Manchester United 2 – 1 Newcastle United: uncharacteristic narrowness edges out

Sir Alex was left with a depleted backline owing to the surprising news of Vidic’s injury and Rio’s recent niggle during the Liverpool game. Choosing to rest/prevent further injury to Jonny Evans, United started off with a backline that would not have calmed the nerves of those watching. But they certainly coped.

Fluidity

The peculiarity within the game revolves around the formation Sir Alex used; the news of Fletcher in the starting lineup raised questions whether he was going to be pushed wide to counter the threat of Marveaux and protect Vermijl. But this was not the case and quickly within the first 5 minutes it became evident that Sir Alex was keen to overload the midfield.

A peculiarly fluid system – Rooney’s role never was fully defined. Only Fletcher true his role and position in this system.

Narrowness and legs rebirths the counter

The presence of four highly energetic or young players in midfield essentially allowed United to reintroduce the couter-attack to our repertoire. Although we couldn’t capitalise on any of our counters, the drive from Anderson for his goal and the quick interplay leading up to United’s second indicate how valuable it is to have such players back in an area that has attracted comment verging on redundancy.

A key aspect of this midfield overload was Cleverley’s intelligence on and off the ball. Where Anderson’s lethargy leads him to show bursts of effectiveness, Cleverley has matured and understands how key his movement and positioning is to the function of such a packed midfield. He avoided the common issue where, essentially, a four-man midfield would get in the way of each other.

Note how he recognises the need to ‘decongest’ – starts a run to spread play.

Phases of play

One of the more observable facets of this system was how the players played through phases – defensive while opposition was in possession while in our half; general possesion of the ball; defensive while opposition was in possession while in their half.

While Newcastle were in possession of the ball in our half, the team reverted to the time tested 4-1-4-1. With a natural defensive midfielder in the middle and a generally combative group of players ahead of him, Newcastle found it hard to break us down.

While United were in possession, the midfield diamond was the dominant shape. This allowed Rooney/Anderson/Cleverley to take up both – the creative position and the defensive positions with ease.

When we lost possession in their box, United shifted into a 4-2-3-1. United tried to play the man advantage against Newcastle’s two man midfield high up the field. This wasn’t as effective, a lack of pressing (probably conserving energy) explains this.

Rooney

There are very few factors that lead people to judge whether Rooney is having a good or bad day. Many think it’s his goalscoring, but, Rooney’s touch, passing and general drive during a game is highly indicative of his form. Against Newcastle he had, relatively, a stormer.

These sum up his game:

General comments

I do not watch anywhere near the amount of youth football as I should. But I must comment on both Vermijl and Michael Keane; they were exemplary. Where Vermijl showed his nervousness at times and failed to track Shane Ferguson for Newcastle’s only goal, Michael Keane’s deliberation on the ball and assurance while off it was a pleasant surprise. Of course, the young centrebacks struggled with the aerial threat of Ameobi and Cissé, they were tidy and distributed the ball very well.

A subtopic on pressing

I didn’t know where to put this. So here it is. One of the most surprising aspects of our game, considering the players we have, is our general avoidance of pressing the opposition. Although there are sporadic cases of one of our players closing the opposition down, United hasn’t deployed this system outright. This is surprising considering our inclination to maintain possession of the ball and the fact that we have players who are willing to expel the amount of energy needed to close down opponents incessantly during a game.

There is no doubt that pressing is a very key aspect, although Premier League watching tactics aficionado’s would argue that it’s more relevant in Europe, it is startling that a team like United does not consider it so. The more observant watcher will realise that two of our summer purchases come from teams that value the system of pressing the opposition – where Van Persie probably didn’t abide by it, Kagawa is known for his athleticism and ability to harass if needed.

With the purchases made and the plethora of players that suit that style of football – Fletcher, Cleverley, Rooney, Welbeck and potentially Phil Jones and Anderson – one has to scratch their head and ask why United aren’t hungry to win the ball further up the pitch.

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