Shakhtar 1-1 Man United: Moyes changes the system and it works

Author: Doron

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United went into a tricky away game at Shakhtar off the back of poor domestic form and with the late blow that Rooney got a whack in training on Tuesday and was therefore unavailable. Moyes opted to recall Rafael, Vidic, Smalling, Evra, Valencia, Fellaini Cleverley, Welbeck and van Persie as he made nine changes from the weekend defeat to West Brom. We welcome comments from all fans.

Moyes changes shape and it works

I’ve lost track of the number of times United have gone away from home and had the central midfield overrun. Most recently against Man City we were crying out for three in the middle, particularly now Fellaini is at the club… and Moyes went with it!

Some might suggest that it’s a negative system to use, particularly when the three in the middle aren’t pushing that high up the pitch but it provides a base to build on and control the game with. By ensuring United had the better of the central areas, Shakhtar were forced to play a more expansive game and go wide, putting crosses in which only fed the head of Vidic. This suited United perfectly and clearly didn’t play to Shakhtar’s strengths given that they completed only 2 out of 30 crosses.

It’s been a long time since United have played a hard away game – and let’s not kid ourselves, this isn’t an easy place to go to – and been as comfortable as that in terms of protecting the goal. Possession can be misleading too. It’s fine that Shakhtar had most of the ball because they had it 30-40 yards from goal in areas that weren’t going to and didn’t harm United.

The key though was to take the chances that came our way. They were going to be few and far between, particularly after we took the lead but it was so nearly the ruthless away performance we craved. Some will be annoyed we weren’t more attacking and didn’t play slightly less defensively disciplined players like Nani or Kagawa but by being cautious we were a darn sight more convincing than recent away games when teams have opened us up through the middle with ease and the defence haven’t been protected. Well done David Moyes on changing it.

A tale of two midfielders: Fellaini and Cleverley

The system was right and in many ways for an away game the personnel was right but Fellaini’s performance wasn’t quite right.

Picked to break up play both deep and high, Fellaini looked to have started the game ok. He won some aerial duels but soon found that the referee (who was largely awful) wasn’t going to let any 50:50s go and he ended up committing 8 fouls which is simply too many for a player in the middle. He was ok in possession, only giving it away on 5 occasions but his touch wasn’t good enough and although some passes found their intended targets, they weren’t necessarily weighted properly or aimed accurately.

Fellaini will improve though and selecting him wasn’t necessarily a mistake. What it showed though is that the system can be turned on its head to be something more attacking though with him directly swapped for Giggs, Kagawa or even Rooney if he was willing to drop deeper. It is important to remember it was a 4-5-1 though rather than a 4-4-1-1, Fellaini was very much a central midfielder than something a bit higher.

By contrast though, Cleverley, who for some reason has become a bit of a whipping boy for some fans had an excellent game. Energy is underrated and it’s something Cleverley has in abundance and it’s something that Fletcher made a career out of. In the three man midfield, Cleverley proved to be a very good link man, happy to take the ball off Carrick and move it on to the next person. He, like Carrick, didn’t commit a single foul and was tidy in possession. He still needs to be more of a threat going forwards but he played a big part in United winning the central midfield battle – a very accomplished performance and food for thought for Moyes.

United unlucky to draw or had it coming?

This will no doubt split people down the middle. Shakhtar, for all their possession, did incredibly little with it. In fact, their performance was very similar to United’s against West Brom at the weekend – much more of the possession, more of the territory, more passes in the final third, but a total failure to convert that into chances and efforts on target.

Shakhtar, for all their possession at home, had two efforts on target. One was the goal and one was a tame shot saved easily by de Gea (who had to make a great save after a cross hit Smalling too). Sure, United took a risk in sitting deeper as the game went on and allowing Shakhtar the ball but there was nothing to suggest it would amount to anything. So much so that the goal itself, a good finish, came via some luck – a fortunate nutmeg that meant Vidic didn’t have a chance to clear the ball properly.

The dilemma for United was that whilst maybe throwing on Kagawa or Nani and going for the second goal sounds good, it would have played right into Shakhtar’s hands – opening up the game for their pacey wide players to exploit. Keeping it tighter restricted them to our advantage. Even at 1-0 though United could have killed the game on the counter as van Persie shot seemed destined for the net but it hit a Shakhtar player.

United didn’t necessarily have to get as deep as they got but that was quite natural given that Shakhtar themselves tried to increase the tempo and build the pressure. Moyes was right to remove Fellaini who’d been booked (wrongly) but given the way the game was going, there was no need for him to take any unnecessary risks. Even at 1-1, a good result at Shakhtar, there was no point going more attacking seeing as Shakhtar then had the momentum. For me, United were incredibly unlucky not to have won but I can appreciate others might see it differently.


One of those that before the game I think most would have happily settled for a draw at a stadium where no English team has won before. With three in the middle and an experienced spine of Vidic-Carrick-van Persie, things started well as United seemed content to control the play, probing away at Shakhtar for an opening.

In the end it was Welbeck who scored – a goal that would have delighted Moyes because it was a classic poacher’s finish. Good work by Fellaini and a slip by a defender meant Danny could scramble it in as he and Cleverley, two home-produced players, excelled in the first half. United were comfortable for a lot of the second half too with Vidic putting in a monster of a performance. It was incredibly unfortunate that in the end it was he who could have and should have done better just a few seconds before Taison’s emphatic finish.

It was a good point for United. Top of the group and with a double header against Sociedad coming up next, United are in a strong position. For Moyes, it was a sign that he’s not afraid to try new things and hopefully that system can be used more often away from home with the odd tweak in personnel to make it more exciting or ambitious.

16 Comments on Shakhtar 1-1 Man United: Moyes changes the system and it works

  1. Very good analysis but at 1-0 in the 65th minute or thereabouts someone like Kagawa would be perfect to be busy and keep the ball rather than parking the bus. Instead we get Giggs and Jones. I am sorry but when you park the bus for too long so many times the other team will score eventually. For me attack is the best defence. To be truthful once Shakhtar scored I was worried they would score again as they had the wind in their sails. 1-1 is a good result but Utd is meant to be one of the top 3 clubs in the world and yet we no longer dominate teams. Watch Bayern, Real, Barca, Dortmund they all attack opposition teams and that is why they are so successful. The modern game has changed but UTD are just not up there these days and watching the team grind out a result is painful to watch.I have supported UTD for over 40 years and I will never change but the signs are not good.

  2. United played ok in midfield and defence but how many times did we made the goalkeeper work ? As I recall, not as much as Shakhtar did especially in the second half. The Welbeck goal was also a little bit lucky as it got deflected of a defender. Improvements are still needed in certain areas

  3. a good report from doron and a slightly better display from the reds,ok i didn,t watch the full game as i was busy but the way i look at the form over this very short period is this,we are a team in transition with a manager who i think will get it right in the end,too many supporters have had it all gravy over the last 27 years that saf was in charge,we have had success in various forms over the years,personally if we finish in the top 4 i will be happy,a lot of the new fans 20+ years think we are now third rate and that goes for the manager as well in their thoughts.c,mon guys lets get behind D.M and the team and stop moaning at everything,we have been very spoilt in terms of success and when the feeling is not right everyone jumps on the band wagon and suddenly we are a mediocre team.thought we stuck together through thick and thin,a lot of our placky twenty something,s need to experience what i[and a lot of others] went through from 76 to early nineties,accepting a cup win now and then in between the scousers walking away with the league every other year in between forest,everton,villa doing well in the old 1st division,f.a cup,league cup,european cup[c/l as it is now].we need to experience lows in our form,so when we are successful the feeling is euphoric.we do have some very good players in our squad,it will come together sometime and we need to be there when i happens to cheer on the guys in our famous football club,we cant have it all the way we had it in the past!

  4. Moyes need to focus on united powerful attacker to score more goal the defence is secure with the boss vidic he can keep change his partner evans,jones,smalling that good but wat about goals united only score 1 or 2 goals in a match that it. With such player in attack rooney,van persie,chicharito,welbeck,kagawa,nani,januzaj,valencia,zaha all attacking and goalscorer player must used them in right way so that united can kill the match by winning 3-0,4-0.

  5. David moyes don’t only focus on januzaj keep an eye also on loan player jesse lingard he is another talent after januzaj which is shine at birminghan am scared now if another big team take him away from united because he is improving match by match and show his talent that he deserve to be in first team. Please united staff keep an eyes on him. Secure him otherwise we will lost a another talent after paul progba. As united fan i admire him since progba days in united and will to see him playing for united first team.

  6. For now manutd defence well and the team is balance with player like vidic,evra,rafael,carrick,valencia,fellaini,cleversly these player keep man utd balance. Moyes should focus on powerful attacker to score more goal. That the problem he has to do work. Then the team will be on track. We must score more goals keep attacking. He must raise the bar of attack.

  7. if we play with the 3 man midfield,which looks a good idea,how do we play our forwards?either rooney or van persie has to play on the right/left

  8. Rooney will be in left because he has play there since ronaldo,saha,van nistelrooy,berbatov days and he and van persie can exchange each other place

  9. Thought fellaini did alright to be honest I. Lost the ball a few times but other than that i thought he was solid. Got the assist forthe goal as well. Cleverley hmm. Did fine. Didnt impress me though. Energy? Sure! But other than passing the ball and his movement he doesnt offer much in all fairness. A manchester united midfielder? Not for my liking! Opinions! Danny welbeck – absolute baller! Fact! Oleased he got onthescoresheet again. Unlucky to concede so late. The 3 points were there for the taking. Was our own fault though really. At 1 up we knew we needed a second.

    Ridiculous not to okay kagawa in his best pos when wazza couldnt make the lineup. Absolutely ridiculous!

    Im confident in this team though. I know we’ll come good and david moyes will get things right. Its early days. Get behind the lads! We’ll still win the league im convinced of it. New manager or not! Our players are winners and thats a fact! Mufc

  10. A good away performance in a very cold and intense atmosphere. I wish Moyes can see now that we have Smalling, Evans and Vidic and even Jones for our Central defence. Rio should be playing less often now. And Rafael and Fabio should be made to fight for the Right back role.

  11. Largely agree with all that was written here. Fellaini will improve. Best showing from Cleverley in quite some time; wish his decision-making was a little better though. But his energy and willingness to get on the ball were as goods as ever. However, the descent of Valencia to the status of part time footballer continues. If he is being picked for his defensive qualities alone, even this is not working as demonstrated by his failure to follow his man leading up to the goal last night and the even worse example for the first City goal. The system as deployed last night worked extremely well but a more attacking player in place of Valencia on the right would make us more dangerous without weakening the system.

  12. Cant wait until united get going again. Theres nothing wrong with our team and squad. We’ve got the players! A few wins under our belts and we’ll be fireing on all cylinders! Van persie. Wayne rooney. Luis nani. Shinji kagawa. Antonio valencia. Nemanja vidic. Patrice evra. David de gea. Rafa da silva. Carrick and fellaini! World class players there! Backup and quality throughout the squad! Welbeck and hernandez will both chip in with around 10 15 each this season. Cleverley does a job! So do smallingjones and evans! Rio is still quality!Time to shut the haters up! Lets av iiiiit! United!!!

  13. Doron: ” Some will be annoyed we weren’t more attacking and didn’t play slightly less defensively disciplined players like Nani or Kagawa but by being cautious we were a darn sight more convincing than recent away games when teams have opened us up through the middle with ease and the defence haven’t been protected.”

    This is very myopic – from what I saw, it was AV who tracked by in a desultory fashion that allowed the Shakhtar man to get a free shot on the ball that CaptainVidic foolishly headed back into the danger-zone. AND, it’s not like Valencia doesn’t have previous – wasn’t it the result of his lazy back-tracking that led to the first goal in the recent M/C derby ?

    Considering that Valencia – like AshleyBloodyYoung – offers nothing in attack, it’s scandalous that he’s given playing time ahead of a truly-dangerous player like Nani whose “defensive discipline” is usually (as in this case) derided whereas as we have seen in a great many recent UTD failures, holding on to the ball is the very best defence and Valencia (not to mention Young !) are completely useless in this regard.

    So far, not so good for Moyes. He’s been waaaaaaay too conservative in his team selections and seemingly afraid the unleash the best attacking talents: how else can one explain the selections of Valencia, Young, Giggs, and Welbeck ahead of Kagawa, Nani, and Chicharito ? UTD have lost lots of points in the EPL not because of defensive indiscipline but because a team consisting of Valencia, Young, Giggs, and Welbeck just doesn’t score from open play.

  14. @Denton Davey – “UTD have lost lots of points in the EPL not because of defensive indiscipline” – you can’t have watched the games against City and West Brom! It’s as important to keep the ball out as it is to put it in the net. Goals conceded in those games were a direct result of defensive indiscipline.

  15. I did watch both of those matches – like they say, attack is often the best form of defence. AND, so far, Moyes’ game-choices have been ultra-conservative in marginalizing creative players while preferring the “experience” (or what you call defensive discipline) and the out-dated 4-4-2 with useless wingers like AshleyBloodyYoung and AV25. Neither of those guys provides any significant contributions to the attack and, Valencia in the two examples I provided, ain’t no defensive non-liability.

    With regard to the derby with Shitty – AV25’s failure to track Kolarov’s run led directly to the first goal AND goals-change-games. In the WestBrom nightmare, the big problem was Rio’s inability to turn. Indeed, Rio’s lost foot-speed has a compounding effect since it means that two midfielders play so far back that there’s not enough assistance for the attack from MC16 or TheBigFella. Another example of Rio’s non-contribution was his failure to keep tabs on Daniel Agger which led to the header that Sturridge nodded-on.

    I’m generally an optimistic, glass-half-full kinda guy BUT when you see repeated mistakes, errors, and non-contributions then there’s no question that this new manager isn’t taking-on lessons that even an amateur like me can point out. If UTD are going to challenge for anything this year then Moyes needs to take-stock of the non-contributions of Young and FatBoyAndo as well as the elementary mistakes of AV25 and Rio. He needs to get himself with-the-program of UTD’s attacking qualities and hugely-skilled attackers.

    I’m not sure how to blend RVP, TheWayneBoy, KagawaBunga, and Nani into an attacking foursome – hell, I’d tell them to “do their thing” – but the heart of the matter is getting away from the stale 4-4-2 and playing the forwards in a narrower, interchanging style. Watching this year’s version of UTD, it’s pretty evident that the lack of cut-and-thrust has given opponents the belief that they can contain TheLads and strike back -even at OT, by a team that hadn’t won anything in M/C since 1978. So, I guess I’m suggesting some version of ForwardToThePast.

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