Substitutions, Substitutions, Substitutions – and Some Weird Tactics

Oops I did it again…

All the possession in the world and still nothing to show for it. Reminds me of a certain team from North London…

What a game that was at Anfield on Sunday. A thriller, by all means, definitions – you name it. Sadly for United fans though, the end result was disappointing. Dirk Kuyt, United’s new dastardly Dutch nemesis struck deep into the second half (thank you Cap’n Evra) as Liverpool beat United 2-1 to move into the 5th round of the FA Cup, at the expense of the Red Devils.

Nevertheless, what I saw, for a major part of the game made me very delighted indeed. For the first time in a long time, United were actually attacking Liverpool at Anfield. And as anyone who watched the game would agree, United dominated for much of the game and still ended up with nothing, reminding us all of what Arsenal achieve on a weekly basis.

Lame jokes aside, the game was effectively decided by the the varying second half tactics of both the sides. Kenny Dalglish took off the ineffective Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard (I can’t believe I’m calling Gerrard ineffective) and popped on Charlie Adam and Craig Bellamy, while Ferguson, bizarrely, took off the one player who was dominating proceedings..and did nothing else until the 92nd minute. Raising eyebrows yet? Not quite.

To a reasonable extent, I agree with Sir Alex’s claim that Scholes was tired. Yes, he’s 37 and yes, he can’t be expected to play the full ninety. But, why take the him off, when Ryan Giggs was on the field? The Welshman man was having a torrid time. Placed on the left wing, Martin Kelly, Liverpool’s right back literally out-ran, out-muscled, and out-passed him. With Scholes effectively dictating the tempo (and for a change, not trying to maim anyone with his tackling), and Giggs looking more and more lonely on the left wing, the decision should have been a no-brainer, but Fergie still screwed it up. Un-fucking-believable. This is what assistant managers are for. Mike Phelan can sod off.

The two substitutions – 3 in retrospect, Dalglish making a double change – effectively decided the game. With Scholes gone, Giggs moved in, while Park was asked to move to the left. Welbeck dropped off Hernandez up front. While for Liverpool, the removal of Scholes was a blessing. Adam moved into the holding role, the one Carragher had been trying to play, While Bellamy pushed up with Carroll and Henderson moved to the right flank.

Even more strangely, Park did not always stick to the left, and continued to roam free. This meant Welbeck was displaced more and more often. By the end of the match, Welbeck was almost playing as a left winger, with Hernandez alone up front. The pace of Bellamy forced the United back-four to defend deeper.

Much more, in fact, as compared to the first half. Also with Scholes gone, Carrick looked a shadow of himself. Passes going astray, balls not being cleared, ball moving sideways et al.

According to Opta, Paul Scholes had 93 out of 95 passes successful, with an accuracy of over 97% in the first half, while Giggs had 40 of  58 passes successful with a shade over 65% accuracy. Makes you wonder “what if” huh?

Substitutions did impact the game, but more so, did some strange tactics by Ferguson.

STUPID MISTAKE #1 – David de Gea

Last time out, I wrote an article illustrating why de Gea shouldn’t be castrated everytime he steps upto the plate. Apparently, the young Spaniard took my words to heart and proceeded to dismantle my suggestions bit by bit with an as uninspiring performance as humanely possible. He flapped at crosses, trembled at shots and very nearly assisted Stewart Downing. Not very encouraging that.

In fact, his performance was so poor, that by the end of the game. the hash tag ‘#deGea’ was trending worldwide on Twitter, with Opta Joke (@OptaJoke) tweeting at one point : “11 – David de Gea is contractually obliged to flap at 11 crosses per match for Manchester United.”

de Gea’s ostensible lack of composure is rather exasperating. For a goalkeeper who was termed “van de Gea” by his Atletico team-mates, his performance doesn’t justify his being called “de Barthez” let alone “van de Gea”.

Everytime de Gea faced a cross, Liverpool had men pushing up against him, so that there was no way he could come for the ball. In truth, if de Gea had stayed on the line for the first goal, he might very well have saved it, since the ball appeared to bounce off his head.

Lindegaard was rested for…what exactly? The odd fact is, Lindegaard was seen warming up immediately after United had conceded the first goal. What for? To intimidate de Gea? And in any case, the Dane went back to bench soon enough. What the hell?

de Gea was clearly rattled all through the match. At point, he looked like he was about to pick a fight with Andy Carroll! Yeah I know whom I’d put my money on…

STUPID MISTAKE #2 – Lack of a second striker

As soon as the line up was announced, I saw this as the biggest problem. Welbeck is a very good striker, no doubt, but he isn’t very good with his back to goal. He likes the ball played into him mid-run, while most of the other players want him to hold the ball up while others can be drawn into the attack. This is best illustrated by the fact both of the 2 passes misplaced by Scholes in the first half were ones he played towards Welbeck.

I also thought Giggs would be the one to drop off. But it was Park who isn’t exactly famed for his finishing or playmaking. But initially, the decision seemed a good one. Park was everywhere and also got the crucial first goal, arriving late to whack home Rafael’s inviting cross.

As the game wore on however, Welbeck cut a frustrated figure up front. He kept dropping back – even defending at one point – trying to get the ball. This is where ideally a second striker would thrive. Dimitar Berbatov should have started today.

I understand I may not be well supported here. Berbatov is slow, not involved enough blah blah. But the man is a brilliant passer of the ball, he holds up play exquisitely, and when wave after wave of Liverpool attacks were coming in, the Bulgarian would have been the ideal man to slow down the tempo, get hold of the ball and wait for everything to settle down. Against Arsenal, Welbeck had an unremarkable game, but managed to redeem himself with the winner. He couldn’t repeat it this time around and with Rooney out, he definitely needed a partner to help keep his spirits up.

STUPID MISTAKE #3 – Substitutions

Or the apparent lack of them. Why did Fergie wait until the 92nd minute for his second substitution, after Hernandez came on the 75th? The moment Scholes went off, Liverpool started dominating, and eventually won. Hernandez wasn’t the logically obvious choice – United had no possession and who would you introduce? An out and out super fast striker or someone who can hold up the ball and draw others in?

Even Paul Pogba would have been a better option than Hernandez at this point!

There were however, many positives to draw from this. Scholes was back to his magnificent best, our defence looks better and better without Rio Ferdinand, and Evra (almost) rediscovered his defending prowess. With Stoke and Ajax up next, United need to be on their toes to ensure that they win a cup this year. Wait… does the Europa League count as a Cup?

Now all we need is an English speaking cousin of Costel Pantilimon and we’ll be good as new.

One thought on “Substitutions, Substitutions, Substitutions – and Some Weird Tactics

  1. Good stuff Anandu – especially agree about the subs. It’s long been a bugbear of mine that Fergie seems to so rarely use his allotted 3 subs especially in games where changes are clearly needed.

    Agree about Berbatov too. If Fergie doesn’t consider him first choice that’s fine but his ability to hold up the ball and provide an outlet was ideal for a game such as this. I’m a big fan of young Welbeck but he wasn’t the right choice for this game.

    Feel sorry for de Gea. I’ve long been supportive of him and maintain he’ll be an excellent keeper. I think part of his problem is he seems to feel as though he has to behave like a typical “English goalkeeper” as if to prove a point. For the Agger goal there’s no way he should have come for that cross. He was never going to get there with Carroll in front of him. If he stays on his line he saves the header. Problem is if he’d have done that he’d still be criticised “needs to come for those sort of crosses” etc – the boy can’t win.

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