One Step Forward, Two Midfield Steps Back

Isn’t crazy how things in football change within year? Within that year, you could carve a name for yourself or unfortunately destroy a reputation you spent most of a career creating. Almost 12 months ago, news broke that Manchester United had managed to pull off the signing of Radamel Falcao to the delight of United fans and surprise of rival fans. The excitement amongst the fans was understandable, high numbers were being thrown about as to how many goals he, Van Persie and Rooney could get between the 3. Especially as Man Utd had just signed Di Maria, there was a sense of 07/08 about the attacking talents LVG had at his disposal.

We are now coming towards the end of the season and those numbers forecasted by fans look like a joke in comparison to reality. Falcao has 4 in 23, RVP has 10 in 26 and Rooney has 14 in 32 , which I am sure we can all agree is poor by their standards but why is that the case? Age? Injuries? Deterioration? it could quite possibly be all of the above! However something that has not been mentioned as much are the guys behind them. Yes, the midfield. LVG has tinkered with formations all season in an attempt to accommodate his best players, despite his preference of the 4-3-3 but one thing has remained, the playing style: A controlled possession approach. What has that got to do with our strikers you may ask? Van Persie was once described by Gary Neville as a backdoor burglar and Falcao could even be thrown into that category. They are 9’s with predatory instinct in finishing couple with cerebral movements. They gamble making countless runs in between the centre backs. Rooney is a different type of striker. A false 9 one who roams around the pitch in search of space yet he has been used as a 9 in the mould of Falcao and Van Persie. Anyway, I am sure we know that so enough about the strikers’ traits, let us move onto midfield.

For most part of the season, Man Utd have gone with a 3-5-2 and anyone who watched us during that period would have noticed how lethargic we were and the lack of variation we had in our passing but the formation is irrelevant as it happened when Utd went with 4 at the back, as well. The issue, for me, stems from the passing amongst our midfielders. It was slow, pedestrian, sideways passing that turned a blind eye towards the movement of our strikers. Think QPR, West Ham and Burnley away. What Falcao and especially RVP rely on is the early ball. i.e (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DPf-lrsAId0) RVP goal away at West Ham FA Cup – notice how early Giggs hits that and, more importantly, it is FORWARD complimenting RVP movement. The same pair are at it again vs Olympiakos to win the penalty. Another Example (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4DjLzd0vQ8o) RVP vs Villa, Rooney gets his head up and it is about 5 touches in total. That is RVP at his best. If I were to pick moments from this season, which is very few and far, here are some examples RVP vs Leicester (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T0v7b8dU_9U) that starts from a pass from Rojo in his own half and 3 touches later it is in the back of the net. Rooney vs Newcastle (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c3BcjkCGDYg) Mata gets his head up and picks a peach of a pass into Falcao’s path, who peels off his CB. These are sporadic moments throughout the season so far. LVG earlier said he didn’t have a 20 goal striker. He could not be more wrong. He has 3 but it is how has the team gone about the business and maybe a misquote due to English being his second language. I have not mentioned Rooney much because he has played the majority of the season in midfield but recently LVG has restored him up front, to which he responded well. Coincidentally, however, that came in the run where our midfield upped the tempo and added a variation of passing to their game however he has started to tail off and the Red Devils are no closer to solving this problem that they have.
Over the weekend, United visited Goodison Park and left with their tails in between their legs. One thing that struck me was the similarity in that game and the same game a year ago against the same opposition. It was how the midfield performed – it was slow. It was unimaginative. It was sideways. It was like the possession you do whilst warming up and it was no surprise that Rooney, who many had called for to lead the line because of his ‘energy, pace and ability to run into the chanels’, looked as ordinary as his pals Falcao and RVP. At times, I feel sorry watching our strikers, especially when the players in midfield seem to have this horrible trait of turning a blind eye to the runs that the striker makes and only slinging the ball into feet when RVP/ Falcao/ Rooney are tired of making runs and come short to be involved, only to be surrounded by defenders (Not too dissimilar to the incident that led to the goal at Stamford Bridge) .
One idea Man Utd could explore is going into the market but if they were to go into the market, it would have to be a striker in the mould of Tevez, Suarez and Aguero, who like to get busy and are not reliant on the service of their team-mates, unlike regular no.9s. Another option Utd is right in front of them, in the shape of Angel Di Maria on the bench. Despite his annoying tendency to cross the ball from ridiculous areas of the pitch, he has probably been the only player, Herrera aside, to play that penetrative and imaginative pass. Cast your mind back to Mata’s overhead kick or how about the second half of the QPR away game or his off the bench cameos where he has seemed to be on the only person able to appreciate the forward runs of our strikers, but can be lacking in the execution of his attempt. I personally would love to see that and believe it would be the key into giving our strikers life again.

So what do you think? Are Manchester United in need of new strikers or are the lads behind them doing them an injustice?

@Pitchside_Mark

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