The impossible job of succeeding inarguably the greatest manager to have ever graced British football was never going to be easy for David Moyes.
Some elements in the press have already started to question the Scot’s appointment as the gaffer of Manchester United while the Red Devils’ mediocre pre-season and Moyes’ transfer strategies have disillusioned some sections of the fans.
However, the Community Shield tie against FA Cup holders Wigan Athletic last weekend provided a degree respite to Moyes as Untied sailed to a comfortable win, owing to a Robin van Persie double.
United’s domination in the first thirty minutes was easily the best football they have played under Moyes and we analyse what exactly the English champions executed to perfection in that period.
United pressed high, Michael Carrick pulled the strings in midfield and Patrice Evra bombarded down Wigan’s right wing.
The team lacked coherence and fluidity and Wilfried Zaha got easily harried off the ball but United’s domination was evident, for, the Red Devils had 76% of possession till the 20-minute mark.
Technically, Ryan Giggs started out on the left, but the Welshman was drifting all over the pitch, swapping roles with Danny Welbeck, combining with van Persie and occasionally dropping back to distribute the ball.
Giggs was basically operating in a “free role”, looking for pockets of space all over the pitch and regularly helping the wing-men to create three-versus-two situations.
Giggs plucked in Shaun Maloney along with him from out wide, which allowed Evra to move high up the pitch and provide width.
Welbeck was playing off van Persie, but continually swapped roles with Giggs.
The young Englishman also dropped very deep at times to be part of the passing game.
Welbeck and Giggs gave United two additional passing outlets in the centre of the park, helping Moyes’ troops to easily cope with Wigan’s numerical advantage in midfield.
When Welbeck fell back, Tom Cleverley or Giggs took up the space vacated by him to ensure van Persie wasn’t isolated.
The mobility and understanding among Welbeck, Cleverley and Giggs looked promising and their movements caused massive problems to Wigan’s defenders and midfielders.
United were calm in their build-up play.
The plan was to patiently dismantle Wigan’s set-up.
The positional interchange of Giggs, Welbeck and Cleverley caused ample problems to the Latics but sometimes, this tactic didn’t work.
However, since there was no pressing on United’s defenders and the midfield pivot, the English champions kept the ball in their own territory till an opening was created.
As soon as some space was found, United suddenly upped the tempo of the game with some quick short passes or via the flank-men.
This sudden change of pace caught Wigan completely off guard and was the reason why the Red Devils appeared so unpredictable.
Lack of Penetration
Even after finding gaps in Wigan’s structure, Untied couldn’t penetrate from the centre, highlighting the club’s desperate need for a creative and more technical central midfielder.
The one-two’s weren’t always yielding the required results and United clearly lacked the ideas to get past Wigan’s defence.
Either that or because of Moyes’ traditional philosophy, United resorted to attacking down the wings.
Even though United looked strong in the centre, they were most threatening from the flanks.
Wing-overloads helped in opening channels.
Then was the shift of play to Evra.
United congested the right wing and the centre, leaving acres of space for the France international. When all options rendered futile, Evra was called into action and if one noticed, the full-back timed his runs exceptionally well and never ran out of ideas.
United’s opener just after six minutes is a classic example of how Moyes wants United to play- get men into the box and then provide them with the required ammunition from out wide.
Van Persie played the ball to Evra, who had made his trademark surging run. After that, the 30-year-old made a late dash into the box, joining Giggs, Welbeck and Zaha in the danger area, all anticipating the Evra’s cross.
The 32-year-old’s delivery found the forehead of van Persie and the Flying Dutchman dispatched the ball in off the far post.
“The first goal was world class, but that was unlucky for us,” reflected Wigan manager Owen Coyle after the match.
United also relied on Zaha to provide natural width and pace but the England international was quickly congested by the Wigan players whenever he had the ball on his feet, more or less limiting his impact.
United’s high pressing in the first half-an-hour was simply excellent.
The four attackers closed down the passing options for Wigan’s defenders and central midfielders admirable well. Welbeck, in particular, did a remarkable job, often forcing misplaced passes by the Latics players in the final third.
While the attackers pressed, Carrick and Cleverley stayed deep, marshalling Nemanja Vidic and co and ensuring there wasn’t any space left in between the lines in case Wigan beat the press.