Manchester United Starting XI
David De Gea
Antonio Valencia, Chris Smalling, Daley Blind, Matteo Darmian
Bastian Schweinsteiger, Morgan Schneiderlin
Juan Mata. Wayne Rooney, Memphis Depay,
Manchester United desperately needed to win this match up as, not only have the Premier League clubs been doing poor in Europe so far but, VfL Wolfsburg are most likely United’s toughest opponents in the group. 3 points were a must for Louis van Gaal’s Army tonight.
From kick off the game started quite slow, United, in Wolfsburg’s half a lot, with balls over the top not really coming to anything but then in the 4th minute, the German’s broke away.
Darmian failed to track back, which caused Schneiderlin to close down the Wolfsburg player, down the right hand side. Blind then chased over to provide more cover. This caused Smalling to move over also but, Valencia didn’t follow. He stood offside whilst a Wolfsburg player stood almost on his own in the middle of the box.
Caligiuri was waiting for a well threaded ball from Kruse to reach his feet, which he then very simply put to the back of the net. De Gea cam close to saving it but never really had a chance.
Manchester United 0 – 1 VfL Wolfsburg
The Red Devils then began to step it up a gear, increasing in offensive pressure as the minutes ticked by.
In the 12th minute, Darmian out paced the full back and managed to whip in a great cross, which Mata takes down. The Spaniard then hits a goal-bound shot but, Dante flies over and flicks the ball over the goal with his big bouncy afro.
The English side continued to press hard up the field, with Rooney trying a few well placed through balls, and Martial leaving countless defenders in the wake of his quick feet but Naldo and Dante were always ready to stop them.
The defensive duo were solid, stopping Rooney and Martial from having any chance at goal.
As United attacked more, Wolfsburg looked more and more prone to catch them on a speedy counter attack through Julian Draxler or Maximillian Arnold, one of which caught out Valencia and Smalling.
Both defenders surged back as quickly as possible, luckily the cross, forged from their sloppy midfield play, beat striker Bas Dost, for Blind, who was the wrong side of the striker, to flick it away.
The front line continued to team up well, keeping possession, spraying the ball around but, at the heart of it all was Bastian Schweinsteiger. He owned the midfield. Any time that a Wolfsburg player would try and enter his territory, they would quickly find themselves ball-less.
He was also very good once he had the ball, distributing it to the wings, or Rooney and powering through the opposing players to find passing options.
Smalling outgrew his shaking first 25 minutes. In the final half of the first 45, Smalling dominated everywhere, cutting out passes, stopping rushing attackers and pushing forward.
Manchester United kept pounding the Wolfsburg box with great crosses and through balls but nothing was getting through until, Martial dribbles up the right hand side, leaves a defender for dead, pings a low ball behind the defence to a loitering, and lonely, Wayne Rooney. He’s got half an empty goal to aim for. He hits it for the terraces. Great chance missed.
Dante’s war on United continued through the first half until, finally Manchester United got a break through. Mata comes to the front of the box, picks up the ball, goes to cross it to the back post but, Wolfsburg’s goal scorer puts his hands up to the ball in, and concedes a penalty.
Rooney steps aside and lets Mata take the penalty in the 33rd minute. The little winger runs up, the keeper dives to his right as he places a neat shot to his left. Manchester Untied pull the game back even.
Manchester United 1 – 1 VfL Wolfsburg
The half spiralled out with United managing to work a few more half chances. Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger booked for challenges on Maximillian Arnold just before the whistle blew for half time.
By this point, Bastian Schweinsteiger was the outstanding candidate for Man of the Match. He has been relentless in midfield, barely putting a foot wrong.
The second half commences with Antonio Valencia being subbed off for Ashley Young, where the Englishman would assume the right back position.
Young gets caught out straight away. Wolfsburg get beyond him and whip in a masterful ball towards Bas Dost, who’s ready for the tap in, until Matteo Darmian powers across to cover. It would have been 1-2 but for the Italian’s intervention.
Manchester United then start throwing everything at Wolfsburg, just smashing in attack after attack, never letting up. They were allowed 2 consecutive play-ons as they just kept pushing on the German side’s box.
United’s high tempo has seen Depay be brilliant and diabolical. He can beat any of their full backs with his pace, dribbling and upper body strength, but when he gets to the box, he tries passes which are over complicated and failed every time.
In the 49th minute he tried to flick the ball over two defenders, which were tight on him, to get the ball to an offside Darmian, the whole move fails and the Wolves clear.
But, in that same minute, United send him the ball back and he crosses an superb ball, with the outside of his right boot, which just grazes the head of a jumping, but under pressure, Anthony Martial.
Then all of the pressure finally pays off when Depay’s run earns a corner. The corner it self comes to very little, but United’s persistence to get the ball pulls of an incredible goal in the 52nd minute.
The ball comes to Mata in mid-air, the Spaniard, cool as you like, back heel flicks the ball over the stagnant defence, as Smalling breaks through and catches the dipping ball on the volley to slide the ball under the diving keeper.
It was an incredible finish from the centre back and an even better assist from Mata.
Manchester United 2 – 1 Wolfsburg
Wolfsburg pose an almost instant threat following the goal. They catch defenders Blind and Young off guard with a run across the box, which sees Young follow Caligiuri to no effect. The Wolfsburg player then pounds a shot on goal; De Gea gets down well to stop the attempt.
Smalling continues to put in crucial tackles, besting any player who thinks that they can beat him in a one-on-one situation.
Just past the hour mark, Andreas Pereira is brought on for Memphis Depay. The Dutchman has been a bit hit and miss, but he’s been very attack minded, something that United need less of now that Wolfsburg would be pushing for a goal.
Bastian continues break down Wolfsburg attacks, on one occasion in particular he gathers the ball in front of the defence, only to be faced by 3 men in green and white. He goes full Deutsche Beast Mode and rams through all 3 of them, being fouled multiple times in the process but gets through. No Wolfsburg player gets booked for the fouls.
At the 68 minute mark, Wolfsburg turn the heat up. They bring on two ex-Premier League forwards in the form of Nicklas Bendtner and André Schürrle.
The referee begins to favour the Green team, awarding a lot of dangerous free kicks to the crowd disapproval.
At 71 minutes, van Gaal brings on Phil Jones to bolster the defence but, subs off Bastian Schweinsteiger, easily United’s best performer so far.
The Red Devil’s feel the impact immediately. Although the defensive line holds firm, Blind does next to nothing in midfield to stop incoming attacks, whilst Schneiderlin tries to provide extra cover on wider attacks.
Wolfsburg are being allowed the field in front of the box, allowing them to craft some very dangerous attacks.
Luckily, Chris Smalling stepped up and was rock solid at the back, nothing and no one got past him. Jones and Darmian also contributed some key defensive headers to keep the score line in United’s favour.
By the 82nd minute, the Reds were in all out defence mode. The camera panned to Bastian on the bench, looking tense. Commentator Owen Hargreaves (who was brilliant all game) summed up what all Manchester United fans were thinking by exclaiming:
“I’m not sure why he’s not playing”
Manchester United managed to break away for the Wolfsburg on occasion, with Rooney, Mata and Martial teaming up well to get the ball into the German side’s half.
Since coming on, Pereira wasn’t being allowed many chances to show off his Brazilian flair. Being under heavy fire from the German’s, Pereira had to put in a very defensive shift, which he did well. He played an almost left-left back for a lot of his game time.
As the game trickled into the dying minutes, Bastian’s absence became even more apparent, with Wolfsburg pinching the ball from Blind at every opportunity. Schneiderlin had to commit a few tactical fouls towards the end of the game to keep Wolfsburg from causing any real damage.
In the final minute of the game, a great ball came to the feet of one of Wolfsburg’s strikers but Super Chris Smalling was there once again to cut it out.
The Englishman then took the ball up through midfield and drew in the foul that ended the game.
Manchester United Review
The game showed both sides of Manchester United. Their ability to dominate attack and how they perform when forced onto the back foot for long periods of time.
The Wolfsburg defence held up very well for most of the game but United got two very lucky break that sealed them the game. The pressure put on the German side was primarily forged from United taking advantage of their weaker full backs.
United were forced into parking the bus due to a lack of a strong midfield presence, that left for the bench on in the 71st minute.
If not for Smalling’s goal, and match winning defensive play at the end of the game, Bastian would have been the Man of the Match.
The frailty of the Red Devils back four was exposed a number of times, with Blind being pulled out of position, Darmian now struggling on the left and, the use of Valencia or Young at right back. Both players are natural wingers, there to attack; both struggled with their defensive play.
Martial, once again, showed off his incredible poise and flair with his dribbles that just left defenders for dead. Although he didn’t score, he played very well, providing a real goal threat that the defence tried very hard to keep out.
Manchester United’s 3 points were hard earned and well deserved in the end but, their weaknesses in defence must be addressed before the next game as Smalling can’t save the game every week.