Today had the feel of an end of season game with nothing to play for, and when all is said and done that is how it was played out. It was another lacklustre performance from United, typical of the season we’ve all had to endure.
In the first half United had no energy in their play, there was no real spark or imagination and Southampton were able to dominate possession and create far more chances and far better chances than United in the opening period. The youthfulness and invention in Southampton’s side was the difference in comparison to the team Ryan Giggs selected. On paper a side with Kagawa, Mata, Januzaj and van Persie should look to control the possession and have enough talent to create openings through a quick tempo and short sharp passing and movement. When you include the pace of Welbeck in this, then it is very to see the thinking behind the team selection.
In reality though the midfield did not take control of the game. As a central midfielder, Shinji Kagawa had absolutely no influence on the game and was overrun by the Southampton midfield. To play in the role that Kagawa had today, against a team that applies the pressure that Southampton do, you must be a pressure-resistant midfielder. To simplify it; you must be able to receive the ball in tight areas, use it quickly, and most importantly of all move off the ball to receive the ball in a new area to negate the effect of the hard-press against you. There was not enough forward movement from Kagawa to support the more advanced attacking players and therefore the ball was never moved beyond the wall of defensive cover provided by the pressure of Schneiderlin, Lallana and Davis. One of the things that was most needed in the United midfield today is something we have missed all season; vertical movement. Whether it be through player runs or through forward passing, there has not been enough and there was very little of it today against Southampton. To break down defences there needs to be a way of cutting through organised defences to create chances. Since the signing of Juan Mata that has become a more regular occurrence, but relying on just one player to make this kind of contribution is not enough, as shown today.
There was a slight change to the flow of the game when Kagawa was removed and Carrick replaced him. A more orthodox central midfielder gave United more control in midfield, but it did not transform the whole performance. It would be unfair to simply criticise just the Japanese international for the failings of the midfield today, there is no solution to it no matter which midfield pairing is selected by the manager and can only be resolved with new recruits.
Following the end of such a disappointing campaign, there is very little I can add to evaluate a performance that has shown the same problems as in so many of United’s matches this season. There was a lethargic feel to United’s attacking play that went beyond the tactics and the formation. I, like many others who have written regularly about Manchester United this season, have grown tired of complaining of the same faults reappearing game after game. Whether it was under David Moyes or Ryan Giggs, there has been a consistent inconsistency among the players. The squad needs a shake up and fresh life breathing right throughout it and that will all begin this summer. Today can be seen as the end of a cycle, and a farewell to Nemanja Vidic begins all of that. His is one of half a dozen positions that need improving in the first team, and the sooner it happens the better. The new manager needs to be ruthless, because judging the team on this performance and several dozen others, it has not been good enough throughout the 2013/2014 season.
By Adem Berkay
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