David Moyes employs predictable tactics
Of the many factors that made David Moyes an odd choice to succeed Sir Alex Ferguson, the contrast in their style of play was near the top of the list. Moyes is a reactive manager that isn’t renowned for producing exciting football, and insists on predominantly generating attack from wide areas.
On Sunday, crosses were a distinct factor in United’s attack. Moyes’ men dominated possession for large portions of the match, as they aimed to isolate Fulham’s fullbacks. United completed 82 crosses, nearly 400 more passes than their opponents, but the most shocking statistic was the startling difference in attacking third passes.
Here, Fulham maintained a narrow shape, with 10 men behind the ball, so it was logical for United to utilize their wide options. The issue with Moyes’ approach was that it lacked variety – Fulham were prepared to cope with United’s willingness to deliver crosses into the box.
In fairness, both goals stemmed from initial crosses into the box from Adnan Januzaj and Patrice Evra, but many were disgruntled with Moyes’ approach. Simply, United encountered three problems – they were outnumbered in Fulham’s box, their passing tempo in buildup play was slow, and the quality of the crosses was inconsistent.
Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie squandered legitimate goal-scoring opportunities from point-blank range through crosses from Ashley Young and Rafael, while Maarten Stekelenburg made key saves to frustrate the home side. Moyes’ men, however, stuck to their task, and continued to attack wide areas; it created the platform for United to score twice, but it wasn’t enough.
Carrick outshines world-class teammates
Juan Mata’s arrival to Manchester United was a sign of ambition. The goal was to provide an overall lift in the side to push for a top-four position, but it was also an opportunity to add world-class talent in their attack. The main talking point prior to Mata’s arrival was the threat Mata, Rooney and van Persie could pose.
While United dominated nearly every aspect of the match at Old Trafford, their three best players failed to impress. Despite Mata and van Persie’s involvement in the first goal, neither player enjoyed a great game, while Rooney drifted in and out of the match. This is not to say that the trio played poorly, but they didn’t ignite a spark to guide United to three points.
Carrick, however, was United’s key man – the Englishman enjoyed arguably his best game of the season, constantly changing the home side’s route of attack. Similar to Carrick’s fortuitous goal, the United midfielder’s passing was significant.
Today, Carrick provided dynamism in attack, and when he wasn’t playing scintillating balls to Ashley Young, he was driving towards the Fulham penalty area. His shot from the edge of the box in the first half was inches wide of the post, but his goal in the second half nearly capped off a great afternoon for the England international.
Although United’s attacking trio didn’t play up to their standards, Carrick’s performance is a boost for Moyes. With United now sitting nine points behind Liverpool for the final Champions League spot, they’ll need all their top players performing at high-levels if they intend on doing – what looks to be – the impossible.
The most impressive feat at Old Trafford was Fulham’s ability to secure a result. Although one should credit their perseverance to cope with United’s attack – even if it was far from United’s best performance – their overall approach was negative. Rene Meulensteen’s side preferred to play on the counter-attack, and maintained a compact shape, as they were in dire need of a result.
“We set out, as anybody can see, we needed to stay in there after the results we have had in the last couple of weeks. But we made it very difficult for them,” Meulensteen said. “We focused a lot on making sure we kept our shape, we defended well, but at times we didn’t really play the football that we really want to play. Having said that, we know where we are and this is a valid point for us.”
Johnny Heitinga and Dan Burn confidently dealt with United’s crosses from the flanks, while Lewis Holtby and Muamer Tankovic pressed Darren Fletcher and Carrick when possible. Fulham comfortably coped with United’s attacking threat in the first half, and while Meulensteen’s men didn’t enjoy much possession, they were efficient on the break.
Fletcher was responsible for not tracking Steve Sidwell in the build up to the Fulham midfielder’s goal from a magnificent Holtby ball. In the 37th minute, Fulham were presented a great opportunity to double their lead, and Tankovic broke on the counter from his own half. Tankovic was placed in a 2v2 situation, but waited for the overlapping Kieran Richardson, thus playing him in, but the Fulham winger skied his shot over the bar.
The Cottagers didn’t offer any attacking threat in the second half, as they spent majority of the half defending at the edge of their box. Meulensteen’s side were seconds away from defeat, before a poor Nemanja Vidic clearance led to Richardson forcing De Gea to make a key save, and substitute Darren Bent nodded a De Gea rebound into the net.
Fulham currently sit at the bottom of the Barclays Premier League – three points away from safety – but this could be a vital point that separates survival and relegation at the end of the season.