The Hardest Way To Score


A conversation with a Manchester United fan about their current troubles is always an interesting affair. The majority blame the midfield and the minority blame David Moyes. There are also the camp that blame both due to a ‘failed’ summer transfer window however that is just semantics. Putting an onus on the current tactics employed at Manchester United is something that isn’t making the headlines, rather blaming the midfield that lacks a creative spark. Let’s not skirt around the issues here, Manchester United are 7th in the league, have lost more home games than in any other season over the last decade and are playing a prehistoric brand of football. There are many factors that could be blamed here but the latter of that list is where the problem lies and an open January transfer window is not the ailment that fans are looking for. The core issue is the style of play that a new signing would not change, for example, to buy Ilkay Gundogan to play alongside Michael Carrick, would not change very much other than make the midfield slightly more robust. Thus, not much of a difference would be made with there being an inherent penchant to bypass the centre of the pitch and play it wide.
Crosses into the box are ingrained into Manchester United and this was also the case at Everton under Moyes. However the crosses at United are usually provided by the world’s best wingers: Kanchelskis, Beckham and Giggs to name a few. Currently, other than Januzaj, the wingers are nowhere near the required level in any way at all. Nani has been taken out of the frame entirely, Valencia has forgotten how to be a winger and Ashley Young has just, well he’s just awful. For anyone that has played football, scoring from a cross is one of the hardest things to do. Rather than play any sort of intricate football, the predictable pass out wide is made and a cross comes in. So far this season that number is up to 533 as of the Spurs game at Old Trafford. This is by far the most in the league and this game also let Manchester United eclipse their own crossing record to have the most crosses in any game this season. That United failed with 36 was one of the reasons as to why they lost this game. Moyes pointed to poor refereeing decisions but anyone who may have actually watched this game can attest to the fact United actually didn’t look like scoring at any point after they had got their goal through Danny Welbeck.
There is an element of luck in football, and granted you make your own luck however the best teams will do their best to remove luck and beat a team by passing their way through them. Crossing the ball is not an efficient way of playing final-third football whereas through-balls tend to pick the lesser teams off. Conveniently, this was the way that Welbeck did get United’s goal in that game from a Januzaj pass. A point to retain here is that out of the 533 balls thrown into the box from a wide area, 423 have failed. To take a pragmatist’s view of that, is that not 423 times United could have tried something different? Sure they wouldn’t have scored from all of them, but if a team coming to play Manchester United knows what’s in store, then the surprise factor is taken out of the team. If teams know that all they need to do is take care of the forwards, United are bereft of ideas. All an opposing side needs to do is win the initial header and the ball would then be recycled to start the process all over again.
Going back to the wingers mentioned earlier, the best wingers United had were goalscoring wingers. As of right now, again discounting Januzaj, Nani, Valenia and Young have contributed 3 goals between them. Beckham would regularly score, as did Giggs and Ronaldo needs no statistics mentioned. With there being a lack of goals coming from the wide players, central midfield has to be a source of goals. Currently with Carrick playing in a withdrawn role and negating his efforts in the final third, the onus is on Cleverley to help out. With 1 goal in 26 appearances, it doesn’t seem that he will turn into the midfielder that United would expect. Moyes’s only purchase in the summer was Fellaini and with his 11 goals last season, there was every reason to think that goals would come, regardless if they were coming from crosses. However no goals in 11 appearances as well as just not being very good hasn’t helped anyone at the club.
There is an over-reliance on this brand of football and without Van Persie and Rooney, this has exposed United to be playing some of the worst football in the top half of the league. It was only last weekend that David Moyes switched from playing 4-4-2 to a 4-2-3-1 system (aided by the return to fitness of Fletcher and Kagawa) and the difference in the football being played here was stark. and United looked like a force of old and this may have only been a fleeting view of what’s to come but hopefully it will give Moyes the reality check he needs.
Last season Manchester United were 8th in the ‘league’ of playing through the middle, this season they are bottom of the league. A high calibre signing such as Thiago Alcantara or Cesc Fabregas would have made a statement however what worth is a player of such luxury when the ball bypasses them? Without their runs into the box or their presence for strikers to lay balls off to them, how can the lack of summer signings be blamed? Fans are crying out for the money to be spent and where this may be true, the manager needs to adapt to a new brand of football that can include these players. The midfield will most probably not change this January however the problem can be seen in the dug out and not on the pitch. A title winning team doesn’t change to a team in 7th overnight. Only one thing changed, and that’s the manager.

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