January 20, 2011

The United game, clean sheets, blunt strikers, and more general points


Follow me on Twitter – @WindyCOYS.

We played well and dominated on Sunday, and crucially kept another clean sheet.

The return of Dawson has heralded a return to defensive form, whereby we have kept 4 clean sheets in 9 games albeit one against Charlton); 44.4%. We had previously kept 3 in 23; 13%. It is no coincidence, although I was a little disappointed that he once again started on the left of the centre back pairing to accommodate Gallas. I was liking the look of the Dawson/Kaboul partnership, which I see as a long-term pairing, and would like to see us go with these two (with Dawson able to revert to the right, as Kaboul is equally comfortable on either side).

The only disappointing element of the game was that, despite our dominance, we failed to score and to go on to win the game. We had a decent number of shots in the game (19), but only managed 2 on target. Crouch had 3 efforts, all off-target, van der Vaart had 6, with 1 on target, 3blocked and 2 off target. Crouch had arguably the best chance of the game when he beat Ferdinand to a fantastic Hutton cross (after a wonderful piece of play from Modric), but was unable to, as Andy Gray likes to say, “sort out his feet”, and directed the ball wide.

Crouch had a poor game, completing only 8 out of 23 passes. Indeed, Football 365 commented that “Peter Crouch’s pass completion rate of 32% [sic] v United was the worst of any Premier League starter this weekend”.

The Chalkboard below illustrates how lacking his hold up play was, with the red arrows showing incomplete passes. When he does successfully hold the ball up, he seems to do so by coming so deep (possibly to evade the centre back, knowing that he will be out-muscled?) that he eventually passes the ball back towards our own centre backs.

His aerial battles were also disappointing; again, the Chalkboard below illustrates this:

He won 2 out of 5 challenges in the box, with one of them shown below:

In this instance, he needs to nod the ball down to van der Vart to allow the shot, but he actually heads the ball directly up in the air under pressure from Vidic, a player over whom he has a 5 inch height advantage. The move ends when van der Vaart retrieves the ball and goes down in the corner of the box, appealing for a penalty.

Redknapp’s comments in the Evening Standard were frustrating to say the least.

“I said at half-time we had to try to keep playing as much as we can, play into Luka Modric and Rafa — that’s how we were looking to play — but when they close and press you sometimes, it’s not always easy.

You have got to be brave to play some balls — you will play a tight ball into Luka Modric with someone closing him but you might not play it to some other people for fear of losing the ball and then bang, it’s in the back of your net.

When you are a defender and you are looking to play a little ball into the middle of the park but your team-mates are getting closed down, your first instinct is to look long.

They are not an easy team to go long against because both centre-halves are fantastic in the air, especially with Vidic who heads it unbelievably well.

So it was a problem but you also have a problem though if you play two little strikers — if you play Van der Vaart with Defoe and they press you, how do you get out?

It is very difficult then to play through a top-class team.

You have got to play perfect football to get balls into Defoe or Van der Vaart when you have got two tiny guys up front for you. You need Crouch from set-plays, too.”

Whilst I don’t have a particular issue with Crouch, I have written on the subject of our strikers before – see my previous article ‘Why Pavlyuchenko should be first choice in the league (warning, stat alert!)‘. For many, Defoe was the logical choice yesterday – back in goal-scoring form after notching twice against Charlton, and able to stretch the United defenders with runs in behind. Vidic has been exploited in this manner before – notably against Torres. He is also prone to being beaten by good movement – indeed, van der Vaart showed this by beating him to a near post header after a clever run.

Whilst I can see the point that Redknapp is trying to make, based on yesterday’s game, I disagree. United stopped pressing our centre backs, instead intent on blocking space in midfield, almost encouraging the long ball to Crouch. They did this because they knew that Vidic had the beating of him in the air, and was dominating him when the ball came in to his feet. Thankfully, our centre backs chose to be patient, and were happy to keep possession by shuffling the ball across the back line before we were able to get it to Modric – as usual, he didn’t let us down – the Chalkboard below illustrates this well:

Modric dictated play far more than Carrick, who was often wasteful in possession, and ended up playing more as an auxiliary centre back.

Redknapp suggests that Crouch is a useful out ball but, in my opinion, we were dominating the game to an extent that an out ball wasn’t necessary – and in my opinion, a player to make a burst in behind and stretch the defence was.

Finally, the last disappointing element was Redknapp’s use of substitutes. Having seen how little impact the Crouch/van der Vaart partnership was making, it would have been wise to make a change at half-time, bringing on a forward to run into the channels, and in behind the centre backs. Instead, Redknapp waited until the 78th minute to bring on Defoe. After the game, Redknapp said:

“When a team goes down to 10 they’ve still got two banks of four, they’ve still got their shape about them. It’s not easy. We were open as a barn door with 15 minutes left, with Van der Vaart and Modric in the centre of midfield, two strikers and two wingers. A point is okay. Anyone taking points off Man United is doing well.”

I tend to disagree again – we were open, but not in a positive, attacking way. We had no holding midfield player, but neither did we have anyone willing to make a run from deep to get in behind the defenders. Van der Vaart looked lost when he dropped deeper, and Jenas may have been a better option – the injection of pace would have helped too.

Whilst it is notoriously difficult to play against 10 men (mainly due to psychology in my opinion), we barely tested Fletcher at right back, and we created very little. Defoe had so little time to get into the game, that he found it difficult, and Pavlyuchenko was left on the bench.

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  • drwinston001 says:

    Mr Redknapp gets a lot of credit for how he’s turned this team around and rightly so but he makes so many silly tactical errors that cost us. A lot of the time the players we currently have are good enough to win us the games in spite of these errors.

    Redknapp has got the starting line up wrong in the last 3 games and yet people will still jump to his defence and state, 2 points from 8 games etc.

    Who’s to say had Defoe started anything would’ve been different but you’ve got to give yourself the best chance of winning a football match.

    Was such a pity we didn’t take advantage of basically having the team capable of beating United home and away, if only the manager had the belief the players have.

  • daniel says:

    harry simply over thought this one. sometimes your plan on paper makes sense but in the real world crouch is outmuscled in the air and “can’t sort out his feet” in the box time after time. fine to give him a start and see if he knocks one down for rafa, but for pete’s sake adjust! 2 points dropped, no question. what was once a guaranteed 3 for united turned into a lucky 1.

  • Jill says:

    I still doubt whether Defoe can work with VDV (remember Defoe and Keane… and yes I know how much better VDV is than Keane) I hope I’m wrong. Pav was a no brainer to start ahead of Crouch. But having started with Crouch persisting with him for 90 minutes is just a mystery. I do think there is a stubborn streak to Arry, he doesn’t like to be seen as getting it wrong. Bringing Pav on, whether after 45, 60 or 70 minutes might have been seen as an admission that he had made the wrong selection.

  • Anonymous says:

    Redknapp is obviously getting an awful lot right but I find some of his decisions very strange. I can’t understand the use of Jenas in the last few games. Out of Fulham home, Everton away and Man Utd home, the last one that I would have picked Jenas for was Everton away. I also agree that VDV should have been taken off against Man Utd rather than dropped into midfield, with Jenas coming on instead.

    Finally, the recent stats show that Pav is more likely to score than either Crouch or Keane and yet he wasn’t used against either Everton or Man Utd when we needed a goal. Bringing Keane on against Everton was a very strange call.

  • Sam-I-Am says:

    Interesting read. Harry adventurous? You’re having a laugh… What I’ve noticed is that he tends to stick with what has worked in the past. Unfortunately, to often way past its change-by date. I recall tearing my hair out watching Keane play but it still took forever for Harry to finally drop him. We’re seeing the same now with Crouch. I am guessing here, but with Keane, a possible explanation was that Harry felt we were too lightweight across the middle and consequently had Keane coming far too deep to be an effective striker. He held up and broke up our own momentum far too often outside the box.

    With the Crouch situation, you can’t help but notice that with Gallas, Modders, Palacios, VDV, Lennon, BAE, there’s hardly much height in the team. Hence Harry might feel he has to play Crouch to compensate both in attack and defense, unfortunately at the expense of his real job which, if on as a striker, is to SCORE sodding goals.

  • Anonymous says:

    Windy you always deliver great information but i must correct you about Crouch . The lad is 6ft 7 has we all know so the best way to play the ball to him is to the man’s feet. He has got good skill but when you are bringing a ball heading for you from 30 feet or more under control at 6ft7 with a marauding beast clambering all over you is very difficult thing to do. When he has Defoe or another striker and Huddlestone playing he can be a great asset at 6ft7 . This is why we failed to score having two wingers and breaking with speed is no good when you have only one striker because there will be no one in the box when you cross just look at our champs games Pavlyuchenko and Crouch on the end of Bale crosses our best win Blackburn could have bean doubled if Pav was not under used like all our strikers are. We all rejoice in Van but he has upset our way of playing 442 his now 4411 when Van got injured we still won and beat Inter and had had a good 4 goals against Blackburn. This is a dilemma even with Carroll Harry needs to address now Pienaar has added another conundrum when Hudds returns who sits on the bench and still smiles. davspurs

  • Anonymous says:

    Well, Defoe hardly ever scores against the tough teams (look it up – yes he did last season vs Man U, but that was before they settled into the game and eventually destroyed us). I think it was the correct choice to have him on the bench and bring him when (a super-fit) man u get a little tired. It all could have been different had Crouch’s chance went in. I feel that Crouch’s goal scoring opportunities come so few and far between that when one does come along, he fluffs it. I think we need to mix it, at the mo, with every cross Crouch gets into position to head it down. A few times we need to throw a curve ball and cross for Bale to head down with Crouch and VdV waiting for it. Crouch should then have more chances to score.

  • Anonymous says:

    Harry’s tactic with crouch is very simple lump it in head it down and let someone finish it — this is terrible football and doesnt work, it maybe good for the odd goal eg everton but not more than that. Crouch is a horrific player, he is allways at the back post rarely making movements accross the stikers. He cannot shoot he cannot find space and he cannot make space for others, he cannot pass he cannot play make and he cannot score, why the hell do we have him upfront? van de vaart and modric need someone to play with not this oaf

  • Anonymous says:

    We are missing Huddlestone and no one has mentioned him i said we would struggle to create Modric and Hudds where blossoming till his ankle went Harry will need to find a place for him this could be the future Team. Gomes Kaboul Dawson Huddlestone Bale Lennon Pienaar Van Modric Defoe Carrol subs Crouch Townsend Walker Sandro south African don’t know is name yet.Bassong Gallas. Huddlestone has never bean on the losing side ever playing in defence. This is amazing when you look at his partners only Woodgate has lined up alongside him in a 0-0 at Everton we would have a ball playing centre half with missile passes Magic

  • Jill says:

    Bale can’t play LB BAE is a MUST. Pienaar doesn’t even get close to a first 11. But yes we are really missing Hudd, we need him in midfield he has never played in defence against top teams. My team (being realistic about injuries ie no King or Woody) Gomes, Charlie, BAE. Lennon. Modric. Hudd, Bale VDV & ????? as I said I can’t see Defoe working with this line up so for the moment it has to be Pav.

  • Jill says:

    sorry forgot Dawson and Kaboul!!!!

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