Moyes: 20 games in

November 29, 2013 Tags: , Opinion 12 comments
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Manchester United’s record-breaking 5-0 win against Bayer Leverkusen last Wednesday marked the 20th game under David Moyes, and despite a shaky start to the campaign, the Reds are now on a decent run, with Moyes’ side unbeaten in 12 matches. With 20 down United has played enough games for Moyes’ tactical vision to emerge – there are significant departures from his Everton set-up.

The most conspicuous change in Moyes’ approach at Old Trafford is his use of United’s defenders. The Scot’s strict ‘two bands of four’ system was abandoned after the Reds’ 4-1 defeat to Manchester City at the Etihad, although Moyes has persisted with a 4-4-1-1 system, or thereabouts, in the following weeks.

United’s perceived defensive vulnerability at full-back, particularly Patrice Evra, led Moyes to instruct his defenders to tuck in during the early weeks of the season. Defending the box a priority. The effect was to force United’s wingers onto the back foot and allow opponents to put the Reds under pressure. United’s 1-0 defeat to Liverpool at Anfield is a case in point.

In the weeks that followed the approach has changed, and United can now boast a more familiar set-up – one winger assisting the defence, the player on the opposite flank presenting a passing option.

However, in general Moyes has instructed his players to perform a functional role. Centre-backs and central midfielders hold their ground, with full-backs and wingers pushing forward in a well-drilled fashion.

But Moyes has adapted. At first, the former Everton manager tried to replicate an Everton favourite by instructing his wingers to cut in and full-backs push forward to provide width. Yet, Ashley Young and Nani failed to establish themselves in the first team and Antonio Valencia is not suited for the role.

Meanwhile, the diminishing athleticism of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand dictated that the side defended deep leaving Moyes’ wide men without the time or space to transform United’s two banks of four into a more flexible 4-2-3-1. The result: the Reds were often too slow to initiate attacks.

While Moyes gained notoriety for a direct approach at his former club, the Scot has become more cultured at Old Trafford over time. In general, United has played a careful possession game to establish a high line before playing aggressively to unsettle the opposition.

At Everton, Moyes preferred attacking full-backs who were also solid defensively, leaving favourites such as Steven Pienaar free to cut in knowing that the player overlapping him will do so while protecting the integrity of his team’s defensive shape. The system allowed Moyes to field a functional player like Maroune Fellaini in the hole to make late runs into the box.

Moyes faced a different challenge at Old Trafford, where the Scot could not afford to instruct his wingers to cut in without exposing Evra and his counterpart on the right. The knock-on effect was felt through the team. With little support, Wayne Rooney at 10 was forced to roam into the channels to overload the flank. Meanwhile, United’s central midfielders were forced to sit deep, while Robin van Persie was left isolated.

The Scousers role is particularly interesting. Despite another summer transfer saga, Rooney quickly established himself in the first team, with the vast space between the his strike partner and central midfield, widened by two wingers hugging the touchline, there for the former Everton man to navigate.

Yet, the recalcitrant striker has never been particularly good at holding up the ball, nor has he ever been a trequartista truly linking the midfield with attack.

It was a strange decision, then, in the opening weeks to shun Shinji Kagawa. Even in Rooney’s absence, seemingly more dependable players like Danny Welbeck were preferred to the sublime Kagawa at number 10. The Japanese does not present an aerial presence and Moyes’ preference for brawn perhaps makes sense given the United wingers’ inability to penetrate central areas.

Still, it is Rooney’s inability to maintain possession that has opened the door for the Japanese. The lack of a spare man in the middle restricted options for United’s holding midfield two. By contrast, Adnan Januzaj or Kagawa deployed on the left, with each keen to cut inside, presents a passing option that enables United to push up.

There are consequences though. Evra’s surges towards the byline masks the lack of width, but with Kagawa or Januzaj on the left United is undoubtedly more vulnerable in defence. The set up can also drain the Reds of tempo, with United too often playing in front of the opposition, struggling to break sides down.

United’s victory in Leverkusen may be a turning point, with Kagawa starting in his preferred central role for the first time since Moyes’ arrival at Old Trafford. The former Dortmund player had an excellent game as well. United’s wide men stretched the German side, affording Kagawa ample space in which to operate. Crucially, the playmaker’s quick feet injected pace into United’s attacks.

Rooney’s indiscipline also contributed greatly. The Liverpool-born striker does not possess the pace of yore, but he remains a far more mobile player than van Persie. Rooney’s constant running unsettled Leverkusen’s defenders and the team exploited the panic by putting five in the net.

This tactical indiscipline is often masked by the term “passion.” Yet, on the pitch, composure is often of far greater value than any zeal for running. As a forward on the shoulder of last defender, however, Rooney’s workrate is a major asset.

It leaves Moyes with plenty of questions. While van Persie is far better technically, the Dutch does not have the forcefulness that makes Rooney so effective up-front. Indeed, in the current set up Moyes will probably benefit more from using Rooney as the leading striker than van Persie.

Not that dislodging the two-time Premier League top scorer is anything but a larger political nightmare than the Rooney saga. Yet, with Kagawa now in the mix and Welbeck lurking, Moyes has much to think about. The good news is that the new United manager has continued to grow into the role.


Tom CanTheyScore - November 30, 2013 Reply

good read that Ed. Very fair evaluation.

Sim - November 30, 2013 Reply

Good read. Was talking to a mate about van persie and I feel Moyes should be thinking about phasing him out within the next 2yrs

Sim - November 30, 2013 Reply

(assuming Rooney and Kagawa stay)

AjjuGujju - November 30, 2013 Reply

Considering Kagawa is contracted till 2016 (or is it 2017?), that’s not a major worry. Rooney can fuck right off.

will - November 30, 2013 Reply

Arsenal stupid to sell v p to m u other wise mu would have been crap last season

Kit - November 30, 2013 Reply

Good read

Kit - November 30, 2013 Reply

Good read with some very good insight on Moyes’s initial approach and subsequent adaptations, but I think you’re way off the mark with your evaluation of Rooney. The level of indifference he showed us week on week last season made me question his character, but the discipline (not indiscipline) he has offered this season has amazed me. Wherever he has been played, whatever role he’s has been asked to fill, he has shone, and shone with a flourish of pride, and of belief in his club. He’s delivered not only goals, but a sense of belief in our club at a time when we’ve lost our main beacon of that belief. Rooney has my vote.

Chris - November 30, 2013 Reply

I agree with this, Rooney has been our best player so far this season, without him we would be in real trouble as it is our position is recoverable. For years he has been shifted about which has probably meant his progression has not been as great as it could have been but he’s still on course to be our all time top goal scorer. I think the only real negative aspect of Rooney is his agents a complete prick. I say play him upfront from now on he should be in his peak during the next three or four years its to Utd’s benefit that he plays in his best position now and in future.

I think Kagawa can play from the left anyway. Him RVP and Rooney could interchange during games. He’s good enough he just needs a run of games and the belief the number 10 role isn’t the be all, end all for him. You always should try and play your best players in their best positions I accept that however its clearly not possible in this case and Rooney and RVP are better players than Kagawa so its he who needs to adapt.

muretep - December 2, 2013 Reply

Thanks Chris. At last someone’s speaking sense about Rooney (who was brilliant yesterday) – and Kagawa (who was pathetic again yesterday). I took a note of everything he did (following the gushing over him by commentators) to see if I was being unfair. He didn’t make a tackle, had only one attempt at goal, or it could have been a cross, but anyway he hit the side netting and he only successfully made one pass over 10 metres. No one should listen to his demands as he does not deserve an audience. Rooney and RVP are the only forwards earning the right to have a say.

mongoletsi - December 3, 2013 Reply

Kagawa was “pathetic again”? He’s clearly been one of our best players of late, so I’m not sure what you’re on about…

Denton Davey - November 30, 2013 Reply

“This tactical indiscipline is often masked by the term “passion.” Yet, on the pitch, composure is often of far greater value than any zeal for running. As a forward on the shoulder of last defender, however, Rooney’s workrate is a major asset.”

Key point regarding TheWayneBoy’s role in UTD’s shape and team-selection.

What does this mean for RVP ? In a weird sense, it seems like “deja vue, all over again” – SAF never sorted the Rooney/Dimmy partnership and, now, it seems that RVP’s legendary brittleness is creating a similar dilemma for Moyes.

What does this mean for Chicharito ? surplus to requirements ? on the outside looking-in ?

What does it mean for DannyTheLad ? I reckon that he’ll morph into AV25’s role as a “defensive attacker” or else he’ll be moved-on.

Of course, all of these alternatives are uncertain – as Sim noted @ 12:11 – since it’s not at all obvious that TheWayneBoy will be around after the spring of 2015. AND, there’s also the matter of Rooney’s personal age – he’s now 28, can he play in his favoured position/style when he’s over 30 ?

mongoletsi - November 30, 2013 Reply

First up, obviously, please stop with the nicknames; it’s just cringeworthy.

Secondly, I think Chicarito will go. Quite possibly to Arsenal from several accounts. This bothers me because RVP is hardly a long-term prospect, and Rooney neither. The problem for Hernandez is that it’s surely unlikely Moyes would put him upfront with Kagawa. They’d just be too lightweight. Kagawa and Welbeck is more likely.

Henriquez at 19 has put 5 in for Zaragoza this season already so is one to watch. Januzaj can blatantly play up front too. He and Kagawa could be a very dynamic and dangerous front line.

Basically, Rooney has carried the team at times this year and takes much of the credit for things not going entirely tits up. He’s not long term anymore though.

Let’s not mention Bebe or Macheda.

Oh and there’s the small matter of Zaha…

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