Date: 3rd September 2012 at 12:24am
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Van Persie - what a waste of money

Van Persie - what a waste of money

Manchester United’s season so far has been an up and down, panic inducing rollercoaster ride, and we are only three matches into the season. The match against Southampton was, it is safe to say, no different.

United began the match in complete control, with the first ten minutes or so seeing the team dominate possession with, as highlighted below, no discernible result. Southampton, backed by a fired up and passionate home crowd, began to work their way back into the game, and took the lead through Rickie Lambert’s powerful header, the striker towering over Rafael at the back post and nodding the ball past Anders Lindegaard. Southampton began to dominate, piling on the pressure and seeing a volley flash just past the post. However, the half ended with the scores tied at 1-1, with an excellent Robin van Persie volley levelling the scores.

The second half started with Southampton again on top, Schneiderlin restoring the Saints’ one goal advantage. For a long time in the second half, it seemed that United would lose their second game out of their first three, especially when Van Persie missed a penalty, with his arrogant chipped effort easily saved by Kelvin Davis.

However, with Paul Scholes now on the field, United began to assert dominance, applying concerted pressure to the Southampton goal, and eventually restoring parity through Van Persie’s 89th minute poacher’s finish after Ferdinand’s header rebounded off the post. United were level heading into added time, and with two minutes remaining the game seemed to be heading towards a draw, which would perhaps have been a fair result. Then Nani’s corner- for once beating the first man- arrowed into the near post, where it was met by Van Persie’s clever header. The three points were United’s, snatched right at the end. Football, bloody hell, I wish I’d backed us on when we were 2-1 down!

1. United’s possession without a point. 
In the first half, United enjoyed spells in which they dominated the ball yet created almost no goalscoring chances. The issue with United’s possession was that, quite simply, it generally had no purpose; United merely played from left to right and then, when pressured, back to Ferdinand or Vidic, before repeating the cycle. Eventually, United tried to force the issue, playing an aimless pass and conceding possession. Possession of the ball is not a bad thing- it at least stops the opposition from posing any threat- but the possession must have a purpose, and it was only when Paul Scholes replaced the largely ineffective Tom Cleverley that United began to make good use of the ball and launched the comeback that eventually won the three points.

2. Welbeck from the left does not work.
Danny Welbeck is a striker, and playing him on the left wing does not work. I recognise that with the four top class strikers now playing for the club, it is important for Sir Alex to give each of them playing time to ensure that sharpness is retained and to ensure that there is no dressing room unrest. However, playing Welbeck from the left tends not to work for United. Given that Welbeck is accustomed to playing through the centre, he was inclined to continually drift inside, leaving a general lack of width on the left and leading to a lack of cover for Patrice Evra. Another knock on effect of Welbeck’s tendency to drift inside was that it made the central areas of the pitch over crowded, restricting Kagawa’s already limited space and leaving almost no room for the Kagawa-Van Persie partnership to operate. Welbeck is a very good player and will only get better, but he should not play on the left wing for United.

3. Robin van Persie is a clinical finisher. 
This is not really something we ‘learnt’ from this match, as it’s been evident for a number of years, but Robin van Persie is a world class, lethal finisher. Yes, his penalty attempt was an arrogant one that was just begging to be saved, but his three goals, whilst different, were all excellent finishes. His first goal was scored with an excellent piece of chest control and a controlled volley into the bottom corner. His second was a poacher’s goal, following up after Rio Ferdinand’s header rebounded off the post. His third was a ‘backwards header’, not unlike Hernandez’s goal against Stoke in his debut season in English football (although not quite as spectacular or athletic). Van Persie could, in truth, have scored four or five, but he has already started to remind United fans of the world class finishing they saw last season, and his three excellent goals earned United the three points. He scores when he wants.

4. Lindegaard’s dodgy distribution
. Anders Lindegaard came into the United team for the game, replacing David de Gea, who dropped to the bench. Lindegaard has shown his class at various times, and it is clear that he is better equipped than De Gea to cope with the physical demands of English football. However, Lindegaard’s distribution is poor, especially when compared to his rival for the number one jersey. Several times, most noticeably in the first half, Lindegaard needlessly conceded possession with poor kicks or throws. Both of our goalkeepers have strengths and weaknesses, and this is certainly not an attack on Lindegaard, merely a statement that his distribution is the weakest part of his game and is an area that he needs to improve upon, fast.

5. United are vulnerable to crosses into the box. 
Reading Twitter during the match, I was struck by a particularly interesting statistic. This season, Manchester United have conceded five goals in three Premier League matches. Of those five goals, four have been conceded through the opposition’s use of an aerial ball. This seems to highlight a weakness in the air for United and a vulnerability to high balls played into and around the box. This cannot be attributed solely to David de Gea’s aerial weakness, since two of the goals were conceded against Southampton with Anders Lindegaard playing in goal. Rather, it could be that this statistic shows a newfound United weakness to a high ball into the box, something that arguably goes back to last season, with aerial vulnerability evident in the costly 4-4 draw with Everton and the 1-0 defeat in the Manchester derby.

For more football related tweets follow me on twitter @UnitedJosh


5 responses to “Five Things We Learned: United vs Southampton”

  1. Mikhail says:

    Im glad that we were able to take/steal 3 points from this game.. but in all honesty, we can’t win the league with these performances. It was a jammy midfield performance, and i completely agree with this article that welbeck isnt suited for the left side (although he did do pretty well for sunderland in this role).

    SAF is a master of the pitch and im sure he knows what he’s doing… BUT we seem to have picked off exactly where we ended last season, in terms of midfield performances. Yeah sure, this is the start of a season where people need to up their fitness, but we were dominated by Everton, Fulham and Southampton. eeek.

  2. John Tring says:

    6. Utd’s defence is rubbish. Rafael, Evra are duds reconfirmed. 7. Welbeck is not a Utd player. 8.Cleverley is way off from being a top Utd player. He’s clearly not the super player that SAF assumes. 9. SAF’s bad buys over the last summer are haunting Utd. Last season it was a zero sum game and could be the same again. 10. Utd need a new younger manager and a better coaching team. Old, stale and lacking modern ideas: that’s how current the gang is. Sorry, no disrespect but plain facts.

  3. Dont Ask says:

    Kagawa hit the nail on the head the other week. i want the midfielders to pass ball forward instead of sideways!
    As good a player that Carrick is…he doesnt pass forward enough.
    Carrick / Cleverly do not work together. Carrick / Scholes works.
    Cleverly / Anderson works. (Not even on bench!!)

    Valencia was unusually quiet and Welbeck was pretty pants on the left.

    As for goals conceeded. Why aren’t Vidic & Ferdinand sorting the BIG aerial threats out instead of leaving it to Evra & Rafael.
    (Time to give Buttner a go!)

    Utd are Rusty as hell at the mo and we were SO lucky to get 3 points!!

  4. Andrew says:

    We have RVP to thank big time for those three points, but it was a weak performance. However it reminds me of the the start of the 2010 season. We had just come off the World Cup. and the players where sluggish and did not perform well. We threw away 2 goal leads probably 3 or 4 times. We had the whole Rooney contract fiasco. The result was us winning the Premiership and going to the CL final.

    I’m not naive to believe we can always do that, but it shows that starting on fire, like we did last season, doesn’t always work so well either. The two best seasons under Ferguson was 1999 and 2008 and in both seasons we started poorly. I know so fans we scream we have won 2 out of the first 3 matches, its hardly a crisis. My issue is the performances have been bad, but the balance of the team also doesn’t look good.

    We are vulnerable at crosses and corners. I think the answer is Vidic, Smalling and Evans. All three are big lads and good in the air. We need Smalling at right back and Evans alongside Vidic at centre back. Rafeal is a talented right back but has a mistake in him. I think away from home we need Smalling to play right back. Smalling is more solid in defensive work.

    The lack of balance is in midfield and we need Phil Jones to come into the middle. We need a player to break up the opposition play and protect the back four. I feel Jones is the man for the job. Fabio Capello is a great judge of a player and he rated Jones highly. He said he was the next Beresi and played him in centre midfield against Spain. Jones has an attacking instinct in him that got him into trouble as a centre back. The boy loves going forward and getting involved. I think centre midfield is his position. A young Roy Keane!!