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After the lows of last weekend, the midweek win over Liverpool lifted spirits a bit and everything seemed to be back on track again. Moyes stuck with many of the players who beat Liverpool with the likes of Buttner, Jones, Evans, Nani, Hernandez and Kagawa retained whilst Anderson got a start in the middle. What unfolded was far from ideal. We welcome comments from both sets of fans.
Worrying Rio being troubled by space
It was highlighted last week against Man City that Ferdinand looked troubled. Off the pace, confused and with errors in him his start to the season has been a throwback to the autumn of 2009. His response then was to compensate for his diminishing pace by giving himself more space and the adjustment came good with last season as good as any from him.
Oddly it’s space that is causing problems again now. Whether it’s a reflection of the players selected (in that some are not defensive minded) or it’s a tactical move to expand United’s play, there’s so much space being opened up for opponents between our lines. Sessegnon was taking up positions in front of United’s back four with ease today and running at our defenders front on which troubled them. Even when we weren’t chasing the game in the first half this was the case. Wingers weren’t getting back and Anderson and Carrick struggled against West Brom’s middle three. Again, like last week, three in the middle is something we have to match up to in a more effective way. It’s meant that both Carrick and Anderson had to cover so much ground that invariably they were out of position and then had very few options when in possession.
Predicting what will happen to a player with age isn’t easy. Rio turns 35 later this year but someone like Distin turns 36 and is only seemingly getting better. The amount of times someone like Ferdinand or Lampard has responded to claims of being ‘past it’ means he shouldn’t be written off but his error count this season is alarmingly high and he should have performed better on both of West Brom’s goals.
Individuals surprisingly given a chance but let Moyes down
The emphasis on rotation was probably never overly great at Everton. David Moyes had a small squad competing in predominantly one competition with the odd cup run. At United, he has a first team squad of more than 25 players all capable of contributing positively towards results. There has to be a learning curve in terms of keeping players fresh and fit but also knowing when to make changes and when to stick.
In the opening few games Moyes opted for a settled side, picking some of the more experienced players and probably not making use of the options he’s had available. After the midweek win over Liverpool he opted to reward many of those who started that game possibly still part of the City fall-out and no doubt with one eye on Shakhtar away in the week. It’s easy in hindsight to say he may have made a mistake there but few expected the team that was selected today.
Maybe there was some naivety there. Players who needed minutes on Wednesday weren’t necessarily fresh to start today. Keeping Evra sharp and Rafael is admirable and welcomed but they were arguably unnecessary changes. Having been conservative with selections he went from one extreme to the other with too many changes from league game to league game. In doing so he introduced partnerships that were simply unfamiliar – Jones-Nani and Buttner-Kagawa the obvious two.
There were winners though – Evans and Nani didn’t do much wrong. Nani in particular put in a series of excellent crosses in the first half and was the only player for much of the game trying to inject pace and unpredictability into United’s flow. Most of the rest of the team played within themselves though – it was probably wrong to single out Rio in the first point in this piece on that basis. It would be easy to pick Anderson out but Carrick wasn’t necessarily any better despite making more passes than any other player on the pitch by some distance.
Squeezing that extra bit of intensity out of players was something that Fergie was excellent at and although Moyes tried and made positive substitutions (particularly Januzaj at half time) he was ultimately let down. Tactics weren’t necessarily the problem, having so many players play so sub-averagely was and it must be as frustrating for the staff as it is for the fans that this is the case, especially when some should be attempting to play themselves into a regular starting spot.
Fair play to West Brom
It would be completely unfair to talk about the game and not pay credit to West Brom, and that’s not to deflect attention off United either. What Clarke set out to do was simple but effective – a solid central base with pace and trickery on the counter. The early injury of Sinclair was in the end a blessing. Berahino may be a new name to some but his talent has been known about for a while (and his fabulous story from Burundi to the Baggies will no doubt be told again soon). His pace and desire to get shots away matched the direct style of play that West Brom undertook when in possession – running at United and not letting us get men behind the ball.
Moyes suggested United controlled the game and maybe that’s true – possession and passing stats will reflect that but there’s no doubting which side made better use of the ball and created the better chances. I felt for long spells that a draw was probably a fair reflection of the game but by the end it was hard to begrudge West Brom the win.
You’ll read about that being United’s worst start to a season since before the Premier League era. The fixture listed suggested it would be tough but it was also these kind of games (no disrespect to West Brom) that would have offered some comfort after the storm.
Moyes and his staff will need to start to find the right balances in terms of systems and selections but anyone who assumed a big managerial transition would go without glitches is very much mistaken. Not least because Moyes didn’t manage to get what he wanted in the transfer window this summer. He’s inherited a league winning squad but one that has its holes and they’re still yet to be patched up – it’ll take time and at least two transfer windows you’d imagine.
Back to the game and after a tight first half Amalfitano opened United up with ease, dancing around players before a glorious chipped finish – one that would be talked about for hours if it was a more profiled player who’d scored it. United were quick to respond though when Rooney’s free kick evaded everyone and found the far corner but despite bringing van Persie on there was no further response until right at the end and Berahino finished clinically from the edge of the area with 25 minutes to go.
United were lethargic and played without any zip or urgency – although often lamented, both Cleverley and Welbeck were missed (Cleverley had a knock and Welbeck only just back from a knee problem). The club have been cautious with Zaha so far, letting him settle into the club but it’ll be worth giving him a chance soon like the way Januzaj has been trusted.
The current predicament provides a good if unwelcomed test for the supporters. As a group we’re used to winning games and hence trophies. Victories have covered up the fact that we’ve not played overly good football for a few years and in a lot of cases they’ve only come about because of the Fergie factor. Success has grown the fanbase but also meant there is a sense of entitlement among a large section of the fans. After six games, anyone calling for the manager’s head should take a step back – Moyes may not have been everyone’s first choice but he’s in charge of the club now and to quote @jay_in_essex: you’re either on the bus or you can do one. Onwards to Shakhtar.