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7 Things We Learned from Manchester United v Bayer Leverkusen

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Here are some points from yesterday’s match. Feel free to share your own in the comments!!

  • Rooney is on fire!
    • Wow! Where has this Wayne Rooney been? A glittering performance where he was assured on the ball, peeling out to wide areas, he was actually taking on his man and providing beautifully weighted passes to his teammates.  Although it wasn’t a world class performance from someone of Wayne’s standards, it was an excellent one.  Justifies the club’s stance on not letting him go to Chelsea and it appears Moyes is working his magic on him. He’s now a member of the 200 goal club at United alongside Bobby Charlton, Jack Rowley and Denis Law.  Whether or not he’s happy here isn’t important. As long as he puts in performances like tonight, there’s little reason to complain.
  • Carrick & Fellaini -solidity & tempo
    • After two games, it appears we already have a formidable partnership in Carrick & Fellaini. The two midfielders operate as a double pivot. Dovetailing with each other’s movements.  Covering for each other and taking turns in hassling the opposition when we’re off the ball. Anytime, either won the ball in midfield, they tried to quickly find a pass to any of our attackers’ feet.  If the option wasn’t on, they would pass it wide, to each other and then forward again.  You could describe it as an up-back-through passing sequence.
    • Fellaini’s ability to win the ball in the air helped United keep possession and maintain pressure on Leverkusen’s backline. Despite his good performance yesterday (87% pass completion, 2/2 tackles, 12  recoveries, 4/4 clearances) he does not solve all of United’s midfield problems.  His passing was a bit erratic and it’s important we use him as an assured passer rather than a creative one. He does a great job of keeping it simple and moving it quickly but he’s not going to find the killer pass.  He will also need to maintain his concentration as he got turned by a few of Leverkusen’s midfielders and failed to track runners on a few occasions.  The good thing is it’s his first start and he will only get better.
  • United’ finally pressing as a unit
    • After many failed attempts over the past couple seasons, United look organised and resolute in their pressing.  Right from the off, Leverkusen had little time on the ball.  The second we lost the ball, two or three players would hound the ball carrier while cutting off the passing angles. Vidic got a lot of his interceptions this way.  Leverkusen like to play on the counterattack and they tried to get the ball to Kiessling quickly.  Vidic would step up from defense to cut out the pass and then pass the ball off to one our midfielders who cycled it forward.
    • Pressing in this way leads to United winning the ball in higher areas and that keeps our opponent on their toes.  One chance we failed to take was when Rooney was gifted the ball after one of Leverkusen’s backs slipped.  Rooney should have played the pass first-time but the chance never would have came if it wasn’t for our forwards pushing high on their backline.
  • Lack of communication in back
    • Although United defended well, the lack of communication at times was worrying and it cost us the second goal. De Gea should have come for the cross sooner as Rio didn’t need to head it out of play.  Rio didn’t have a great game himself either. His poor header out of defense led to Leverkusen’s first. He’ll need to be more decisive against City as Aguero is in fine form and could pose a few problems for the centreback.
  • Moyes’ aim for tactical fluidity
    • We covered this in a previous article. Moyes likes for his players to transition quickly from defense to attack or vice versa, no matter where they are on the field.  There were moments where both Rooney and van Persie were defending out on the left wing while Kagawa moved more central. These situations were simply game-specific and showed the players admirably adapting to the situation quickly.  It allowed United to keep their shape even if all the players weren’t in their original positions. The penultimate moment for Moyes’ plan was United’s final goal on the night which came from some deft footwork from van Persie in United’s half and a delightfully weighted pass from Rooney to the onrushing Valencia who finished with aplomb.
  • Shinji needs more match fitness
    • There was clamor from United supporters to play Shinji Kagawa.  Yesterday’s performance showed why Moyes hasn’t been overly keen to play the Japanese playmaker just yet.  In his first game of the new campaign, Kagawa’s mixed performance contained great touches, smart movement, slow reactions to a few plays and getting bumped off the ball.  He faded in the second half and showed he’ll need more game time before we see his best.  Since it was his first game back, we can’t be too harsh but he will need to improve if he wants to be a regular in the team.
    • I think he fits in Moyes plans as I expect the Scot to use him similarly to how he used Pienaar.  Based on Kagawa’s movements yesterday, he is still adjusting to what Moyes requires and the movement of his teammates.  Kagawa’s situation requires patience on our part as fans. He should come good but he needs more games.  Don’t expect him to start against City. His match fitness isn’t quite there yet.
  • Shades of the Valencia we know
    • Despite an average first half, as more space opened up  in the second, Valencia delighted United fans with some dazzling runs as he repeatedly took on his man with devastating pace.  He finally provided some end product with a great delivery for United’s second goal of the night and could have had a few more assists.  His goal celebration was great to see as he’s a player who rarely shows his emotions on or off the pitch. His celebration was to his best friend, Chucho Benitez, who passed away earlier this summer.  Hopefully he can maintain this level of performance.
  • Bayer need Bender fit for next match against United
    • Bayer Leverkusen didn’t really begin to threaten with much force until Bender came on.  You could see why he’s viewed as a crucial player for them.  He was one of the only players to give Fellaini a tough time in midfield and on one occasion brushed him off the ball.  He gave them the presence they were lacking throughout most of the match. We should a expect a tougher game in Bayer especially if his name is in the starting lineup.

As always, thanks for reading.

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