What can be learned from yesterday’s away trip by Philip Morrissey
After yet another damaging European trip went array, the reds were set for yet another trip abroad. This fixture was the relatively less intimidating journey down to South Wales. Bob Bradley might sound like a character from the Marvel comics, but he had arrived with a decent record in charge of the U.S men’s national team. To keep up with the challengers around them, three points was essential. Three points and three goals meant that the fans went home satisfied.
The question was to whether this was merely an anomaly? Here are the three points which I got out of yesterday’s encounter.
1. Carrick plays; United wins.
Those who have written off the affable Geordie as being able to contribute are becoming less and less. He may not have been able to perform in the same way as the previous owner of the number 16 shirt, but his contribution is no less important. Spells with his absence over the last few couple of years have lessened our success rate noticeably. The team was mis-shapen, un-even at times at the Liberty, but he was still able to glide along and keep affairs ticking over.
The amount of dominance that was wrestled from the home team was all down to the work that he and Fellaini did in the game. The Belgian toilet brush provided the physical presence and Carrick the control. This allowed space for the attacking players like Rooney, Mata and Pogba to wreck havoc on the Swan’s back-line. Especially in that opening half-hour spell where the game was won. When you are 35 and can still point to a pass-rate success of 95%, you are clearly on top.
United will face stiffer challenges than the one that faced them in this game. The formation and tactics employed by the American left a mid-field that was over-run and out-fought until a switch in the second half. It is true to say that Carrick will be unable to play every game this season due to the strain involved. It is promising to see him beginning to be used in the league now though as opposed to just the cup competitions. Mouriniho admitted in the interview that he would love to use him more regularly but because of the recovery needed between games.
2. We need to lead from the front. (Two parts to this)
It is quite surprising the record we have had in recent seasons. When the players found themselves behind in a match under Ferguson, you always thought there was a chance of recovery. Chasing a game often brought out the best in the team. One, two, three goals in arrears…it would not matter. As soon as words were said, you always saw them on the come-back trail. The ability to respond to a situation like this this seems to fill the current team with dread. It’s like they don’t know how to react to it. Zero points have been claimed from losing positions this year. Games like Watford, Fenerbache, and Feyenoord would have seen us wrestle back the balance, choke the opposition into submission and claim the victory. Training exercises to deal with conceding may have to be incorporated to be able to respond to it.
It is essential that the front players are able to provide the first line of defense for the team. Regardless of the pattern and tactics employed. It was clear to see defenders being pressured in making mistakes due to the harassment of the offensive players on our side. Not allowing any room, and preventing forward passes reach their target. This is a critical part of the game if Mouriniho’s current is to work effectively.
By stressing the need to be on the front foot at the very start, will set create an element of doubt in the opposition’s mind. Too often, we have begun far too slowly and allowed teams a foot-hold into the game. By starting off in the right vein, it will give opponents more to consider
3. When is an injury not an injury
The absence of both Shaw and Smalling left the back-four somewhat decimated. This was in addition to Bailly and Valencia on the side-lines and Blind only fit enough for the bench. It meant that Phil Jones came back in from the cold to slot alongside Marcus Rojo. Many, including myself, are actually surprised he is still at the club. It was a surprise to see him in the starting line-up because of the lack of game-time but he did his job well. If he can knuckle down, develop his game and go from here, it would be great. His commitment to the cause is without question and yesterday proved that again.
The acidic comments which Jose made afterwards was clearly aimed at the two Englishmen. “There is a difference between the brave, who want to play at any cost, and the ones for whom a little pain can make a difference.” Perhaps not the best way to get the two players back on your side. Previous statements regarding Mikhitayran’s readiness for starts have also made fans wonder about what is going on behind the scenes.
What the fans and the team does not need at this point is players coming back before they are ready in order to prove a point or in fear of being singled out. As we have seen from the recent past, this will only result in poor performances and the risk of yet another set-back in their fitness.