Blog by: TRP
Manchester United played host to Bayer Leverkusen for their first UEFA Champions League match this season. Before the match, all the questions were over David Moyes’ inexperience at this level, but the result was enough to silence his critics, at least relatively. The Red Devils outclassed the German outfit by 4-2 where even two goals seem flattering for Leverkusen, one of which was a brilliant finish and the other a chance goal.
The performance that they gave was much better than the bland ones they have been giving recently. It was perhaps more to do with a tactical bit of edge that they had over Leverkusen.
Leverkusen’s tactical mistake
Bayer Leverkusen is a very good team in Bundesliga, there is certainly no doubting that. After all, they finished third in the table behind the current giants of Germany, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. Their gameplay is based upon a classic counterattacking strategy where they sit deep and then go for the swift counter. A general logic has been to allow the home team to have possession, especially if they are a strong opponent. Leverkusen manager Sami Hyypia followed that and it was a good idea since they were going to play to their strengths. Sadly for them, that was their mistake.
In the past seasons, the teams who have done well against United have been the ones who have pressed them hard, like say Liverpool this season, and there is a good reason for that. United have a disjointed midfield where a very strong attack receives the ball from a defensive midfield, which needs time and space to do that. Once you press hard on the CDMs, the balls that come to the attackers all turn out to be hopeful punts.
Leverkusen, when they defended deep, allowed Carrick and Fellaini all the time in the world. Heck, even Vidic had a brilliant time with the ball at his feet. He completed a staggering 44 number of passes with a pass completion rate of 100%. Add to that mix Fellaini, who was pressing hard upon the Leverkusen midfield, not allowing them to start any counterattack – the match was decided then and there itself.
United’s fluid front three
David Moyes sprung a surprise for everyone when he finally included Shinji Kagawa in the starting XI. There has been a general perception that Kagawa has fallen out of favour with the new boss, but his inclusion was a good move for United as his presence allowed a more fluid form of attacking in the final third. Playing on the left flank, he drifted inside and allowed Rooney to move forward more and more.
Van Persie even switched to the left flank on times where he would be providing delightful crosses in. Such a fluid system confused the young Donati, left back for Leverkusen. Add in Evra’s adventurous runs on the left and United, for the first time in so many matches, concentrated their attacks from the left.
What happened to the right wing, you may ask? A certain Antonio Valencia decided to return to his best form this night as he took complete control on the right, attacking as well as defending. His powerful finish and his assist for Van Persie are indicative that perhaps he may return to his best form again.
Wayne Rooney is here to stay
There were many reports circulating in the press that predicted a Rooney move away from the Reds as he was described to be ‘angry and confused’ following a comment from David Moyes that could be implied as a slight to Rooney. Fast forward one month and he showed why he was so desperately sought by Chelsea. He played as if he was enjoying himself and when Rooney is happy, he can play so well that no opponent would be a challenge for him.
He was a constant presence in every United move forward, taking the ball forward, distributing it wisely and bombing ahead when getting a glimpse of the goal. His change of pace was a surprising sight after so long. Two goals and a delightful assist for Valencia – ladies and gentlemen, Wayne Rooney is here to stay.
Leverkusen attack nullified
Before the match, all the focus was on the attacking trio of Keissling, Son and Sam, who were expected to irritate the United defence. Keissling was even drawing comparisons with Van Persie, having been the top scorer in Bundesliga last season. Keissling is however the type of attacker who the experienced pair of Ferdinand and Vidic would have no problems against. Their age makes it hard for them against swift strikers but Keissling relies more on his physical aspect. Heung Min Son was perhaps the only one who was even marginally effective and bagged an assist when he teed up his captain, who curled the ball perfectly into the bottom left, giving De Gea no chance at all.
Manchester United are still Manchester United
This was supposed to be the beginning of something new, but it felt just like the old times. Ferguson or no Ferguson, his legacy of a team remains and Moyes is clearly going to continue where Ferguson left off. An unstoppable attack, wobble in between, two shocking misses, a peach of a goal, a machine like counterattack goal and a defensive lapse in the end. Sounds like the kind of thing that United would do, isn’t it? New manager David Moyes maybe, but Man United is still the same.