There’s a space between us

August 23, 2010 § 6 Comments

Well, from a United perspective, it was better than last year. But while Nani’s (desperately poor) penalty miss was probably the decisive act, Fulham’s performance regularly exposed United’s weakness in tracking runners from midfield.

Prior to his goal, Simon Davies had a decent chance to work van der Sar. Danny Murphy chipped a pass toward Bobby Zamora, who beat Evans and Evra in the air, and nodded the ball to Davies, who shot just over. Here’s the play as the ball is flicked on. Park is letting Davies go, and Vidic is only just able to make it across to force Davies into a first-time snap-shot, which flies just over.

Also at 0-1, Etuhu had a golden chance to equalise, only thwarted by a ridiculous double save from van der Sar. Here he breaks from Berbatov into open space …

… and is able to proceed entirely unchallenged through the midfield and into the gap between O’Shea and Vidic.

Now here’s the pass for the goal. Zamora – who absolutely ruined Evans over the course of the afternoon – is the provider. Both Vidic and O’Shea are drawn to Dempsey’s run, leaving Davies to emerge unaccompanied from the midfield. Valencia, like Park before, hasn’t followed the run (though does manage to arrive in the box in time to point accusingly at somebody else).

Fulham also had a penalty shout wrongly turned down. But again, as you can see below, United’s defence has once again failed to track the runner. In this screengrab, Vidic is about to pull Dembele’s shirt, but Zamora, on this occasion coming from deep, is entirely alone on the edge of the penalty-box.

It’s this vulnerability that lends credence to the frequent suggestions that United are perhaps a defensively-minded central midfielder light (this week’s random target chosen with blindfold-and-pin from the Bumper Book Of Defensive Midfielders: Raul Meireles). And while United could have won this game, better teams will exploit this space more often, and to greater effect. From a United perspective, this should not only be treated as two points dropped. It should be treated as a warning.

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§ 6 Responses to There’s a space between us

  • Don Pablo says:

    So fucking true. I tried telling anyone who would listen. For all of the finger pointing being done, the biggest finger should be pointed at Fergie. As if playing two in the middle against Fulham’s 3 wasn’t bad enough, the lack of tactical change was baffling seeing as we were over run in midfield from the 20th minute. If we won’t sign a ball winner in midfield then we should at least play three in the middle against any half decent team lest we risk such defensive frailities. The weakness in the middle cut off the defence from the attack leading to isolation for Berba and Chicha and over burdening the defence which didn’t neccesarily cover itself in glory. Yesterday was a big warning and with time to act on it. The question is, will we heed the warning?

  • Giles says:

    Great post. The joke on the facebook link made me do a little bit of sick in my mouth though.

  • Chris says:

    I agree with pretty much everything you’ve written there. I’m glad someone else has noticed this trend of ours in recent seasons to be almost ‘unplayably’ open in the midfield area in a 4-4-2. I thought I might’ve been going mad…

    We always let teams come at us when we shouldn’t allow them to. Fletcher and Scholes may be our best two midfielders form wise at the moment, but they’re not our best partnership because of that. Someone like Carrick needs to be in there. If we don’t win the league this season, this lack of solidarity in midfield will have a lot to do with it in my opinion.

    (thought I would add my comment to your blog as well as reply via twitter.)

    • twistedblood says:

      (Appreciated.)

      I agree about Carrick. When he plays he has a happy knack of covering the gaps, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that he had three great seasons, in which we won the league, and one poor one, when we didn’t.

  • […] noted after the Fulham game that United have trouble tracking runners from midfield, particularly when playing 4-4-2. In Rooney’s absence – about which I cannot  be […]

  • […] way they didn’t deserve to beat either Everton or Fulham. As I noted at the time, Fulham were threatening and penetrative throughout, while Everton capitalised on a formational switch and a collective failure of nerve. By contrast, […]

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