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Man United just don’t have the passers…
United’s problems in big (and some lesser) games is not down to just Mourinho’s tactics. The tactics surely a have a role to play but the hidden issue here is the players and their inability to play through the press or start counters under duress. Okay, hear me out!
A few weeks ago, I posted here after the Southampton game that the key to beating United is to flood the midfield with numbers and press high. Southampton did that and Liverpool did it as well. Elite teams should be used to coping with this. It’s nothing new. Seeing our lack of midfield options, it was always likely that Liverpool would pack the midfield. Having Coutinho move central in the second half ensured that Liverpool had all the possession. I also said that United could counter this strategy by playing possession-based football on the front foot, thereby negating this numerical advantage. United didn’t do this.
Playing on the counter is also a great strategy if and only if you can regain possession, get people breaking at pace and releasing them with proper balls forward. So, what went wrong? United did regain possession in good areas through Matic, Herrera, Smalling and Jones. First problem though was the quality of passing when the ball was in United’s half. This is not a big game problem. United have this problem against any team that puts any pressure on the ball. We struggle to put five passes together before a back pass and an aimless lump forward by Smalling (Commander-in-chief of aimlessly lumped balls). You can replay the Southampton or Everton games as well as other games from last year and you’ll see this every time we are pressed. The lack of movement is also a problem and is apparent when Valencia gets the ball under pressure. He looks around for support, finds none and resorts to the chipped ball forward.
Second problem was the quality of forward balls. United playing defensively away from home is not new. This was Fergie’s modus operandi. Even when Fergie faced weakened Arsenal sides at the Emirates, he still sat deep and countered fast and hard. The facilitators of this approach were Scholes, Carrick and Giggs (centre mid version). They could start counter-attacks with simple and accurate forward balls, even under pressure. This current United crop seem to choke under the press and resort to aimless lumps. If you are going to play on the counter, your balls from defence to attack have to be spot on. Herrera is a lovely player but the guiltiest party here. He seems in a hurry to get his clearance stats up instead of staying calm and releasing a team mate. His positioning when receiving the ball from defenders when we are under pressure is also suspect. This leaves the defenders with little else to do than to lump forward. Lukaku was getting over hit balls and never really stood a chance.
Another player that deserves a paragraph is Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Mkhi loses the ball on the counter far too often. He plays without aggression, doesn’t protect the ball, doesn’t actively defend and is very casual with his passes. This is not a knee-jerk reaction. Most United fans would know that even in those opening games where he racked up assists and made it into every Fantasy team, he was drifting in and out of games far too often. He is supposed to be United’s version of KdB and has the talent but he needs to wake up. I personally fancy Mata for that playmaker role and think that Mkhi needs some of Jose’s bench loving!
Fact is that United fans should get used to the low block defence because this is how we will play away from home, especially in the Champions League. I don’t like it but it is going to happen. The players need to get their passing game on and if Mourinho wants to play this way, he should improve their play under pressure.
Chuck, MUFC, London
…I feel I was watching a different match on Saturday than other people. The consensus is that Jose completely packed the bus and only went for the draw. While I’ll admit Jose set his team up defensively, this was a long way from last season’s match against Liverpool or the dire games against Spurs and Arsenal last season.
I view the game as Jose set out his team defensively but with the ability to counter. There were times in the first half that United had plenty forward and we’re certainly higher up the pitch positionally that last season’s fixture. We didn’t create much but Liverpool didn’t do much either. Missing a player or two away at Anfield, I think most United fans would have been reasonably happy at half time.
The second was a different matter. I don’t think United’s tactics changed in the second half, we just didn’t execute the game plan. Simply put, United were awful with the ball. Defensively we were suspect (Darmian isn’t very good) but most importantly we were just terrible with the ball. We gave it away so cheaply that it meant we were on the back foot for long parts of the second half.
Mhki, Herrera and matic were all guilty of wasting possession which meant no platform to play. Rashford never got a chance to run at the full-back, or young to cross from a good position in the second half.
I feel there’s a subtle difference in all this. There was more intent to play this year at Anfield I feel but the ability to do so was lacking.
Saturday’s game has one hidden conclusion: Pogba is becoming a big miss for United.
Dave P MUFC Dublin
Man United will not win the league…
I broadly categorise managers into two categories: those that want to win; and those that don’t want to lose. How fine the line is obviously varies from manager to manager, from match to match and from period to period. To give an example, a manager going through an injury crisis coupled with a tough run of fixtures may be solely focused on getting his team through with draws aka avoiding defeat. Even the ultimate want-to-win extremist Pep Guardiola, when at Barca, often played for draws away from home in the CL, particularly in the latter stage. If he could take a win, great – otherwise he backed his teams to blow opposition away at home. On occasion, like away at Monaco last season, even his desire to want to win, to play, surprises his players.
Keeping the preamble in mind, why do I call Jose Mourinho a loser? Because his default is very nearly always to not lose, particularly at the crunch (real or manufactured). I only watched 20-25 minutes of the derby on Saturday but nothing surprised me. Darmian at left back, the offensive Black Hole. Ashley Young at right wing (who really is an ex-forward), the second offensive Black Hole. People want to blame the players but these are players whose starting instructions are to defend with their lives (it’s f***ing Liverpool without Mane…seriously). These are players that have been putting four goals past all and sundry, even if we admit that not all performances have been great. Ander Herrera gets blame for not being able to pass the ball but he’s playing in a system that isn’t maximising his gifts – he excelled at Bilbao, pressing from the front and in constant movement, combining with his teammates. The same player that is copping so much flak at the moment dominated Liverpool under Van Gaal at Anfield a couple of seasons ago (not saying that I miss Van Gaal but…). Anthony Martial, who’s been so devastating this season, is then asked to take on a whole new different approach, receiving the ball next to his Black Hole and being asked to do it all.
Of course the players will look at themselves and be convinced they should have done better (they should have), but this isn’t the first time we’ve seen a Mourinho team play like this and the players play below their capabilities as a result. The most egregious instance will always remain Chelsea getting knocked out of the CL semis by Atletico Madrid in 2013. With an away goal in the bag, Jose set his team up to avoid defeat, but got the players confused because they always knew that away goal would never be enough. They promptly conceded three at home.
A Manchester United supporter friend of mine said something – “if you want to see why Man City will win the league, look at this trash at Anfield”. We won’t be beating anybody of consequence with that pile of crap. Thanks, Jose.
Jose pragmatism makes sense
I can’t understand detractors of José Mourinho. Whether he has had bundles of cash or not he he transformed United into winners and is gearing up for a title battle.
What would Liverpool want? An open United and a great game of football they would probably win 3-2. Spurs fan disclosure at this point – everyone now comes to Wembley with a thrilling back eight formation (5-3-1-1 if you like) and you know what – it works. Spurs went to Liverpool last year – admirably tried to play, people enjoyed the game, and got battered. I hope we take a leaf out of the José/ Dortmund at home this season book and play with a game-plan when required.
Dave (Real Madrid tomorrow!), Winchester Spurs
How can Man United be losers?
Four of the losers from the weekend are Manchester United related. Has a team ever come close to winning the league and thought of all the dropped points it was a draw at Anfield that cost them? The Champions lost to a team who hadn’t scored in five months. Klopp has had three league games at Anfield v United and not scored a goal (including one LVG game). Arsenal were Arsenal. I appreciate that mentioning MUFC might be in the interest of your reading figures but come on…
Klopp cannot win…
Keeps (East Of Mancunia) reckons Klopp should share the blame for the bore draw at Anfield because he subbed off Coutinho, Firmino and Salah?
That would be the same two Brazilians who were major doubts to start the game at all, due to their late return from international duty and the debilitating affects on athletes of 12 hour flights in pressurised flight cabins in advance of a game. Then we have the physically and mentally drained Salah, who a couple of days previously had taken responsibility for a 94-minute game winning penalty to help Egypt qualify for their first World Cup in 30 years. Point being, this wasn’t a walk in the park English-styled qualification against minnows – this was the pinnacle of pressure with everything on the line in a frantic, winner takes all, World Cup decider.
That the three of them lasted for 75 mins only emphasised Klopp’s ambition and how much he wanted to win. When all three players had given all they had and were visibly tiring, he replaced them.
I’ve also heard United fans (and the usual sycophantic pundits) back up Mourinho’s desperate distraction tactic of suggesting Klopp was conservative in subbing like for like replacements instead of taking off one of Liverpool’s midfield three. I laughed at the press conference when he said this, and now his sheep are loudly bleating the same nonsense.
So let me get this straight – these people suggest Klopp should share the blame for the poor spectacle because he refused to change an already extremely attack minded and fluid 4-3-3 into a frankly ridiculous and childlike 4-2-4? Apparently this is why Mourinho had absolutely no choice but to retain a rigid 7-2-1 formation???
These are the very same people who will ridicule Klopp for his defensive frailties. The very same people who go to extraordinary lengths to defend Mourinho for his consistent and predictable big game negatively; lambasting Klopp for not playing with four strikers…
You really couldn’t make this up.
That was opportunity missed for Man United
Liverpool have been in rotten form. They can’t score, they can’t defend. Surely one goal for United would have secured three points for United and done unimaginable psychological damage to Liverpool’s season.
Mourinho didn’t ‘revert to type’. Mourinho type is parking the bus and trying the smash and grab. There was no smash.
United fans can pretend they are the happier of the two sides, but really Liverpool should be especially after City putting out a statement that there is only one team in Manchester. A clean sheet against a United team scoring regularly, resting key players ahead of an important Champions League game due to United lethargic nature, and showing the league that the ‘fear’ of United is not quite back.
It was a must-not-lose for Liverpool and they didn’t.
Brian (On to Tuesday) LFC
How are we even discussing a Lukaku ‘miss’? It was a decent chance, nothing more nothing less. He didn’t score, so it wasn’t good enough, but most strikers will get a few of these chances per game, some will be scored, some won’t. Are we now judging Lukaku on not having scored from every shot he takes?
Loathing smug Pep
Reading Pochettino’s comments about Pep this morning, after he called Spurs the Harry Kane team has riled me right up. And I support neither Spurs nor City.
No-one else think Pep (this coaching ‘God’) is just a smug fuc***? I totally agree with Poch. “Guardiola can look down on others when he is riding high – as he and City are, at present”.
City are battering sides by 5+ goals this season, and sorry, they should be. Spend £100m quid on FBs with their plethora of attacking talent and City should walk the title.
Yes they look very, very good, but that’s what the best players in the world will give you.
Seeing them bring Gundogan, YYT and Bernardo Silva off the bench – without even asking Aguero to warm up – something would be seriously wrong if they were not walking the league.
I know it is an old-age argument, but these top coaches just go where the money is – they will get paid more and there budget will be much bigger. Pep was only ever going to City when he left Bayern. He needs very expensive tools to do his job.
Leads me to Jose, I don’t think I have ever hated anyone related to football more than him. Saying Utd will not be his last job – hinting at PSG. That is laughable. Another of the richest sides on the planet. He will have worked his way round the full set.
Or, there is always China for his retirement.
You want a challenge guys, take over at Everton or Liverpool. Then we will see how good you are. Get them playing like ‘Pep’s Barca’. Which as Poch rightly noted, have continued to win things after he left, with Messi.
Sorry, just a bit bored of this Pep love-in. The two sides who spent the most this summer, by some distance, are top of the league. And Jose still reverts to the bus in a big game.
No-one else find it all a bit predictable?
Paul ‘although I do bloody love De Bruyne, his body shape and way of running is just like Gerrard’s’ London
Late thoughts on Chelsea
– Our win at Atletico Madrid is the gold standard of what we can accomplish. In the ensuing weeks, I foresee Chelsea struggles like the AVB or RDM season but before Abramovich decides to go upon his mad sacking moment, I would implore him to watch what Conte can do when he has a team/squad of his liking.
– That said, I seriously feel Conte’s problems off-late are of his own making. In both City and Palace game, he got some personnel horribly wrong. Why start Willian when he looks like a world beater only when the whole team is doing a 1/10? Why rigidly sticking to same defenders when there are fresher and potentially better defenders available? Why not play Christen each game when he clearly is the stand out ball playing defender plus amazing defending 1 v 1?
– That brings me to the point of Cesc Fabregas. So far my view was that he was useless in a two-man midfield only v big teams, or generally useless in a big game. Now I’ve come to the conclusion that he’s totally useless in a two-man midfield. All due respect to Palace who were going to get their luck soon, but we should’ve been clinical in midfield. The whole game was going past Fabregas. Bakayoko’s role is not a defensive role. He is a dynamic box to box midfield player There are many who argue Cesc is our only source of creativity and he produces magic in moments each game. I’m sorry. I disagree I’d rather have a more robust athletic midfield player and sacrifice this creativity so that overall the team is better. I don’t want to carry a player especially in midfield, especially in today’s era, especially in the PL. If he was anywhere close to being that midfield player, he’d be Xavi’s heir at Barcelona. I love some of his touches and assists, but he is more of a liability, off late than anything else. For someone his talent, he must control a game’s tempo and I’ve never witnessed that for most of his duration at Chelsea.
– A midfield of Luiz and Bakayoko is the way to go forward till Kante (whose already high stock is going up with absence) is back. Please put Christensen in defense!
– I again can’t believe saying this but Gary Cahill had another outstanding day. That is three games in a row our captain has put no foot wrong. Long may this continue.
– A small note on Eden Hazard. He has this knack of giving up in games when rest of the teams do badly. While there’s an argument that the best player has to stand out I can also understand his sulking. If Hazard had the same players that KDB has at City, he’d be twice the player KDB is. That is where Chelsea are now (as sad as it is to me).
– And Michy Batshuai. Batshuai = Batshit vs Palace. Time he closed his twitter account and figured why Conte does not rate him at all. I now know. No movement, not offering a reference point, cannot hold the ball. I can go on. He was absolutely a waste of space for 56 minutes. More work needs to be done by him before he can become a regular starter.
– Chelsea have injury problems We do not have a world-class wing-back in either position (Alonso is good, but tiny distance below world class). Our midfielders are pulling hamstrings each week. These are tough times given our difficult early fixtures and injuries. But I do think the squad we have is a top-three squad and we have arguably one of the best coaches in the world. Give Conte time and the squad he demands and I see him build something incredible at Chelsea for the next man to follow him.
Aravind, Chelsea fan
No team could cope without key creators
While reading Winners and Losers, I was amazed to read that Sanchez and Ozil created 414 of our 1,000 chances since 2015. Then I thought, that’s probably the same for everyone. It makes sense that the best attacking players would be responsible for most chances created. This season, I looked at the top five players and % contribution to overall chances:
Chelsea – 82 chances
Fabregas – 20
Kante – 10
Alonso – 8
Azpul – 7
Morata – 6
Utd – 93
Miki – 23
Lukaku – 12
Mata – 12
Rashford – 9
Pogba – 9
City – 117
De Bruyne – 26
Silva – 25
Aguero – 14
Sane – 11
Sterling – 9
Pool – 118
Firminho – 15
Coutinho – 14
Henderson – 11
Salah – 10
Moreno – 9
Spurs – 105
Eriksen – 19
Ali – 16
Davies – 15
Sissoko – 10
Tripier – 12
Arsenal – 102
Ozil – 17
Xhaka – 12
Sanchez – 11
Welbeck – 8
Lacazette – 7
– Silva (22%) and De Bruyne (22%) is about 44% of total chances created. One injury and they could cut a quarter of their chances created.
– 25% of Chelsea’s chances are created by Cesc, although they still have Hazard to come back to fitness, but means they are fairly reliant on Cesc.
– Miki is responsible for 24%, next closest is Lukaku with 12%, so again heavily reliant on one player.
– 16% are created by Ozil, Sanchez 10%, so losing both would potentially cut efficiency by 25% (one Cesc/ De Bruyne or Silva).
– Firminho (12%) and Coutinho (11%) lead a fairly nicely spread Liverpool list.
– Spurs are also nicely spread, 47% are tied up in the top three players.
I am in no way trying to say that losing Sanchez and Ozil wouldn’t be anything short of a disaster (we would be f*****) but its no difference for any of the other big teams. Liverpool and Spurs are ok but if you take the top two from Chelsea/City/Utd or Arsenal, they would all struggle.
Rob A (nearly 50% on two players, wow) AFC
More on refereeing at Brighton v Everton…
Having read Ian EFCs email, I couldn’t help but chuckle. As a Brighton ST holder in the North Stand, the overriding feedback from the game from almost all of our fans was that we’d been robbed by awful refereeing decisions (although no one can doubt the Everton penalty – what was Bruno doing?!). In fact, it genuinely felt like Everton were playing with an extra man throughout the whole game, such was the biased nature of Oliver’s refereeing.
It got so bad that there was a roar of ironic approval when Oliver finally gave us a decision in the 45th minute. From that moment on, every decision we got (which wasn’t many) was greeted with a further roar.
So in summary, I agree with Ian – the refereeing does need looking at (and Oliver’s place in the pecking order, in particular). After all, if both fans are coming away absolutely disgusted by a referee’s performance, then something clearly isn’t right.
James (Brighton Fan)
Love for Troy
I’m on board with Yash, MUFC’s shout-out for recognising the low-profile players. I’m actually going to pick another Watford player, one that I always keep an eye on when I happen to catch Watford on TV due to his all round influence on the game and his team mates, one Troy Deeney (I’m always intrigued by strikers who are captains but that’s probably another mailbox entry).
I enjoyed his pos- match comments after the Arsenal game: “Let me whack the first one and see who wants it”. That all sounds very cliched and you hear it whenever anyone beats Arsenal but I thought he articulated it well and it seemed calculated and predetermined as opposed to just instinctive brute force.
In addition to his bullying of the defence I was impressed with the presence he showed on the field. This isn’t just about being physical but having tactical nous to be in the right places and proactively affect the game. Again, whenever I hear him speak or see how he manages himself on the pitch I see an intelligent, thinking footballer. He’s a big, burly bloke from the midlands playing for an unfashionable PL side so I don’t think he gets the credit he deserves either in terms of his in-game intelligence or his role in keeping Watford safely in the PL over the last two years. Add to that the fact that he’s (outwardly at least) remained professional and supportive of his manager this season while he’s been coming on from the bench and you have a player that would be a huge asset to any team.
I would love for him to play in the red of my beloved Liverpool. He might not have the silky touch of our forward players but he’d compensate for that by taking the initiative in games and dragging them over the line, something we’ve failed to do for most of this season, despite our abundance of talent.
A special kind of joy comes from celebrating your first goal of the season halfway through October. That was pretty much all I had hoped for but the sight of Speroni in goal and Wilf on the pitch created a buzz before a ball was kicked. Saturday was a day when the team and the fans combined to spur each other on and create a performance that has been absent since we beat Arsenal in April.
I have to say I was impressed with Roy’s tactics. Zaha and Townsend up front made the Chelsea back three unsure and nervous. Our midfield was narrow and allowed plenty of time to their wing backs, especially in the second half but with only Hazard to cross to later in the game we were happy to allow them to keep the ball out wide.
Wilf Zaha. I don’t think it is possible to ever love a player any more. Out injured since the opening day, to come back and play 90 minutes, scoring the winner and terrifying the Champions defence is a herculean effort. He was pretty much dead on his feet for the last 20/25 minutes but being up front allowed him to rest and save his energy for when we had a break on. Keeping him on the pitch was risky in my opinion but without him Chelsea would have committed even more forward and perhaps we’d be looking at a point. A lot of the team come out with credit from Saturday, but for me Luka Milivojevic is absolutely key to this team. The guy is just class, he physically stood up to the battle with Chelsea’s midfield and his ability and composure on the ball is so valuable to a team down where we are. He should be one of the first names on the team sheet.
It is all very Palace to beat this lot after not scoring or winning for seven games. It will be even more Palace to go to Newcastle next week and shoot ourselves in the foot at some point. It is even more typical that we were shunned from first spot on Match of the Day because City decided to go and score seven bloody goals. Oh well, it was just nice to be able to watch it for once.
…Heartily endorsing Yorkshire Wildlife Park as a fun place for a day out.
* Saturday afternoon was rather fun, wasn’t it? I don’t make predictions and I never will, but I had a good feeling when I saw Wilfried Zaha and Julian Speroni in the starting XI.
* A few years ago there was discussion on this site and on Twitter about litmus tests: ways of gauging whether someone’s opinions are worth listening to. Strong examples were whether or not they rated a pre-Manchester United Zlatan Ibrahimovic, or if they didn’t rate Dimitar Berbatov because he didn’t run around enough. A new one would be wether or not they rate Wilfried Zaha. For the past couple of seasons he has been consistently one of the best attacking players in the Premier League, unafraid of taking players on, and has added the “end product” so many of his detractors claim he doesn’t have.
He is so much better than the predicaments his club have found themselves in, and yet, there has been no ounce of complaint, not the faintest suggestion he is shirking the challenge. He also always comes across as a lovely chap, and has, since he turned professional, been giving 10% of his salary to charity.
* This is the second successive meeting between the Eagles and the Pensioners that has ended in a 2-1 victory for Palace. After the previous game, in April, yours truly made it into Winners & Losers (as a winner, no less), explaining the unconventional formation that Sam Allardyce used so successfully. On that occasion, they used a Christmas Tree formation, with Zaha and Andros Townsend starting wide and running in at the centre-backs. This time, there was a four-man midfield, with Zaha and Townsend nominally as strikers, but really the system was designed to exploit the space left by David Luiz when he steps up, and Gary Cahill’s perceived lack of pace.
While Zaha is obviously amazing, with a talent that isn’t necessarily available at other teams, that’s twice now that Palace have shown the way that lesser sides can set up to beat Chelsea. I wouldn’t normally recommend other teams copy the Eagles, but you have to wonder whether Marco Silva will have taken some inspiration ahead of the Tim Lovejoy Derby next weekend. The Hornets hilariously beat the Arsenal this weekend, and deserve a nod of appreciation.
* The third centre-back, Cesar Azpilicueta, is normally one of the best defenders in the Premier League, albeit with a nickname given by the worst kind of football fan (“haha he’s got a funny foreign name, let’s call him Dave, after the channel we spend all our time watching, we love witty banter”). However, he was made to look incredibly foolish by Palace’s attackers.
* What a way to break the scoring duck for the season – a clearance by one defender onto an attacker, and then onto another defender. That said, the pass from James McArthur to play in Townsend, who then centred the ball that triggered the panic in the Chelsea box, was absolutely sublime. He sold Marcos Alonso a dummy with his eyes and put the perfect weighting on the ball for Townsend to find.
* The second goal provided one of football’s other great sights – a centre-back marauding forward. Mamadou Sakho stormed upfield before finding Zaha with a fantastic through ball.
Sakho nearly chucked everything away with a heart attack-inducing moment right at the end. Seeing the replay, he was clearly trying to flick the ball off the attacker and out for a goal kick, only to miss and gift wrap a chance for Chelsea to grab what would have been a thoroughly undeserved point.
* One bookmaker on Friday night tweeted that there was “bad news for Palace”, because Wayne Hennessey was injured, and Speroni would be starting. Very few Eagles fans would see this as disappointing; in fact, many of us have been calling for Speroni to be given the starting berth for some time, owing to the Welshman’s frustrating inconsistency. He’s not been the only underperformer this season, but he has stood out.
* Roy Hodgson said after the game that the atmosphere at Selhurst Park was “the difference between fans and supporters – supporters are there when you need them”. Crystal Palace supporters have been through a lot of late, and we have had a lot to justifiably complain about from our own team. And yet, they have sold out every away allocation so far, and for a game when there looked to be little hope, at a ground where the team has been dreadful at times, they created an absolutely fantastic atmosphere.
* Now Palace have won, I’m sat here wondering when the other three horsemen of the apocalypse are going to show up. That’s facetious, but the effects have been so deeply felt throughout football that Garth Crooks has even managed to stay on topic for once, writing about Zaha.
There’s no sense getting carried away though. It was a good win but still our only points and goals of the season so far. As Hodgson said, we’re off the mark but not off the bottom. We’ve still got a hell of a lot to do to get ourselves out of this mess, but we can at least go into our next game with some confidence.