We take on Chelsea this weekend in a top of the table clash in the EPL but this past week has seen me do a little inquest into why I get to choke on my drink every time I take a seat to watch a United game.
Unless you've been living under a rock for the past four months, you should be aware that United have so far this season been generous enough at the back to afford opponents at least a goal or two every other game. The reason as to why this has been happening has been attributed to the lack of defensive cover. The manager on the other hand seems lost for words at every post match press conference when asked about the same old question. Evidently he's baffled by it.
With the nano-hope that Sir Alex reads this blog, here is my opinion as to why I think we're letting in very many goals.
The reason has nothing to do with the injury to Vidic or Smalling because we weren't any tighter when we had the captain for instance against Fulham. Rather, I had to take a little dig into how the game has been adopted to be played by teams from the start of the new decade. Barcelona were arguably the creators of this change. It's not tiki taka mind you---it's simply hassling the opposition when you don't have the ball. The reason Pep Guardiola became so successful at Barca is because he not only taught Barca how to play with the ball, but he also taught them how to play without the ball.
You'll notice after watching a few Barca clips with Pep in charge that they ran and hassled the opposition when they lost possession instead of simply falling back and waiting for their opponents to make a mistake.
Manchester United, like many teams, have traditionally fallen back when they lose possession instead of hassling the opposition with the ball. However, I also took time to notice that teams across Europe and indeed good student managers on the game in England have adopted this philosophy and are hence making it tough for opponents. You'll notice for instance how Everton hassled us on the opening day of the season, so much so that we hardly bothered Tim Howard for the majority of the match.
Falling back is essentially zonal marking in many ways because the philosophy of the team is to get behind the ball and not necessarily keeping an eye on the forward players of the opposition. The weakness in this is that given the improved ability of teams across Europe and in the EPL as well, it is very easy for an averagely creative player to pick out a pass and find their man regardless of the number of bodies you have at the back. You'll notice that for Alan's second goal for Braga on Tuesday, he stepped in to the box against FOUR United defenders but was easily picked out and almost unchallenged slotted the ball past De Gea. The falling back philosophy is essentially an invitation to the opposition to have a go at you for the simple reason that you allow them all the time and space to get as close as possible to your box.
On the other hand, hassling the opposition means that you may even re-gain possession from an already attacking formation and hence improve your chances of scoring or at least quickly regain possession. The other advantage with hassling is that in the worst case scenario, the free-kicks that you'll give away are less likely to be near your box as you'll not wait for your opponents to get so close to your goal-keeper.
It explains why a team like Schalkle 04 can go to the Emirates and restrict Arsenal to ONE attempt on target. Now we all know that given the fluidity of Arsenal's play, it's near unlikely that they'll have such few shots on goal. Try and contrast that to the number of times United allowed Braga to shoot at De Gea. Dortmund did the same to Man City the other week and of course we all know too well that the Spanish clubs are masters of the hassle.
In short therefore I know it is cultural that Sir Alex has built all his teams to fall back when they lose the ball until they regain it. But times have changed since. In order to remain a European power, we might have to adapt to the same as well. Whereas falling back shouldn't necessarily be done away with, there is a method of falling back while trying to win the ball that I think we should exploit. That way, we should be able to retain a foothold of games and not allow our opponents all the time in the world to settle into the game and pick out whatever passes they please.
I'd like to see us hassle Chelsea when they have the ball on Sunday. I mean you can't fall back and wait for Hazard or Mata or Oscar or Ramirez to pick out a pass because they will.
Alas, if only Sir Alex read this blog!