out.
Knock, switch and change
The firsts 20 minutes of this match saw Manchester United move the ball with pace, and dominate a Newcastle United that struggled to deal with Manchester United’s pressing and quick movement of the ball. Unfortunately, Schweinsteiger seemed to pick up a knock in the 21st minute and this caused problems for Manchester United. The former Bayern Munich midfielder stopped taking advanced positions in the attack, and this caused the Red Devils to become more disjointed.
This problem got worse as Newcastle United switched from a 4-4-2 defensive shape to a 4-1-4-1 with Vurnon Anita playing as the defensive midfielder. This caused Manchester United’s central midfielders to have less time and space with the ball, and they struggled to get the ball up to the attackers.
After 59 minutes, Michael Carrick was brought on for Bastian Schweinsteiger and the problems continued for the Red Devils. Schneiderlin tried to get forward more, but this had little effect other than to leave a less mobile Michael Carrick alone to shield the back four.
To cross, or not to cross
After the first 20 minutes, Manchester United’s struggles in attack caused them to repeatedly get the ball wide and try to play in crosses. There was very little success from this play, as without Fellaini, there is very little height in Manchester’s attack.
While Manchester United was reduced to putting in crosses, this was Newcastle’s main avenue of attack. They tried to use the strength and height of new signing Aleksandar Mitrovic to their advantage. Manchester’s back line did well against a physical striker, but Newcastle came closest to goal through a cross that Mitrovic headed onto the cross bar.
This game started well for Manchester United, as they continued where they left off against Brugge. Schweinsteiger made a better partner for Schneiderlin in the midfield, both with the ball and without and Manchester’s play noticeably weakened after Schweinsteiger picked up a knock. Manchester United continue to look solid defensively, pressing as a unit high up the pitch, with Chris Smalling and Daley Blind impressing in central defense against a physical striker. While Newcastle United will improve as their players get more comfortable, they should be happy to take a point as more clinical finishing from Manchester would have allowed them take all 3 points from this game.