Welbeck goal challenges Moyes’ approach

March 9, 2014 Tags: , , Opinion 45 comments
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The goal was so good it was almost offensive. Obnoxious because Danny Welbeck’s superb strike at the Hawthorns on Saturday exposed the real talent in Manchester United’s midst; a talent so desperately underused in David Moyes’ counter-revolution this season. Indeed, while much of United’s play over the past eight months harks back to a basic tactical approach largely superseded by the game’s élite, Welbeck’s fine team goal uncovered genuine potential for something more, but only if Moyes is prepared to release it.

Juan Mata, Shinji Kagawa, Marouanne Fellaini and Wayne Rooney were involved in an 18-pass move before Welbeck’s classy 82nd minute finish sealed a comfortable United win at West Bromwich Albion. And while the goal can be celebrated as a rare moment of real class in an otherwise hugely disappointing campaign, frustration stems from the knowledge that Welbeck’s strike is likely to be another false dawn. The sight of United’s multi-faceted attack passing through rather than over Albion’s defence is countered by the back-to-basics approach used for much of the campaign.

This observation is fundamental to the philosophy underpinning manager Moyes’ career at the top; one that the Scot transposed to United rapidly, with almost universally disastrous consequences. After all, Moyes’ strict adherence to the crossing game is largely counter-intuitive to the presence of touch players such as Mata, Rooney, Kagawa and Welbeck in the United squad.

Throw starlet Adnan Januzaj into the mix and it is not so much a wonder that United’s approach has been so agricultural at times this season, but that Moyes’ rigidly taught approach has so rarely flexed. The players at Moyes’ disposal surely demand more.

United’s narrow formation against Albion and a more constructive build up should auger well given the personnel available to the Scot. Yet, we have been here before – and recently too. United’s relatively cocksure performance in victory at Crystal Palace last month came with both Mata and Januzaj in the side and greater focus on attacking flexibility.

Four days afterwards, Moyes’ outfit spent much of the 90 at Olympiakos launching hopeful long balls, or recycling possession wide at the earliest opportunity, only for another aimless cross to miss its target.

Indeed, in the men selected in wide positions often present United’s approach in microcosm. Technical players such as Mata, Kagawa and Januzaj on one pole; Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia on the other. Moyes cannot have it both ways, yet rarely seems to trust to a fully creative approach.

Kagawa’s late introduction was significant at the Hawthorns even if it came at Januzaj’s expense. The Japanese international occupied the centre of the park, rather than hugging the touchline, and proved to be a catalyst for an entertaining final 20 minutes. Yet, he is unlikely to start many games before the season concludes.

Still, Moyes was entitled to feel pleased with a confident second half performance in the Midlands, even if the context was victory against a side whose form is significantly worse than any other in the division.

“The pitch was very lively, it was drying out a little bit and it wasn’t that easy to pass the ball, but we looked much more potent going forward and looked more likely to score than we have in other games,” said Moyes. “I made the point about us trying to attack more and have better play going forward and I think we did that.”

Next weekend’s match against Liverpool at Old Trafford is another level still; and a challenge that will test Moyes’ faith in a plethora of flexible creative players. With Valencia and Young both available, history suggests that the Scot will be unable to resist the temptation to start one or both against Brendan Rodgers’ improving side. In the battle between structure and creativity the former normally wins Moyes’ heart.

United’s challenge extends beyond tactics for next Sunday’s fixture. Whether the Scot’s side reverts back to a more rudimentary approach or otherwise Welbeck’s star cameo in the midlands also exposed Robin van Persie’s worrying lack of form, and a potentially destructive attitude.

The Dutchman has made no secret, at least through intermediaries, that he is unhappy with life at Old Trafford. It is a process months in the making – beginning with Moyes’ decision to “over train” the 30-year-old striker last summer, extending through the manager’s frustration with the player’s fitness, and augmented by Moyes’ decision to build a team around Rooney.

More pointedly van Persie benefits little from the type of aimless delivery that has characterised a season, although his intelligence around the box ensures that the Dutchman scores plenty when the ball is delivered from wide areas with a little more precision.

van Persie cut a dejected figure in the midlands, with the player’s state of mind such that his movement was minimal and impact limited. That Rooney and van Persie exchanged just four passes, and the Dutchman enjoyed only 16 touches in an hour on the pitch, is both a symptom and a contributor to the player’s malaise.

Moyes has little answer to the problem though. The Scot certainly appears reluctant to indulge the former Arsenal forward in the sycophantic manner to which Rooney’s ego has been massaged this season. While the alternative could be cataclysmic to van Persie’s deteriorating relationship with the Scot; that the Dutchman is dropped for Sunday’s fixture with Liverpool and Welbeck or Rooney leads the line.

It is a move some fans might support given van Persie’s perceived attitude. Certainly Welbeck’s touch and movement is conducive to an expansive game, although the Englishman’s finishing is a level or two below van Persie’s class. The ease with which Welbeck scored on Saturday is an exception to a generally more profligate contribution.

“When he was played in down the side, he opened up and finished terrifically well,” said Moyes. “I’m pleased Danny is looking sharper. We’re going to need him.”

Whether that comes on Sunday might just be pivotal for more than one member of Moyes’ squad ahead of a tough month. Sunday’s match is rapidly followed the second leg of United’s Champions League Round of 16 clash with Olympiakos, then West Ham United away and Manchester City at home. The Scot will need a positive result in at least one of the big three fixtures to keep the pressure at bay.

“It is a crucial month for us and, to be honest, I am very positive about it,” said Mata, who enjoyed a positive contribution from the right on Saturday. “We know that we have to win as many games as we can and we have to start this month.”

Whether United continues in the vein of Saturday’s second half or reverts to a season’s type might just dictate how far the team goes in the remaining weeks of the season.


Happymonkey - March 9, 2014 Reply

You’re kidding right? “Certainly Welbeck’s touch and movement is conducive to an expansive game”

He can’t control the ball! He runs around like a headless chicken half the time! Every time the ball goes near him my heart drops!

Just watch the 1 on 1 with Anichebe at the end!

Zi Indefatigable - March 9, 2014 Reply

You don’t know what you’re on about. Danny Welbeck is one of the most exquisite footballers I have ever seen. His touch, skill and intelligence is phenomenal. Added to his determination, sacrifice and physical perfection, I would start him with Van Persie, Kagawa and Januzaj or Rooney, Mata and Januzaj. His movement and pressing mean he can interchange with either of the two attacking lines we play.

Red Ted - March 9, 2014 Reply

I claim the prize, you are Danny Welcrap’s dad.

Amnon Zohar - March 9, 2014 Reply

What are you smoking? Welbeck technical skills and especially his first touch are atrocious. Are we talking about the same Welbeck?

Paul - March 9, 2014 Reply

I agree, Wellbeck adds a lot of value, his energy transfers to the rest of the team, he tracks back, drags defenders out of position, assists and can finish. Plus he is a passionate Utd fan.

McLovin - March 10, 2014 Reply

I’m a passionate Man U fan. Doesn’t mean I should get a game for them, half-wit.

Ian - March 10, 2014

Being a fan means he’s less likely to throw a strop when he’s subbed or not selected.

Rory Robertson - March 9, 2014 Reply

the set up for Danny’s goal was “Fellaini – Rooney – welbeck” but Fellaini never mentioned in your article.

when united thumped Bayern 04 in the champions league it wasn’t a philosophy of high crosses that was employed by the united players on that night.

further more it would seem from your article that Moyes is to blame when the team loses but can have no credit from a good performance that ends with a good win a 3 goals. the players even if asked to play that way, have been awful this season. against Olympiacos I have never been more ashamed or embarrassed when watching united but it was not moyes miss placing passes and mis-controling the ball.

stop the negativity and get behind the players…

Ed - March 9, 2014 Reply

What’s your point Rory? You seem very confused. Moyes is the manager they’ll play the way he tells them too or he shouldn’t be in a job. The premise of the article is clear, but it seems that its too difficult for you to grasp so I’ll summarise: there’s predominantly one way United has played this season (long aimless crosses from deep areas) and occasionally when Mata/Januzaj/Kagawa have all played this has changed because there’s nobody to actually cross it. Moyes has got a choice but history tells us he’ll keep banging the same old drum. But if you want to ignore eight months of evidence at United and 10 years of Moyes in the Premier League before that fill your boots.

Oh and for you Bayer Leverkusen I’ll raise you 12 defeats in all competitions.

McLovin - March 10, 2014 Reply

Maybe you’d have been clearer if you’d published the above in the first place.

Also, clearly too easy for you to jump on the Moyes is p*sh bandwagon.

Ed - March 10, 2014 Reply

Moyes will live or die by his results and the team’s performances. Both dire so far.

Berry2078 - March 10, 2014 Reply

This article may support your point on Moyes’ tactics deficiencies and how to get the best out of the players.


Paul Ansorge - March 9, 2014 Reply

I love Danny Welbeck.

j-diz - March 10, 2014 Reply

Me too – favourite Man Utd player by far. When he plays the rest of the team play better, his mobility causes other teams problems. He just makes things happen. I’d build the strike force around him, not past-it Van Persie or over-rated Rooney

Mark Horrocks - March 9, 2014 Reply

Really good point on the style and improvement in play when RVP left the field. Shame that Welbz lacks a quality end product.

Ian - March 10, 2014 Reply

I thought that when he skied that one shot but the goal he scored was well taken.

Amnon Zohar - March 9, 2014 Reply

Finally someone is willing to call a spade a spade. Moyes style of football is antiquated. Cross and Pray went out some decades ago. Watch Barca, Bayren, Liverpool, City, Chelsea. They cannot all be wrong and they produce entertaining effective Football and most importantly – results.

Also as pointed out he has the players to play contemporary football. If he sticks with cross and pray long ball football , for the sake of all of United’s fans – let him go!

Subterranean Steve - March 9, 2014 Reply

Moyes has messed up every single aspect of the managerial role at United.

It’s too optimistic to say that things are turning around.

Rather it’s yet another false dawn.

Judge Pickles - March 9, 2014 Reply

Amazed to read this article.
I think Welbeck has a touch like a rapist.
Sure he scores the odd good goal, but for the most part he just blunders his way around the park like a fat 10yr old playing 5 a side down the rec.
He isn’t United quality, I would ship him off along with Cleverley at the end of the season.

Ian - March 10, 2014 Reply

Who would you replace him with, given that he’s 3rd or 4th choice so he’ll spend a lot of time on the bench? You can’t expect Falcao or Cavani.

Tourettes@ The KOB - March 11, 2014 Reply

Son Of Emile Heskey ??

The Rookie - March 10, 2014 Reply

Another great article Ed. I typically don’t rate Welbeck as highly as some but there is no denying he can make a difference whith his pace when he is in form. First touch isn’t always great and his finishing can be almost shockingly bad, but he was an improvement yesterday.

Should he start against Liverpool? Tough question.

I think Sir Alex started him last year against Real Madrid because he had better pace and defensive awareness than Rooney. Starting him instead of RVP could work similarly but its a big gamble. Seeing how negative we were in Greece I’m guessing Moyes will be thinking pretty defensively minded. Welbeck and Rooney could work well in this regard, taking turns dropping back and helping out in midfield.

I’d like to see Moyes have the courage to start Welbeck over RVP. However it could really seal the deal with RVP to leave in the summer, which may happen regardless. I’d like to see RVP stay personally.

Ed, who would you start?

Is it just me or do Rooney and RVP seem to just not like each other by the way the play on the pitch together?

Really happy to see Kagawa do well. I think he seems to shine against lesser teams. Not sure if he’s the right man to start against Liverpool, but I’d like to see him start ahead on Januzaj a bit.

Januzaj played at times yesterday like a slow Nani.

Awate Abdalla - March 10, 2014 Reply

I love Danny Welbeck more.

Famalam - March 10, 2014 Reply

De Gea
This is the team I would play vs Liverpool.

Mongoletsi - March 10, 2014 Reply

Agree 100%

No, I agree 101%

j-diz - March 10, 2014 Reply

Swap Rooney with Welbeck and you’ve got a deal

Todd - March 10, 2014 Reply

Another excellent article. Danny Welbeck is another one of those home grown players that I want to like so badly.
There is a lot of potential there, but there is still much room for improvement. There are many times that his first touch is exquisite, but then his second or third touch lets him down. Then there are those times where you think it should be a simple touch and it goes awry.
All of this could be remedied with more time on the pitch rather than being sporadically used as a sub.

It does seem inevitable that the next two matches will, once again, feature the amazing crossing abilities of Young and Valencia accompanied by the fantastic back passing of Tom Cleverly.

Satheesh - March 10, 2014 Reply

If Valencia and Young both start against Liverpool, I will definitely go kill myself. -_-

On the other hand, I would really love Welbeck to start over RVP. While Welbeck’s finishing is zilch when compared with RVP, his one-touch play, energy and constant harrying of defenders will be a HUGE plus against the scousers, who are currently playing some of the best football seen in the PL.

Tourettes@ The KOB - March 11, 2014 Reply

If yound and or Valencia start against Liverpool, Could you please encourage Moyes to mirror your threat but have the guts to carry it OUT !!!!!!

Miguel - March 10, 2014 Reply

Despite the fact that I think that Moyes is tactically inept, I think the saddest thing about his reign is the fact that he has managed to alienate all the players that I perceive have a real love for the club. Players like Evra, Rafael, Chicha, even Vidic and RVP. Perhaps what I perceived as a love for the club was actually a love for SAF and this is Moyes’ way of cutting all ties to Ferguson. By the way, I’m firmly in the Moyes out camp.

Mongoletsi - March 10, 2014 Reply

Don’t forget Kagawa. Seems Moyes largely has… PLAY-A-MAKING!

gabagool - March 10, 2014 Reply

Agree with most of this post, and sincerely hope we start playing more “football” than this aimless crossing bullshit from valencia and young we’ve been subjected to this season. But to say welbeck has exquisite touch?? Whoa… his touch and finishing are shithouse…

Ed - March 10, 2014 Reply

The word exquisite isn’t used

The Rookie - March 10, 2014 Reply

I think he’s responding to Todd a few posts up.

United1961 - March 10, 2014 Reply

Good article. I think Wellbeck could be half decent. He has a first touch that would be better suited to a curling stone rather than a football. This obviously needs to improve. The problem I have is that is brain and limbs seem to be ,at times , totally out of sync. I don’t know if his brain is working faster than his limbs or his limbs are working faster than his brain. I still retain hope for him as opposed to some of the usual suspects.
Not a bad performance at the weekend. I still have a terrible dread.I feel the next four games are 100 percent make or break for Moyes on all fronts, fans, Reptiles, and players. Not just results but more importantly team selection, ‘tactics’ and player attitude . I would not be shocked and stunned to see Giggs, Young, Valencia and Cleverley involved sometime in all four. If it happens he is a dead man walking with everybody. The bad news for him( and maybe good news for the future) is he is so absolutely clueless that I don’t think he realizes it.
Great result for the pie-eaters over the financially – doped Clampetts.

Lucas_mutd - March 10, 2014 Reply

Ed, based on other readers’ comments, I was actually searching whether you had used ‘exquisite’ for his touch…and you had not. I completely agree with you that his touch and movement is quite good, however, his first touch lets you down often in good positions. If he improves that and his finishing, he can become a world-class striker. And, looking at his progress this season, he is half-way there.

Ed - March 10, 2014 Reply

Lucas – sometimes there are nuances in language and you have to assume people will read between the lines when sometimes they don’t. Welbeck doesn’t have a Cantonaesque first touch but he’s actually very good with the kind of quick one-touch passing that United played for the last 30 minutes at West Brom.

Lucas_mutd - March 10, 2014 Reply

I am completely on that ‘Moyes has been disastrous for United’ bandwagon, especially after that dire performance against Fulham. We did well against WBrom but as you say, there have been too many false dawns this season. Moyes needs to get his s*** together and soon, preferably against Liverpool and Olympiakos.

united1961 - March 10, 2014 Reply


Interesting read. Could somebody tell Dave to phone the Helpdesk and report the obvious software bug.

Ed - March 10, 2014 Reply

I find some of this simply inaccurate:

As Simon Kuper, the Financial Times columnist and co-author of Soccernomics has detailed, no club in the Premier League has so consistently overachieved during the past decade. Under Moyes, they finished eighth or higher every season from 2007 to 2013. They’ve managed this despite being more frugal with wages than all of their rivals and not splashing cash on big-name transfers.

Actually Everton’s wage bill (which is a much better barometer of success than transfer fees) averaged about eighth in the Premier League during Moyes time. So Moyes’ team over achieved, but only in some years and not that significantly.

united1961 - March 10, 2014 Reply

I suppose it’s down to what you call overachieving and what you define as success.
I would personally disagree that he overachieved or was a success.
As I stated in an earlier mail we are approaching a defining moment in ourclubs future. I can not stress ehough the importance of the next few games, not only in the results but the way he approaches these fixtures.

Lucas_mutd - March 10, 2014 Reply

Very very interesting read on Wigan’s tactics to beat City in the FA Cup last night.

In my mind, Moyes doesn’t have the guts or tactical nous to change his formation based on the opponents. Why is there a need to stick to 4-4-2 against Fulham and Chelsea/City? I am not saying we need to play ‘Total Football’ but I am wondering whether Moyes’ tactical inflexibility is the reason he has not been able to win at any of the top clubs with ManUtd and Everton.

LeKing - March 10, 2014 Reply

Okay guys, lets not get carried away with welbeck’s performance against a team that hadn’t won in 17 games prior to playing us. He came on when we were 2-0 up and cruising so there was no pressure on him. Time and time again in high pressure situations his first touch evades him or he just does a ashley young and runs back towards our goal, lays the ball off then runs away from play and elimanates himself as an option. He is not a bad player, but if United have any ambition to reach the heights of domestic and European football again then Welbeck should not be near the starting team. 3rd or 4th choicd back up at best. He is not young anymore being 24 . His all round technique (passing, receiving, ball control, shooting) is below the standard that should be required at a club like ours. I would also love to see local players who have come through the system make it, but the bottom line is Welbeck is 24 and has had more than enough opportunities ro prove himself and he hasn’t. A goal against a terrible relegation threatened team after being 2 up does not warrant him a place in the team over the class that is RVP. If we were to drop RVP kagawa should come in and put rooney where he wants to be up top.
Im sorry but at the age of 24 we should not be talking about a striker having a bad first touch and ball control and tthat he will “imrpive with time”. The functional technique (passing, stopping, reveiving, ball control) is one of the 1st things taught in youth development and all quality players posses this from the age of 18 -20. Look at Januzaj, pogba, griezmann (22), munain (21), insigne (22), chamberlain, lallana, even nick powell has better functional technique than welbeck and he is 5 years younger. The bottom line for me is that if doen’t have good functional technique at 24 years old then he never will. Just look at sturridge, I hate the man but he is the same age as welbeck and is worlds apart with his ball control, dribbling, finishing, tactial intelligence, and just all round play.
Not a bad player, but never good enough for an elite club looking to get back the heights of Domestic and European football yet alone good enough to justify the 60 k a week wages he gets

Tommy - March 12, 2014 Reply

Welbeck deserves to star against the scousers, RVPs the more talented player that goes without ssaying but his attitude has been a disgrace this season, with Welbeck being a Manchester lad it will also mean more to him on Sunday

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