Selasa, 28 Ogos 2012

Tactics Board: Manchester United 3-2 Fulham

It seemed the most enviable of problems: how do you fit Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney into the same side? By leaving the Englishman on the bench and then losing him to injury for a month, Sir Alex Ferguson need not provide an immediate answer. Yet the actual issue is more complicated: how do Van Persie, Rooney and Shinji Kagawa all slot in?

For the second successive game, United showed off their new shape, 4-2-1-3. In effect, it is an attacking diamond with Kagawa at the base and a striker - Rooney at Everton, Van Persie against Fulham - at the tip.

While Rooney's ill-fated cameo came as the spearhead, with Van Persie taking over from the substituted Kagawa in the deeper role, the first three quarters of the game highlighted the merits of the Japanese. Though up against defensive midfielders in both matches to date - first Phil Neville, then Mahamadou Diarra - he finds pockets of space, is always available for a pass and served as a conduit from left to right, or vice versa, as attacks changed direction.

Van Persie's goal provided a headline, but the Dutchman himself served as a decoy; directly up against the defence, he scored with his solitary shot and did not enjoy the room the three support acts enjoyed. 

Because of the characteristics of the two wide men, United's attacking quartet was not a symmetrical diamond: Valencia holds his position and stays wide on the right, Young drifts in from the left. While it followed a corner, United's third goal actually involved both in positions they take up in open play, with the Ecuadorian near the corner flag, and the Englishman halfway between the touchline and the goal, before Rafael da Silva scored.

The statistics give an indication of their different positioning and preferences: Valencia delivered 14 crosses, by far the most in the match, while Young, like Kagawa, had four shots. They were in positions to go for goal, Valencia in areas to aim for team-mates.

The stations the wingers occupied also influenced the full-backs. Van Persie's goal was a case in point: the cross was delivered by Patrice Evra from the left wing, which Young had vacated. In contrast, right-back Rafael had a goal disallowed in open play, in addition to the one he scored from a corner, after making a diagonal run infield, with Valencia policing the flank.

It was a different diamond in the final quarter, with Rooney at the top and Danny Welbeck on the left, and it suggested that, slight as the distinction between attacking midfielder and deep-lying forward can be, Van Persie was less involved than Kagawa had been in the hole. The Japanese actually finished with the lowest pass completion rate of United's outfield starters, but as that was still 89%, it was a sign of how Fulham stood off United. Apart, of course, from when Hugo Rodallega accidentally stood on Rooney and delayed Ferguson's decision.


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