January 20, 2011
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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.