Moyes Needs to Decide on Best Midfield Before Visiting Shakhtar's Fortress
Both teams comfortably won their opening matches two weeks ago, beating Bayer Leverkusen (4-2) and Real Sociedad (2-0) respectively by two goal cushions. Yet with pressures mounting for a certain team in red, and Shakhtar trailing Metalist Kharkiv by six points domestically, both will be anxious to maintain their momentum in European football's most prestigious competition.
However, since the start of the new millennium, Shakhtar Donetsk have made Ukraine an impenetrable fortress for visiting English sides.
First to test the might of Shakhtar were Arsenal, however the Gunners were soundly beaten 3-0 in 2000. Tottenham Hotspur visited Ukraine in 2009, but were swiftly brushed aside thanks to goals from Yevhen Seleznyov and Jadson in the final 21 minutes. Fulham, under the guidance of current England manager Roy Hodgson, produced a solid backs-to-the-wall performance against Shakhtar in 2010, but the Cottagers could only manage a 1-1 draw, progressing through to the next round of the Europa League on aggregate.
Nine months later, Eduardo came back to haunt former club Arsenal, scoring one of the goals in a 2-1 victory for the home side. And finally, if the pattern wasn't obvious already, Shakhtar Donetsk defeated Chelsea 2-1 in last October's Champions League group stage.
Following Manchester United's worst league start in 24 years, David Moyes needs to shrug off the ever-increasing pressure and guide the Red Devils to victory against Shakhtar in Ukraine—a feat that no English club has ever managed to achieve.
With history on the Ukrainian's side and the likes of Douglas Costa, Alex Teixeira, Bernard and Luiz Adriano seeking to weave their magic at any opportunity, Manchester United will need a strong, brave and tactically astute midfield to shield the back four, in addition to assisting with counter-attacks.
Ordinarily, this wouldn't be a problem, as browsing United's recent history archives reveals a side that's never had a problem unearthing talented and reliable midfielders.
With captain Roy Keane, Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Cristiano Ronaldo, United's midfielders have often been a class above the rest—a solid back-bone from which Sir Alex Ferguson could work his magic.
But following the retirement of their great leader and the arrival of the humble David Moyes, United's midfield looks somewhat underwhelming.
But who is good enough to start in midfield versus Shakhtar Donetsk on Wednesday night within David Moyes' preferred 4-4-1-1 formation?
Squawka statistics indicate that Michael Carrick is United's best player after six league matches, with a Squawka Performance Score of 205 (see above).
The talented midfielder regularly showcases a willingness to receive the possession at any opportunity, switching the ball from flank to flank via a pass accuracy of 86 percent. Indeed, Carrick has the highest amount of completed passes (396) in the entire squad and is Manchester United's most creative player with six key passes.
Wayne Rooney is seemingly irreplaceable in the role behind the striker due to picking up a Performance Score of 121 after five league appearances—the fifth highest total in the Man United team.
The former Everton youth player is United's most industrious player this season, having achieved a total of nine chances (see above) and three goals, thus ousting Shinji Kagawa from the Japanese international's preferred number 10 role.
Many people have bemoaned Kagawa's lack of playing time, citing the need for added creativity, but one has to question the creative midfielder's defensive contribution.
Can he track back effectively in order to give Patrice Evra enough cover? Will he constantly drift inside, engulfing the valuable space taken up by Wayne Rooney? Is he in the mould of Steven Pienaar; a player utilised extremely effectively under David Moyes?
Having said all of that, during his one and only Premier League match this season, Kagawa won every tackle and take-on that he attempted; so perhaps we're all wrong.
Ashley Young has failed to make an impact this season—some would say for quite some time—losing 75 percent of tackles, 70 percent of take-ons and 80 percent of attempted headers throughout four league appearances (see above).
The England international is often a one trick pony, cutting inside onto his right foot in order to deliver curling crosses to the far post, and as accurate as they can be, I often ponder whether there are any extra layers to the ex-Aston Villa midfielder's game.
At 28 years of age, and with his best and most consistent years behind him, the answer could well be no.
Antonio Valencia seems almost certain to feature down the right flank due to the Ecuadorian's work-rate, stamina and defensive contribution, with 73 percent tackle success this season. Meanwhile, new arrival Marouane Fellaini, English youngster Tom Cleverley, and 25-year-old Anderson, battle for the vacant position alongside Michael Carrick in central midfield.
In terms of pass accuracy, Fellaini leads the way, having completed 90 percent of attempted passes in the league (see below).
And finally, what about the flamboyant Nani? Will he defend the flanks well enough against Shakhtar, remembering that the reigning Ukraine champions are sure to unleash a barrage of Brazilian talent?
Following a recent run of sub-par performances, and with history seemingly against them, Manchester United travel to the Donbass Arena to face a Shakhtar Donetsk side filled with creativity.
David Moyes sorely needs his midfielders to step up and produce a solid, sturdy and resilient performance that the club's supporters can be proud of.
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