Lineup: David De Gea, Phil Jones, Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand, Patrice Evra, Michael Carrick, Wayne Rooney, Shinji Kagawa, Antonio Valencia, Robin van Persie, Javier Hernandez
The setup was a clear 4-4-2 with surprisingly different roles. The major changes were the introduction of Phil Jones giving Rafael a much needed rest. While Wayne Rooney filled in, surprisingly, in the role usually played by Cleverley. Kagawa was on the left while Valencia was on the right. Robin van Persie and Hernandez were the forwards.
How it worked
The main difference between the usual 4-4-2 and the one played by United was in the movement of Kagawa. On the attack, he always drifted to the center giving space for Evra to run into. During this, Rooney and Carrick stayed deep to provide cover with Carrick being the deeper of the two. Another interesting point of note was the movement or the lack thereof from van Persie and Hernandez. Here the movement can be taken as the way they could drop deeper inbetween the defense the midfield to hold the ball and play others inside. Instead, they played a more normal approach of taking channels and running on the shoulder of the last defense. This type of play was less dominant after the 50th minute from when RvP started to drop deeper; more on that later.
Another important point was the brilliantly employed defense and midfield from Sir SAF. Rio and Vidic provided the steel required from the defense to stop the physical nature of Stoke’s play. On the right, Jones’s physicality provided additional help to stop Stoke’s forward play and provide additional strength going forward. In the midfield, the three players: Rooney, Kagawa and Carrick were employed for controlling the ball. The strong ball control and passing with the 3 enabled the control of midfield.
The final third had Robin Van Persie and Hernandez taking the channels on the attack. Their role was mainly off-the-shoulder movement from the last defender.
Looking back at the match, we had a lot of the ball and a lot of space to exploit. But, we never kicked into rampage mode when we could’ve easily overpowered the opposition. Sadly, we didn’t. Looking back, there were different reasons to why we didn’t have the overpowering effect.
One of the first reasons was the new position of Rooney. He was there for a reason to control the midfield by his passing and ball handling. This positional setup didn’t allow him to freely go forward. The difference between Kagawa and Rooney, already discussed in the CF post was clearly seen. Rooney taking the center right behind RvP and Hernandez would’ve provided more number of chances and more goals. Additionally, his long shots would’ve provided strong decent chances with Hernandez in poaching instinct.
Kagawa. This guy has extremely strong passing but on the shorter side with great movement. Playing on the left and dropping into the centre pulled players towards him allowing Evra to get forward. Also, sharp and short passes enable quick bypassing of players and getting into promising positions. His strong passing and ball control really allowed us to keep the midfield with Rooney and Carrick. Even then, playing him on the wings is not a strong option but the channel movement of RvP and Hernandez with Evra bursting forward provided enough potential.
RvP and Hernandez. The duo had a different set of roles which was slowly changed into something more manageable as the game wore on. I kept noticing that RvP and Hernandez didn’t drop down and receive the ball with their backs to the goal early on in the game. Instead, they focussed on strong forward intent by off-the-shoulder runs. In the second half, they started shuttling backwards to drop down and hold the ball to let the attack flow forward. This gave two strong chances from which one was a goal. The first one was Hernandez’s cross ball to RvP who blasted the ball into the side netting. The second one again was a ball to RvP from the bottom right to the left giving him free space to go forward and get a penalty. This movement was exactly the type required to score goals with 2 strong forwards.
The 2nd goal with the cross ball to RvP was greatly worked. In addition, the darting run from the left to the center from Kagawa pulled 2 players towards the center leaving RvP free to collect the ball and run the channel. That led to the foul and consequently the penalty. This is another example of how Kagawa can be employed even on the wings.
The whole defense with Carrick sitting in front of them were awesome. They put in a great shift to cut plays off, physically strong enough to put players off of the ball and regain possession. A special kudos is much needed for Jones for a strong performance.
De Gea was solid. He had a very strong game and saved a really tricky one from a Charlie Adam freekick in the second half by palming it away. His clean sheet was a combined effort from the defense and the midfield.
3 points. That matters but it had certain instances when a different type of play from the kickoff could’ve given us more goals. In truth, that setup would’ve sacrificed Kagawa’s cross run into the center for a more conventional winger’s role. Experimentation like this is extremely great to see as we’re starting to get different tactics with the strong options we have in our bench.
For the MoTM; It is very hard to pick the right guy. But I go for Michael Carrick for his exceptional role in today’s match. With Rooney beside him, he didn’t have to enforce creativity but just sit in front of the defense and pick the right passes and stop opposition plays. He did that wonderfully and without many errors. Other player who really caught my eye was Phil Jones who was solid.
Question: What did you think?