AUTHOR: – Stretford-end
Manchester United failed to score at St James’ park for the first time since the 1999/2000 season to pick up a point in a 0-0 draw. Javier Hernandez and Wayne Rooney had great chances to open the scoring in the first half, whilst heavy Newcastle pressure early on created a number of chances after crosses from wide areas – including a Løvenkrands header just before half time. United stepped up their game in the second half and looked much the better side. Ryan Giggs spurned a glorious opportunity to open the scoring, whilst both sides had controversial penalty appeals turned turn. Here we discuss the talking points of the game and welcome both sets of fans to share their views.
Not often do you see the Premier League’s top goal scorer on the sidelines missing a crucial fixture towards the business end of the season. Dimitar Berbatov was left out of the side, with many Reds citing his lacklustre performance at Wembley on Saturday as the reason for his omission. Put it this way, I can only think of three things as to why Berbatov was left out 1) Poor performance/attitude 2) Injury 3) A row with Ferguson. There is no doubt that Sir Alex can be stubborn, some might say petulant at times, however I do honestly believe that the manager always acts in the best interest of Manchester United, naive as it seems following Stam’s departure in 2001 and Beckham’s similar omission from the side who faced Leeds the year before. So why was Dimitar Berbatov left out of the side?
Since his brace against Blackpool, Berbatov has hit the back of the net twice, including a key strike against Bolton Wanderers in March. In the last seven Premier League ties, Berbatov has come on as a substitute – with his two appearances coming in the 3-1 defeat to Liverpool and the 2-0 victory over Fulham. My initial reaction to the ‘resting’ of Dimitar Berbatov was that of a ‘fatigue issue’ – following United running out of steam last season, which resulted in the club’s elimination from Europe and eventually the Premier League race. However, following Javier Hernandez impressive performances (including the range of sides he has scored against and the winners he has popped up with) and with Ferguson revealing (last season) that it is ‘hard to include’ the mercurial Bulgarian in a 4-3-3, it makes sense a to why Berbatov has all of a sudden fallen down the pecking order. Below is a table highlighting all of the goals scored by Dimitar Berbatov this season:
You can also find out more information on Dimitar Berbatov’s 2010/11 statistics. Berbatov is a sublime footballer to watch and when on his game, he can do anything with a football. As shown against Liverpool at home, he is capable of scoring exquisite goals, however he has been far too ‘quiet’ in some of the so called bigger games this season according to some Reds. Gordon McQueen spoke on TalkSport today, stating that Berbatov wouldn’t be going anywhere in the summer – but with Bayern Munich sniffing around and the form of Hernandez, can you see it happening?
United lacked ambition 1st half but better in 2nd
We’ll come on to Newcastle’s high pressing in a different talking point, however it was clear to see in the first half that United were both wasteful in possession and were forced back at certain points, which meant that Wayne Rooney’s first minute low cross to Javier Hernandez was the clearest opportunity of the whole half. Rooney did come close later on showing some excellent skill and balance to ride the challenge from the centre half before blazing over the crossbar, although Krul got a slight touch that was unseen by the referee. The diagram below highlights United passing in the first half compared to the 2nd half. It is clear to see that the United’s play wasn’t as deep in the second half and took the game to Newcastle, but just needed to find that finishing touch:
One of the key reasons for this shift, most noticeably down the left hand side, was the change to the role of Ryan Giggs – who was obviously asked to move infield and try and influence play. The diagram below (top image is the 1st half whereas the bottom image is the 2nd half) shows the successful passes made by Giggs over the course of the two halves. With the withdrawal of Nani for Michael Owen, Giggs was asked to play alongside Carrick in the centre of the park (in the 81st minute), however only made four passes – so it is fair to say that he had clear instructions to ‘roam’ after the interval:
Now passing stats can be misleading and to be honest are quite mundane at times. However, the chart below does show that United upped the passing game in the second and improving accuracy. The charts previously demonstrate that United were higher up the pitch in more dangerous areas, so a vast improvement after the break:
It was just a shame that Giggs couldn’t have found the back of the net after popping up centrally to get on the end of an Evra cross, who exploited the space left by Welshman.
Newcastle Pressure & Targeting O’Shea
Although United upped their game in the second half and it is arguable were worth the three points following Giggs’ miss, credit should go to Newcastle for their energetic display in the first half. Newcastle pressed high up the pitch, which resulted in United giving the ball away more the usual and pushed the league leaders back toward their own goal. Despite the early chance for Hernandez, Newcastle carved open their own chances with (an offside that wasn’t given) Ameobi testing Van der Sar at the back post and Løvenkrands clumsily heading wide the pick of the bunch.
The chalkboard below highlights the Newcastle United’s successful passes throughout the first half, with heavy emphasis high up the pitch on the left handside where Newcastle obviously targeted the dribbling skills of Gutierrez against O’Shea, who I thought was poor tonight:
It is interesting to note that in the bottom chalkboard, that Newcastle United won the ball 10 times, in United’s half, in comparison to 5 times, in the second half (with all five being headed flicks on). The majority of these balls won were via tackles, which demonstrates the high pressing game played by Newcastle early in the first half (70% of those tackles were made within the first ten minutes).
Løvenkrands & Hernandez: Penalties?
Both Javier Hernandez and Peter Løvenkrands were furious that they were turned down a penalty by Lee Probert, however I would like to raise the point that Hernandez was booked for ‘simulation’, but why was Løvenkrands not booked? Either it is a penalty or a dive? Its about consistency – did Probert believe that Hernandez dived to try and win and penalty and Løvenkrands didn’t? I’m not too sure. Either way, I think that BOTH players had a case to be honest, but their over the top reaction worked against them. I feel there was clear contact by Anderson, but the former Rangers man could have stayed on his feet – likewise with Hernandez, former Red Danny Simpson makes contact with the Mexican, but Hernandez goes to ground far too easy. I actually think the ref got both decision RIGHT, but shouldn’t have booked Hernandez considering his decision to not book Løvenkrands earlier in the match. I guess the fact the ball was cleared, it was easier to not give a yellow card. What do you think?
Manchester United failed to capitalise on Arsenal losing two points against Liverpool on Sunday in a 0-0 draw with Newcastle United. As stated, United haven’t failed to score at St James’ Park since the 1999/2000 season, where Duncan Ferguson volleyed passed a helpless Mark Bosnich. Javier Hernandez and Wayne Rooney both could have opened the scoring for United in the first half, whilst Ryan Giggs had a glorious opportunity in the second half to hit the back of the net from eight yards, but blasted wide. Sir Alex Ferguson will be disappointed with the result, however United have been here before and will know what pressures lie ahead. To get some perspective, in 95/96 United dropped three points in the last six games with a 3-1 loss away to Southampton (before going onto win a league and cup double), dropped six points in 98/99 with away draws against Leeds United, Liverpool and Blackburn Rovers (before winning a historic treble) and lastly in 2007/08 United dropped seven points in the last six games – drawing 2-2 away at Middlesbrough 1-1 away at Blackburn Rovers and losing 2-1 away at Chelsea (before winning the league and European Cup).
There will be many twists and turns ahead in the final five games, but Ferguson and United have been here before and will no doubt be ready for the challenges. Newcastle United performed very well first half and are now on 40 points, which should mean safety for next season. It will be interesting to see how United bounce back against Everton, who have been in good form of late, on Saturday and of course whether Dimitar Berbatov will play or not. His omission from the side drew similar comparisons with Ruud van Nistelrooy’s exclusion from the League Cup final in 2006 (even though the Dutchman actually made the bench that afternoon). Ruud was soon on his way in May, I have not idea whether or not the same fate lies for Berbatov.
AUTHOR: – Stretford-end