Moyes finds feet in United’s flexibility

November 29, 2013 Tags: , , Reads 20 comments
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There was something especially beautiful about Manchester United’s performance in Germany this week. True, the Reds have struck five before and there have undoubtedly been better performances, even on the road. And there will certainly be bigger games and finer opponents this season. Yet, there is a sense that United’s thrashing of Bayer Leverkusen is a seminal juncture in David Moyes’ tenure at Old Trafford. The lightbulb moment; an apple falling dead straight from the tree.

It has nothing to do with old cliches either. United will find confidence from the result, of course, although Premier League champions should not normally lack for it. No, the moment that made United’s victory in Germany’s industrial heartland was Moyes’ decision, finally, to trust Shinji Kagawa as the team’s principle playmaker. Boy did it work.

Kagawa didn’t make the Reds’ victory alone of course. Wayne Rooney excelled in having a hand in four of the visitors’ goals. Ryan Giggs was outstanding two days short of his 40th birthday. And Nani was his brilliant mercurial best in whatever position he chose fit to take up on the night.

Yet, only Kagawa was truly transformative; the Japanese player’s presence seemingly fundamentally altering United’s style. Gone was the staid, predictable movement of the Reds’ depressing performance at Cardiff City on Sunday. In its wake came Kagawa’s drive in the transition from defence to attack and a freedom to make those incisive thrusts from almost anywhere on the pitch.

United’s opening goal is the Kagawa effect in microcosm – the burst of pace to beat Stefan Reinartz, a reverse pass snapped to Ryan Giggs, with Rooney and Antonio Valencia completing an incisive move. In that moment the Japanese offered not only pace to the attack, but an unpredictable variety rarely seen in any other member of Moyes’ squad. How can the Scot even contemplate leaving the former Borussia Dortmund player out now?

It this observation there is no attempt to belittle Rooney’s contribution on the night, which was excellent, nor that of Robin van Persie, who has underpinned the team’s success over the past 18 months. But there was certainly a feeling in the BayArena late on Wednesday night that if Kagawa cannot command a more regular spot at the heart of United’s attack now, then he surely never will.

Each of United’s front four was outstanding, but the Japanese turned out to be the catalyst for change.

“It was a pleasure to play behind that front four,” said Giggs in the aftermath.

“It really clicked and we could have scored more goals, but we mustn’t be too greedy. To score five goals anywhere in Europe has got to be be classed as a good result. Our speed was key, we really killed Leverkusen on the counter attack. The first goal was a prime example of that – really quick play. It was a real pleasure to play the game.”

In that there is also a sadness. Melancholy that stems from a realisation that Kagawa’s lot is surely confined to United’s left, injuries notwithstanding. Indeed, it would take a tactical transformation of a nature anathema to Moyes to bring Kagawa, Rooney and van Persie into the team in positions familiar to each of the trio.

Kagawa is likely to return to United’s left at Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday with van Persie returning. At the crux of the matter a simple fact: in most formations three of Rooney, van Persie and Kagawa into two slots simply won’t go. After all, Sir Alex Ferguson’s wasn’t prepared to make that compromise either in his final season with the club.

Indeed, fans must cast the mind back to the Reds’ formation in 2008 for the last time any United side lined up with the kind of formation that might suit Kagawa. The Reds’ front trio of Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez offer a pointer to perhaps the only way that Moyes could cram his most potent attacking options into one team – a flexible front three comprising a Scouser, a Japanese and a Dutchman.

Still, it was a Scot who gave little away post-match, with a nagging sense remaining that Moyes’ philosophy is predominantly pragmatic, rather than erring on the side of creativity. Kagawa played in the hole in Germany, it seems, not because of the metamorphic effect on United’s tactics, but that it was Moyes’ best option with an injury effected squad.

“It is a long season and we are going to have to make sure we have different combinations for different games and tonight Shinji and Wayne played well,” said Moyes late on Wednesday.

“Sometimes Wayne might need to play up front and Shinji will play behind. We have to make sure we have alternatives. Shinji was excellent tonight but he’s also good on the left.”

In that Moyes will make a fascinating choice in north London on Sunday, with Giggs earning a rest and Marouanne Fellaini set to rejoin the team for the Reds’ visit to White Hart Lane.

The Belgian is far less dynamic than the Welshman even with 15 less years on the clock. Should van Persie return, and Kagawa once again find himself constrained on the left, there is surely ample risk that United’s approach will also reek of inhibition as it did in Wales last weekend.

It is a tactical and philosophical conundrum Moyes is yet to fully solve. Least of all, it seems, in his own mind. The former Everton manager is slowly finding his sea legs at Old Trafford, but there are key decisions to come. History says the 50-year-old always ers on the side of caution.

Yet, as former Red Gary Neville once said, United is a club that can transform a manager, as much as the man the institution. Moyes’ heart is conservative, but Kagawa’s performance on Wednesday night will surely chip away just a little more of the granite façade.

“It was one of my best days as Manchester United manager,” admitted Moyes. “We won well, we played well, with some outstanding performances. There will be better days to come.”

In that there is a feeling Moyes controls much of his own destiny: a lesson learned in the BayArea, or a joyous, if ephemeral, performance.


Sixty6_Magazine - November 29, 2013 Reply

Chelsea legend and English dynamo in the middle Frank Lampard features as our guest editor. RT

Innes - November 29, 2013 Reply

Sha Shabba Ranks, Sha Sha Shabba Ranks. 8 Gold Chains Like I’m Sha Shabba Ranks. UNITED4EVA #WELOVEYOUED&PAUL

Matthew Farnworth - November 29, 2013 Reply

“: Moyes finds feet in United’s flexibility – #unitedrant”

Paul Madley - November 29, 2013 Reply

Nice, agree totally. Excellent site love it!

samunited - November 29, 2013 Reply

he can try 4 -1 -3- 2 to accommodate all the stars with Rooney and Persie upfront kagawa behind them Valencia and any othe winger on the flanks with Jones (preferably) infront of the back four

Amnon Zohar - November 29, 2013 Reply

It has been proven over and over in business that the best mergers and/or new CEOs on paper fail. The reason invariably is incompatible culture(s).
Same in football. Moyes personality as well described in this piece is alient to United’s culture. If Moyes insists on transforming United’s culture in his image (which is what he has done until yesterday) what we’ll get is Everton. Could United culture (creative, dynamic, flexible, fast, arrogant, intimidating, winning is everything) transform Moyes? I doubt it. Chances are it’ll spit him out.

Denton Davey - November 29, 2013 Reply

For what it’s worth, I was completely impressed with the midfield play of MrJones. He provided the “platform” for Ryan Giggs and he did a bloody-good job “protecting” the two central defenders – in fact, there were a lot of occasions when it looked like UTD were set up in a 3-5-2 formation.

There’s a lot of talk about MrJones’ deficiencies as a midfielder – “lacks composure” and “doesn’t pass well enough” – but if he has a partner who is as calm in possession as Giggs (or MC16) then it’s a lot like making the same criticisms of Gennaro Gattuso while ignoring the role of Andrea Pirlo (still the finest midfield-duo of the last decade in my ‘umble opinion, with Biscuits/Xavi not far behind, and Martinez/Schweini in third place).

Over the last two/three years, UTD have sorely missed DarrenFletcherinho (in his “football genius mode”); MrJones gives the team exactly that kind of defensive energy, with just a touch of in-discipline that makes the opposition “hear footsteps”. TheLads were schooled by Barcelona in Rome/London – the common denominator was the absence of DarrenFletcherinho from both matches.

Phil Jones can be a very good central defender – not a great one – OR he can be just what-the-doctor-ordered for UTD’s midfield.

mongoletsi - November 29, 2013 Reply

In with the obligatory “You’re nicknames are pathetic, you sound like a little girl, shut the fuck up”.

mongoletsi - November 29, 2013 Reply

In with the obligatory “Your nicknames are pathetic, you sound like a little girl, shut the fuck up”.

Sam - November 29, 2013 Reply

Excellent article Ed and completely agree.

This is, simulatenously, a managerial condundrum and outstanding opportunity for Moyes.

One assumes that his reticence to play Kagawa at 10 is almost purely down to Rooney’s petulence. I would expect a Manchester United manager to handle this. You have to hand it to Rooney though – the scale of his threats and demonstrative, public capacity to sulk have actually worked. The club (including fans) have kowtowed to this and, while a strong player, he is not the player to take United to the next level. Both you and Paul have essentially acknowledged this.

A happy Rooney, on the left, with Kagawa at 10 and Van Persie leading is surely the zenith for this side. We are battling for consistent wide men who can attack and track back and you just know Rooney can do this.

This is Moyes’ challenge, and if he’s to succeed in this issue he stands to confound all expectations and take himself, and the club, to new places.

muDembare - November 29, 2013 Reply

Moyes should do what’s best for the team not what’s best for Rooney that is Kags in the hole and Rooney on the left. If Rooney isn’t interested,let him join the great trek,the footsteps of all the stars that left before him. I’m sure a good replacement,a modern day left winger can be found and the show will go on

Dayus D red - November 29, 2013 Reply

@ Scott, could this be the attacking formation(Nani, Rooney, Valencia with Kagawa behind) SAF had in mind when he signed Kagawa only to change his mind on arrival of RVP?. I agreed totally with the pts you raised in this article. Without taking anything away from Rooney, kagawa is a better No 10 as this Match has shown. Kagawa may not have the energy and physicality of Rooney but his is more creative and technically better. Rooney has been playing this role and we’ve all been crying for creativity. It is not a slite on Rooney but creativity is not one of his strength. There are two solutions One is for Moyes to rotate Rooney and RVP. Two, Moyes must take the difficult decision of playing Rooney, RVP and Nani/AV (Nani preferable to provide fluidity) up front with kagawa behind. In all Kagawa must feature to provide the creativity and Jones for now to provide the defensive platform for the team becuase for all the good work of Kagawa in Germany, Jones was the pillar on which our success was built. Wether Moyes will be bold enough to take any of these two a is big dollar question.

shinji 香川真司 ☆彡 - November 29, 2013 Reply

“: Moyes finds feet in United’s flexibility – #unitedrant” #kagawa #swagawa

jjjjjeeeeeeaaaa~ - November 29, 2013 Reply

RT” Moyes finds feet in United’s flexibility – … #unitedrant

Alan - November 29, 2013 Reply

excellent piece. well done

Galih Priambodo - November 29, 2013 Reply

@randydwiatmaja “: Moyes finds feet in United’s flexibility – #unitedrant”

twisted blood - November 29, 2013 Reply

Love Kags in the #10 role. Please God, find a way to make it happen. Why not a 4-3-3?

Sam - November 29, 2013 Reply

Kagawa at 10. It was visceral.

Denton Davey - November 29, 2013 Reply

Mongoletsi @ 1:42: “In with the obligatory “You’re nicknames are pathetic, you sound like a little girl, shut the fuck up”. ”

Have a nice day.

steggo - November 29, 2013 Reply

I honestly cannot see what Fellaini would give to United.I felt these doubts when it was mooted that he would join. His success at Everton was limited as are his range of skills. The only reason he came to United,as far as I can see, was to be part of the “Evertonisation” of the club. Why is it we are the only club in England that buys Brazilians and Belgians that cannot play?Felliani said he wanted to be the “new Roy Keane”,more like Roy Cropper,methinks.

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