Last Saturday’s home loss to Tottenham must have hurt every Man United fan as any loss would but that episode left a lot of fans in a very admissive mood. The past 2 or so seasons had shown that even though games were being won, deficiencies were also present and against Spurs, these same concerns were highlighted in bright red, especially in the first half.
1. WE LACKED A PHYSICAL PRESENCE IN MIDFIELD
It was very worrying seeing that Spurs’ first two goals were a direct consequence of not having some steel in the middle of the park. Vertonghen played an easy give-and-go with Bale simply because we lacked a body to break the play up and as Vertonghen was in the penalty area, our midfield pair was far away from the action. The flaw repeated itself in the goal Spurs’ scored and it was even more glaring this time. Bale had a free run at goal and not even the presence of Ferdinand was a bother to the Welsh speedster. Carrick was dispossessed by Sandro in front of Spurs’ penalty area and that singular act resulted in Bale celebrating and Man United fans shocked. Spurs dominated the first half through Sandro and Dembele and never allowed us any chance at finding something because our only creative source, Kagawa, was stifled and neutralized and we had no one to level the equation.
2. THE AGEING LEGS MUST BE REPLACED OR AT LEAST WELL MANAGED
Rio Ferdinand and Ryan Giggs have been brilliant players for the team for a long time. They have given sterling performances season in, season out and it is the reason why they are still important to the team. However, they are aging and that is the hard truth. Last Saturday, confirmed this for Rio but for Giggs, the signs had been there for some time and Anfield was the most recent case. His failure to stay wide on the left was a major problem for the team as it left Evra facing Lennon all by himself for the majority of the first half. Giggs kept drifting infield into the central areas but surprisingly, he did not impact the play in any way as Scholes and Carrick were dominated by Spurs who had Defoe, Dempsey, and Dembele all in the midfield space. Had Giggs worked harder, it would have been a 3v3 in that zone and United might have put up a better contest in the first half. In addition, Giggs’ horizontal movement meant that we constantly looked for Nani down the right and that made our shape very lopsided all to Spurs’ benefit. For Rio, his shortness of pace was exposed by Defoe and Bale in Spurs’ first 2 goals. Defoe forced him into a zone close to right-back in the Vertonghen goal while Bale left him for dead in the second goal. The choice of Giggs for the game was very wrong because he lacks the pace now to affect games of this nature when the opposition has enormous energy to press and run very well. For Rio, Saturday’s game should tell the gaffer to maybe begin the search for a long-term successor. For both players, the key is to manage them well and use them wisely even if that means keeping them out of such intense games in the future if there are other options available.
3. THE SECOND HALF SHOWED HOW OUR ATTACK SHOULD LOOK LIKE
Spurs may have backed off in the second half so United’s increased tempo was very logical but had the team played in that manner and more importantly, started likewise especially in terms of personnel, things could have been different. Rooney replaced Giggs and went in behind Van Persie, Kagawa went to the left and Nani started moving into central areas and instantly, United got goals and looked dangerous and even struck the bar from a Rooney free kick. It livened the home crowd and Man United fans all over the world who were watching the game. The front four worked very well and it is important that the intensity is carried on into the coming games. However, there are still a few things that must improve with the attack.
First, it seems we are still unsure of how to use Kagawa to get the best out of him. His time at Dortmund showed how well he thrived when passes were given to him when he had run into space beyond his markers. We got it right twice in the game with Carrick giving one of such passes in the first half that the Japanese used to turn away from his markers and Van Persie giving the other that led to a goal.
The other issue we must address is our movement into the box especially when Van Persie moves out wide to cross the ball. The Dutchman was bought to score goals but he can set them up as well and the players must understand that vital point because racking the goals up has shown to be very important. Against Spurs, no one was interested in getting into dangerous areas to receive cross and that was a major problem on Saturday.
Many Man United fans will hope that Saturday’s defeat will be the wakeup call that has been long overdue. The team’s potential is never in doubt and the second half performance proved this but the first half display showed just how easily good teams can tear us apart and the gaffer must guard against this because there is still a long way to go both in England and in Europe.
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