Vidic Proves His Importance To United
In what was David Moyes’ most important game of the season so far, Manchester United beat Arsenal 1-0, courtesy of a fine header by Robin van Persie.
While Wayne Rooney stole the limelight with his industrious display, Nemanja Vidic’s first-half performance formed the foundation for United’s win.
This article looks at how.
Help From Midfielders
Before we talk about Vidic’s contribution, it’s important to understand how the midfielders helped him.
United’s midfielders closed down space in front of the defense, kept all the runs of the Arsenal’s midfielders in check, pressed high and disrupted the Gunners’ passing rhythm (as Sir Alex Ferguson would have wanted).
With no space to pass in between the lines to the likes of Mesut Oezil and Santi Cazorla, Arsenal looked to Olivier Giroud for attacking impetus via long balls.
In Arsenal’s free-flowing passing game, Giroud’s role is more than just of a scorer.
An accomplished aerial threat, winning 4.7 headers per-game (highest in the Arsenal squad), the France international holds up the ball, giving the midfielders the time to rush forward and then links up with them.
He’s most threatening around penalty box. In that way, he can link-up and be near to the goal as well. Dropping very deep or to the wings would mean needing to go back forward quickly in some instances or with the ball.
Giroud lacks pace and with poor dribbling rate of just 0.7 dribbles per game (97th in the Premier League), 27-yaer-old can’t do that if team is pressing well, like United.
As put by Arsene Wenger himself, “Giroud is a real centre-forward who uses his power – he is really central. Suarez is more a player who goes on the flanks and is more a dribbler.”
When given space, Giroud can link up beautifully. He doesn’t need much time, but only space. His awareness is already a level above most of the Premier League strikers.
When Giroud nudged the ball back to Jack Wilshere for the assist for that goal, it barely took him a second to do that. The error Norwich made was they didn’t put pressure on Giroud from behind.
Vidic Limiting Giroud’s Threat
On Sunday, Vidic’s task was simple- stay close to Giroud and don’t give him the space to pick out passes in the final third.
And he did so admirably.
6th minute- Goal-kick directed towards Giroud. Vidic comes from behind and wins the aerial duel. Thomas Vermaelen heads the ball back to Giroud. He takes it on his chest, Vidic presses aggressively from behind again, harries Giroud off the ball for Michael Carrick to intercept.
8th minute- Aaron Ramsey feeds Giroud and makes a run in the “hole” between Vidic and Patrice Evra. Giroud tries to control the ball to return the pass to Ramsey but Vidic’s press doesn’t allow him to do so.
10th minute- Goal-kick played to Giroud. Vidic wins the header.
16th minute- Giroud gets behind Vidic, controls a long pass by Ramsey but by the time he gets the ball on the ground and before he is able to control it properly, Vidic tracks back and latches onto the France international, forcing him to pass it back, to Oezil. The latter is caught off-guard and Arsenal lose possession.
20th minute- Giroud wins aerial duel with Vidic but his headed pass meets Chris Smalling.
28th minute- Laurent Koscielny feeds Giroud, who drops back this time. Vidic follows Giroud up until almost the half-way line and forces him into a clumsy first touch. Arsenal lose possession yet again.
29th minute- Bacary Sagna crosses in for Giroud. Vidic clears.
34th minute- Mathieu Flamini passes to Giroud. Vidic intercepts.
These are eight instances when Arsenal looked for Giroud to contribute towards their attacks and he failed.
Giroud sometimes dropped very wide or deep, while someone else occupied Vidic.
In the 33rd minute, Oezil kept Vidic busy and played a pass to Giroud, who was several yards away from the penalty area and in space on United’s right-wing. Now Giroud and Oezil literally swapped roles (Oezil held the ball and got Giroud into play). But Giroud couldn’t do what Oezil does. He tried to run with the ball but his subsequent pass was wayward.
Giroud completed just five of his ten attacking third passes in the final-half. He won three of his eight headers and played just three passes to Oezil, with only one of them in the final third. His only attempt, a header, came when Vidic was marking Flamini.
With Vidic off injured, neither Jonny Evans nor Phil Jones marked Giroud. Now Giroud could twist, turn, hold up and link up. He had more space and his impact drastically increased. Even if he
dropped, he managed to get others involved, so there was no need to run with the ball towards the goal.
Moreover, Giroud now gave his teammates the ball on the run. Vidic’s pressure had forced him to give his teammates the ball on to their foot instead.
Vidic’s Talismanic Impact
Vidic not only shut down Giroud but helped United maintain a compact defensive line. After the interval, United’s backline retreated by several yards, which opened up more space for Giroud and Oezil and allowed Arsenal to mount pressure.
The Serbia international was instructing players all over the pitch. In the 32nd minute, when Arsenal outnumbered United on their left-flank to force a throw-in, Vidic could be seen shouting at his teammates at the opposite wing to be more compact and closer towards the ball.
He might be entering the twilight of his career, but Vidic is still United’s best defender and leader.
Statistics via FourFourTwo and WhoScored.
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