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This is part 2 of a tactical analysis of Manchester United’s performances and the potential conclusions which arise from these games.
Another slow start by Manchester United and another comeback in what could have been a much more comfortable game. United have now conceded first in 13 of their 20 games this season and it should come as to no surprise part of the problem stems from midfield.
Scholes was partnered with Fletcher in midfield against a QPR side known for their slack organization and lack of defensive discipline. Yet for most of the first half, United struggled to break down QPR as the players grew increasingly frustrated with slack passes and teammates not being on the same page. So what does this exactly have to do with midfield? It became apparent with 20 minutes into the first half, it wasn’t going to be a comfortable day for Manchester United. Between the two in midfield, they were slow to initiate attacks, slow to get back into their defensive positions, and took too much time on the ball. Now let’s be clear, not all the blame should be left at their feet. Rooney had an average half and Young’s influence waned after 10 minutes. Welbeck was bright but inconsistent with his decision making. From a tactical point of view, Manchester United were unbalanced in midfield and the gaps which have been present in other matches reared its ugly head around again.
When United attacked, there were times Fletcher tried to compensate for Scholes’ lack of pace and ability to break from midfield. However, most of Fletcher’s runs were not well-timed and he often went too far forward, disengaging himself from the build-up play. This is more alarming when you consider the fact that Scholes doesn’t cover well defensively and QPR left Mackie and Cisse forward to be ready for the quick counterattack. As noted in previous matches, when Scholes and his midfield partner (in this case Fletcher) pushed up as a combo, there was space left in behind which was not covered by the backline. Even though United had the majority of possession, we were very sloppy with our passes in the final third.
As QPR grew more confident, they sought to capitalize on our poor passing by catching us on the break. There were several occasions where they broke through our midfield and on one occasion, Rooney ran the length of the pitch just to cover for Fletcher and Scholes. It is safe to assume that having more possession should mean QPR shouldn’t be gifted these opportunities. Nonetheless, it is important to see why they are getting these opportunities in the first place. They were encouraged by the fact there was little to no cover through the middle and once they found either Cisse, Mackie, or Taarabt on the break, they went right at our backline. It was a similar scenario to our first half performance against Aston Villa.
It’s getting close to December and we still haven’t addressed our slow starts. Not only do we start slow in the first half, but we also start slow in the second half. QPR’s goal off the short corner was the 9th goal United has conceded within the first 15 minutes of the second half. You have to wonder if starting with less energetic players is having an effect on our starts. Scholes at 38, clearly doesn’t have the legs to do the work required to handle getting up and down the pitch against a packed midfield. Yet, we pair with him a midfield partner who is still off the pace and the gaps that have been present last season and this season appear. This imbalance means Rooney has to drop deep to try and balance out their lack of movement and quicken the tempo from a deeper position.
In our performance against Norwich and Villa, the quality from our wide players was not sufficient and meant we struggled to break through their defence from wide areas. As a result, United tried to thread balls through the middle when it was already congested and the opposition had cut off most of the passing lanes. We also tried playing passes over the top which mainly went to a QPR player or no one at all. When your tempo is at a walking pace, it makes it easier for the opposition to maintain organization when you switch the direction of attack. So when Scholes or Fletcher attempted to thread balls through the middle, QPR’s midfield and backline were more than ready to step in and snuff out the pass which left our attackers very little time on the ball. When we chose to force it wide, QPR were mostly prepared for it as our slow play made it predictable when we going to try and play through our wingers or full backs. There were moments where we got past their backline using this method but it wasn’t until later in the second half did we show more incisiveness and goalscoring threat.
On paper, our starting lineup should have been able to deal with QPR comfortably. However, we continue to make the same mistakes by expecting more possession to lead to dominating the match. It’s not necessarily how much possession you have but what you do with it and for 60 minutes, except for QPR’s poor play in the final third, you could say they were on par with us. Maybe Sir Alex feels we can get away with this sort of setup. I would agree but when our choices in midfield pairings repeatedly show basic tactical errors from a defensive and attacking standpoint, it begins to worry me. It has got to the point now where seeing Giggs or Scholes starting in midfield dampens the hopes of some fans going into a match. In almost every match, we have struggled to play well when they are in the team. It is not purely their fault. They don’t pick which games to play. They don’t pick whether or not they play in an unbalanced midfield. They don’t choose which wingers accompany them on the flanks and how much support they receive from Rooney. This falls on the manager and it’s time for Sir Alex to use Scholes and Giggs more effectively rather than putting too much trust in them. It’s tainting their legacies as their inclusion in the team works against us more than for us. We know despite their age they still have something to offer, but how are we going to see the fruits of that if we’re not using them well? It’s a talking point which is becoming rather mundane to bring up but it’s a major one since it strongly impacts the balance of our team.
With West Ham coming up, it’s another opportunity to choose a more balanced midfield and attacking setup which gets the most out of the players who are currently available. I trust Sir Alex to carry this team forward but I really do hope he finds a way to use Giggs and Scholes more effectively. The current method isn’t working. It already cost us against Spurs at home. It already cost us at Norwich. If Sir Alex isn’t careful, it’s going to cost us again. Some remark this is Ferguson’s usual rotation policy. It doesn’t excuse putting out a side which is imbalanced. No matter how good the lineup, it’s going to struggle if the balance of the team isn’t right. I’m sure other fans will disagree with me and think Scholes and Giggs are still strongly suited for an expansive 4-4-2 setup that United have used for some time now. My question is it worth potentially losing a match because we are seemingly too stubborn to find a better solution? Time will tell.
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