A back pass in football is not one of the most obvious features in the game and yet it is a crucial element of defending. It affords a defence under pressure to use the advantage of a goalkeeper facing play to best deal with an uncomfortable situation. It's an important facet of defending...when executed perfectly. It is not, however, a foundation play. It is a form of last resort option---and goodness knows those situations do not come so often in a football match.
The crisis in United's play at the moment is that the back pass is being used as a foundation of play/attack. Manchester United account for the highest number of back passes in the top division in English football, which is damning considering that we are never under that much pressure in games to pass the ball back to the keeper, say, more than Leicester City or QPR or Burnley.
It is a highlight of the abject lack of confidence among United's defenders that they cannot fathom the idea of a defender being inches from them and getting out of that situation in a way devoid of passing the ball to David De Gea. It's a dream situation for any striker to be up against a side that often times knocks it back to the keeper because you live in hope that one of them passes will either be under hit or blind to your run through on goal.
In keeping with the norm, last night Antonio Valencia attempted one of the may back passes he and the rest of the defence had made throughout the evening, only that this time, it was under hit. Danny Welbeck is not a prolific finisher and wouldn't have scored last night if things at the back were in situ, but even by his awful standards, missing the target with an open goal was always going to be a tough ask. And that is how United extinguished their own hopes of silverware this season.
It's by no means a dead end from hereon, because we still have our season's target in tandem but something surely has got to change. Marouanne Fellaini is one hell of a player suited to the agricultural demands of the premier league but there are sides against whom he would readily struggle because of his inability to play with his feet. Swansea is one of them, Arsenal is another. In learning about the physicality of the premier league, LVG has got to get this straight. When United went to Stoke on Boxing Day, there was hardly a need to use Juan Mata simply because he was never going to be suited to the nature of the game. Fellaini would have loved the monsoon winds of the Britannia and the football (if any) that was played on the day. When United went to Swansea, the close control abilities and speed of the Swans meant every time Fellaini tried to be physical, he gave away a foul. It was the same old story last night.
Even so, United could still afford a poor Fellaini upfront if the manager had kept on the club's best midfielder beyond halftime. It's easy to see where LVG was coming from because our midfield was exposed to Arsenal on the break but what he forgot to jot down in his giant clip board is that Herrera's presence in the middle also poked holes in the Arsenal midfield throughout that first half. In opting for the solid foundation that was Carrick after the break, van Gaal ceded the freedom of the midfield to the London side and in effect made it more urgent that United pummel long balls to Marouanne. Against sides that are aesthetically good on the ball, the Belgian is better off a Plan B not a Plan A.
When Spurs visit on the Sunday, it is imperative that we match skill for skill and not attempt to undervalue the abilities of our own players with the type of football that hardly plays to their strengths. If United are to keep passing it back to their Number 1, then the players must have the presence of mind to execute it perfectly as often as they do it because of all the misplaced passes you can make in a match, a poor back pass is an almost certain fatal error.
Angel Di Maria, like Radamel Falcao, ought to have gotten into their heads by now the reality that in English football, you do not go down as easily as you can in other leagues to win a foul. You only have to look at the punishment Eden Hazard gets to understand how much of a thumping you have to endure in this league. Adnan Januzaj perhaps needs to read from the same script. Fairly or unfairly, it is damning when you boast more yellow cards for simulation than goals. Stay on your feet lads!
We've passed up our best chance to win the Cup in more than decade and Arsenal now have an opportunity to go past the record tally of 11 wins. It starting to feel that it will be ages before the famous old trophy gets back into our hands. A shame really, but not quite if in the meantime we somehow manage to get our hands on bigger prizes. Whether that will come to fruition is another debate. As it stands though, we have a clear 10 game fight for points to stake our claim for the big league next year. The psychological blow last night cannot be ignored but Sunday is an opportunity for the club to respond. Failure to win that and we could really come down crashing on our own weight before the season is out.
Labels: THE FA CUP