Newcastle: 4-4-2 Manchester United: 4-3-3
Krul De Gea
Janmaat Williamson Coloccini Taylor Valencia Smalling Evans Rojo
Obertan Abeid Sissoko Ameobi Fellani
Di Maria Young
Riviere Cisse Rooney
This game was at St. James Park in Newcastle on Wednesday March 4th. It was a goalless first half but the half ended with a flurry of action. Much of the half could be described as ‘pedestrian’ football my Manchester United. Yes, they kept possession well and were tidy with the ball, but they lacked the necessary tempo to cause Newcastle danger. That’s what I mean by ‘pedestrian’… too slow of a tempo when in possession of the ball and not dangerous enough with their forward passes. In modern football, because of the popularity of pressing, it is now often the central defenders who control the tempo of the game. And since Newcastle decided to employ a line of confrontation at around midfield, I thought Smalling and Evans could have looked to play the ball forward quicker than they did. Instead, they were to slow or pedestrian if you will.
Newcastle on the other hand, looked to be dangerous by counter attacking. They didn’t see the ball a whole lot but when they broke forward it was with real, threating pace. In fact, they probably had the best opportunity of the half after a counter attack resulting in Riviere missing a clear chance in the box with a couple minutes left. My critique of Newcastle would be that they were far too cheap in possession when they did have the ball. They might have had far more build-up play (not solely counter attacking) if they did not give the ball away so cheaply. Again, if Man United looked to play forward quicker after a cheap Newcastle giveaway then Newcastle would have been in more trouble. Often times, Man United would collect it off Newcastle in Newcastle’s half but then Smalling and Evan would just swing the ball or Blind and Herrera would play safe. I would’ve instructed, “look, play one quick pass or two if necessary to escape the immediate pressure then try to hit Di Maria or Young on a diagonal into space”. United kept everything in front of Newcastle even when they won the ball and that was the problem.
In the second half, United did look to play in behind Newcastle more, but unluckily Rooney was caught offside 3 consecutive times. You had to think if Rooney had played up top more often this year he wouldn’t have been so rusty at timing his runs and the strategy of looking to hit him on the run might have worked. But instead, because United didn’t up the tempo really, Newcastle grew in belief. As the game went on, Newcastle looked more and more likely to snatch a goal on the counter and Cisse missed another great opportunity in the 67th minute. It’s also clear that United lacked creativity. I strongly question LVG’s tactics when that problem is so clear. If that is the problem, why not start Mata over Fellani? Putting him on as a desperate attempt in the 80th minute isn’t much of an answer.
Ultimately, United should feel very lucky with three points. They can thank the spirit and determination of Rooney to not give up on the play and pressurize the defenders and keeper to force a mistake for the goal. Without that individual charge, the game surely would have been tied.