Man Utd vs Sunderland

Manchester United in Need of Divine Intervention

Most likely in the form of Angel Di Maria – no pun intended.

Their last EPL match against Sunderland was, again, a display of a team not only lacking in confidence but tactical awareness and genuine class.

In the first minute itself, we got a taste of Ashley Young’s class where he gifted the opposition with a thru ball via a back pass between his two central defenders. Thankfully Sunderland’s striker had not warmed up properly yet and was probably not expecting to find himself in such a good position so early.

He proved himself time and again to be a true mid-table winger with his poor crossing ability. If you were wondering if he even made that many crosses, well not really – and those that he did never looked to threaten anyone except the fans sitting close to the bylines. I could go on for another few hundred words about Young but let’s not waste time on him. With any luck, he will be out of the club come transfer deadline day.

United’s goal, which came from a ball drilled in from the ‘one trick pony’ Antonio Valencia, was a lucky one to say the least. Two defenders coming across to block the pass in, what are the odds that the ball goes between both their legs? Run that scenario ten times and Juan Mata would have only gotten to the end of that ball once which happened to be on Sunday. A lucky goal for United, but credit to Valencia for powering the ball across and Mata for his positional sense.

Let’s discuss the elephant in the room. The 3-5-2 formation which ended up being an ineffective 5-3-2. United were supposed to play with 3 central defenders preferably spread across the length of the pitch forming a back 3 with 2 of them in full back positions. The 2 wing-backs, Young and Valencia, were to be pushed further up the pitch, providing options in attack and to track back when defending.

Instead what I saw was a flat 5-man defense comprising of 2 confused “wing-full backs” and three central defenders who weren’t quite sure if they should deploy a zonal or man marking system. This led to confusion in the back when long balls came floating into the danger area and everyone was relying on each other to collect and dispose of the danger. Not to mention that 22 year old Phil Jones was the most experienced defender in that initial back three.

There are a couple of reasons the 3-5-2 will take some time to work out at United. For a club so used to a traditional 4-4-2, it might be hard to operate with only 3 at the back. Defenders need to be confident in their own abilities and they need to trust their 2 main central midfielders and 2 wing-backs to drop deep to assist when needed.

You’ve got one “senior” defender flanked by two newbies expected to play wider positions with their wing-backs pushing high up the field. In all fairness, Tyler Blackett does not seem to lack in confidence and neither is he afraid to boss around his seniors.

Assuming the back 3 are more or less decent defenders, maybe un-blooded but talented is good enough for me–why in the world are the wing-backs dropping deep forcing them to the middle and forming a flat 5-man defense?

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It all boils down to tactical and positional awareness. United may be the only top European team to buy wingers from clubs like Aston Villa and Wigan. What was Ferguson thinking when he made those signings!?

Valencia lost his appeal after one season, cause in the next–everyone found out his “move” (if you didn’t already know, he pushes the ball to his right and continues to do so until he can swing a blind cross into the box or out of play).

Young never had any appeal, well just cause he isn’t a good player. Average on a good day – so just imagine all his other days. More famous for his diving skills than anything else, United should have rightfully been awarded a penalty had anyone else but Young been fouled inside the box.

Another problem area for United is in the middle of the park – and has been so ever since Roy Keane left the club. Sure we had Scholes to pull the strings for a while but without the steel in midfield, United have been overrun time and again by both bigger and smaller clubs as the first two games of the EPL have shown.

Cleverley is no longer the “young and promising” player he was once touted to be. His passing is one dimensional and its always to his sides. He may be a dynamic player with his off-the-ball running but his lack of reading and tactical awareness (intelligence, as we call it) leaves much to be desired of his movement.

Fletcher, once a Red hero seems to have lost his footing a little. Perhaps it was a one-off thing against Sunderland but if this continues, it could be a real worry for fans.

Both players had their fair share of wayward passes to the opponents and losing the ball in undesirable areas. The only thing commendable about the pair would have to be their work rate, and the rate at which they were fouling their opponents (15 fouls in the whole match!).

Moving on to where the true class of United stood: upfront and alone without a ball to play with, Mata, Rooney and Robin van Persie were spectators for most of the match although Rooney probably realized this somewhere in the second half and started dropping really deep to relieve the ball off his incompetent teammates.

There’s no real point in having such a potent attacking force when your traction and build up is poor. These players need to see more of the ball to realize their full potential. This unfulfilled potential is what made the match against Sunderland mainly United defending, and losing the ball when it mattered most.

In short, the 3-5-2 formation can work if the players know their positions and roles. The manager needs to discipline his players into playing where he wants them to and stop them from auto-roaming into their self-assigned positions.

United will need to invest heavily in one world class defender and central midfielder if they are to finish in the top four come end of season. The signing of Di Maria will hopefully be a step forward in adding quality to an otherwise inadequate squad.

Sir Alex Ferguson, who said that he had left the team in their “strongest possible shape” prior to his retirement must have lost it…