What We Learned: West Ham 0-2 Manchester United

Van Persie’s absence freed up his teammates

Given that both Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie are utterly undroppable in David Moyes’ Manchester United side, it shouldn’t come as too much surprise that they look a less constricted side when one of them isn’t around. This isn’t an attack on the talismanic Dutchman’s positioning, as United are a less threatening proposition without him; what we saw today, however, made light of his exclusion with Juan Mata and Shinji Kagawa supporting a vibrant Rooney up front. It was a succinct, sharp and slick attacking performance, featuring some of the best link-up play that we’ve seen from the club all season, and it makes the decision of how United should approach the immediate future without the Dutchman all the more easier to make.

Moyes got his line-up right again

At the risk of giving the Scot too much credit, it’s difficult to ignore how effective United’s starting XI were from front to back. Rafael’s early indiscretions aside, a reshuffled back-line with Michael Carrick slotted in at centre-back coped well with West Ham’s aerial bombardment, Marouane Fellaini excelled in an unshackled central role and up front, Mata and Kagawa linked superbly with Rooney to provide United with a host of useful chances. Of course, the hosts were limited, but the manner in which they were beaten was encouraging.

Rooney can excel up front between now and May

Van Persie’s knee injury will keep him out of United’s line-up until late April at the earliest, removing any chance of involvement in the two-legged clash with Bayern Munich and Tuesday’s Manchester derby. These three games are the most important of the remainder of United’s season, and if Moyes has any chance of success, he will need to support Rooney to the fullest. Allowing Juan Mata more freedom in domestic games will benefit everyone given the Spaniard’s undoubted talent, and utilising Shinji Kagawa’s talents in Europe feels like a no-brainer with Van Persie on the sidelines. Rooney might well be at his best being allowed to link up with an attacking midfielder at will and not alongside or behind another striker, and United have players capable of complimenting him if that ends up being the case. Either way, these next few weeks will surely see the man touted as the club’s next captain pushed to the fore in more ways that one.

rooney-moyes-white-shirt

Kagawa’s moment has arrived

Shinji Kagawa, for his inability to adapt to a less central role, hasn’t been given a particularly long run in either Sir Alex Ferguson or David Moyes’ side in his preferred position as his second season winds down. But, with Robin Van Persie out, and Juan Mata cup-tied in Europe, the Japanese may have been gifted with the perfect platform to prove his worth to the club at the tail-end of his second season at Old Trafford. United’s options out wide have hardly sparkled this season, and today’s performance, along with some impressive displays against Bayer Leverkusen earlier in the campaign point to a more centrally-focused attack being the club’s best bet of success.

It’s no secret that Kagawa’s exclusion has split opinion this season, but given the urgency and need for quality in United’s attack without Van Persie, it’s surely worth throwing him into the mix at this stage in proceedings. Moyes has little to lose and everything to gain, with today’s hungry, energetic performance suggesting that a lack of game-time hasn’t blunted the Japanese’s qualities.

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A central midfield with greater mobility helps everyone

At the risk of jumping on Michael Carrick’s back for the sake of it, and with Marouane Fellaini’s disappointingly toothless display against Liverpool fresh in the memory, it was heartening to see how accomplished and capable United’s central midfield looked with Fellaini alongside Darren Fletcher. The Scot kept a tight grip on proceedings from further back, with the Belgian encouraged to provide further support to United’s front four. After a season spent watching a rigid, flat midfield four attempt to punt the ball towards an isolated front two, this was a revelation, goddamnit. It was far more direct, mobile and positive than we’d seen from a Moyes side this season, and whilst its success here guarantees little elsewhere, it’s a heartening step in an encouraging direction, especially considering how City cut through United’s midfield  last September at the Etihad.

5 Comments

  1. of course this was only one game, but i honestly believe the midfield was better without carrick!

    midfield selection is a huge difficulty!

    kagawa is so effective when he cuts inside, but there are not many teams that will allow space for him to cut inside. and cutting inside means so much exposure down the wings! i genuinely believe he needs to start behind the strikers!

    i stand by my statement rooney is better as a striker than an attacking midfielder, and that utd need to play rooney RVP as 2 strikers together!

    fellaini is a good holding midfielder! we do need more natural width, especially against city & bayern!

    vs bayern

    de gea
    rafael jones vidic butner
    fellaini
    valencia giggs kagawa welbeck
    rooney

    vs city i would swap giggs for mata

    you have your defensive support, and great attacking width and passing skill

    mata & kagawa with rooney is a great combination, add welbeck and valencia out wide…. seriously this is amazing!!!

    but i know carrick will never be left out which is the biggest problem!

    when RVP returns….. i prefer the idea of mata and kagwa sharing the wings. and rooney still pushing as a striker but obviously he always helps defensively anyway.

    i dont see how we can utilise carricks skill set, attacking he doesnt create much at all… and defensively, fellaini makes more tackles anyway. our passing without him in the midfield was the best we have had all season!!!

  2. As we look for more midfielders we should not overlook Fletcher.That combination of Fletcher and Fellaini should be given more opportunity to prove itself.The use of Cleverly and Young creates a weakness in the midfield.One day Moyes should play Evra out wide on the left wing!The absence of RVP should not be a problem since even Chicharito hasn’t played enough games to sharpen up:Moyes should give him that role of super-sub that Sir Alex used to give.

  3. Dithering Daisy Moyes does not operate with the ” little to lose and everything to gain ” attitude to matches. Conservatism and negativity have been the cornerstones of his approach.

    The way injuries and suspensions hit United before the West Ham game, meant that Moyes was forced to change his team selection. The cloud hanging over the injury to RVP has something of a silver lining. Moving Rooney up front to striker, away from the number 10 role was good news. He is a class goalscorer, and Mata and Kagawa are class playmakers. Those three work well together with Rooney as striker and Kagawa and Mata in behind. Similarly moving Carrick into the backline, whilst not ideal, did allow both Fletcher and Fellaini to play in the middle. Both had good games. Fellaini can probably do a decent job for United for the rest of the season, without necessarily living up to his price tag. A fully fit Fletcher is better than Carrick for me any day.

    Saturday’s starting eleven did well because as United were down to the bare bones, Moyes was forced into changes which gave more scope for initiative and opportunity for players such as Kagawa, Mata and Fellaini. The one blot for me in the starting eleven was the picking of Young. Perhaps Januzaj was being rested ahead of the City game.

  4. The key to having a winning chance against bayern is our defensive midfield. Giggs will be key and must play but if carrick, fletcher or felaini partner him we will lose. I think we need kagawa to partner giggs.they both are the best passers and are comfotable on the ball. They will allow us to move the ball from the back 4 through them in to our attacking players.giggs can also try longer balls and kagawa will push forward in attack.fellaini plays in the hole as a target man.rooney upfront ,welbeck on the left and januzaj on the right.rafa smalling, jones and evans at lb ,no buttner robben would have his way with him. We need to hold ball and really put bayerns defence under preasure .the best way to blunt their attack is to hold the ball and make them defend.

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