Film Focus: Reviewing Manchester United vs. Sunderland

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Film Focus: Reviewing Manchester United vs. Sunderland
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

The pain just will not stop.

Losing football matches is one thing. Conceding the game due to ineptitude and a distinct lack of being able to pass a ball is another.

Manchester United's domestic campaign came crashing down around them on Wednesday night, as Sunderland edged the victory on penalties at Old Trafford. However, the Black Cats' success was no mistake, as United laboured through a terrible performance, allowing their opponents to attack them at will as the game progressed. 

Clive Mason/Getty Images

United's issues are not tactical. David Moyes is not trying to make these players do anything they are not accustomed to doing. He is not employing "Everton tactics" and getting his team to play to its pragmatic strengths. He is not playing individuals wildly out of position. He is not foisting formations on to his playing staff that they will struggle to understand. 

What we are seeing is a combination of bad injuries, bad luck and, most notably, a huge drop in performance value from certain players.

This combination is toxic and not something any new manager can fix in a six-month period. In days gone by, before transfer windows existed, clubs could fix issues as they appeared, not having to wait until the summer or a 30-day period in the winter. Now, change has to be planned and executed within these parameters. 

Jon Super/Associated Press

It is clear Moyes probably did not think that a championship-winning squad would have so many issues, but Sir Alex Ferguson was always the greatest poker player at the table. He could defeat opponents with just a glance or a stare. 

Here, I analyse what went wrong for United during the match. 

Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

 

Zero Flair and Creativity

Many of the issues highlighted in this game are not new problems, but they certainly shined like lighthouses in a dark sky Wednesday night. United once again showed their lack of genuine quality on the ball, relying on 18-year-old Adnan Januzaj to supply some kind of magic.

The connections between the midfielders and attackers was null and void, with Darren Fletcher and Michael Carrick playing incredibly deep and close together.  

whoscored.com

As the graphic above shows, per WhoScored.com, United's midfield and attack were cramped into the narrowest parts of the pitch, with Danny Welbeck's and Shinji Kagawa's average positions embedded in the centre circle.

Carrick and Fletcher could have almost been wearing the same boots, they were so close. How United expected to flow from back to front with so little space between them is dumbfounding. 

It is no surprise that neither of United's central midfielders could open up Sunderland, but with the lack of movement in front of them, it led to some sterile approach play from the Reds. 

Kagawa and Welbeck were both responsible for not offering good enough support to the midfield. 

Sky Sports

In the above picture, it is easy to see the chasm in the centre of the pitch. The attacking players are dropping deeper for the ball but without really offering a good option for the player in possession. It is this key phasing in United's game that is a huge issue.

The pass from this position was provided by Paul Scholes, and he made it look easy, threading passes to the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Carlos Tevez and Wayne Rooney

United have lost the quality they had in this part of the pitch, and the result is a static football team that irregularly threaten its opponents. 

Clive Mason/Getty Images

 

Failing Full-Backs

On the night, both Rafael and Alexander Buttner were expected to provide the width in attack whilst also denying Sunderland the space to break from midfield. Both players failed to do so.

As the senior full-back, Rafael was the better of the two, but he looked like a shadow of the player that Fergie had so much faith in. 

Sky Sports

Buttner's opportunities have been limited, and it is clear to see why. The slide above shows his lack of due care in the left-back position, forcing Kagawa back from his advanced position to cover the Dutchman.

Buttner is a confused winger. As a player, he does not protect the line that he is a part of. The still shot above ended in Buttner fouling his opponent as he scrambled to retreat.

The amount of fouls that United gave away in this section of the pitch highlighted just how little control both Rafael and Buttner had in these areas. They both must give their own centre-backs nightmares. 

Jon Super/Associated Press

If there was a payoff, with fantastic and progressive attacking play from either, you might be able to forgive them. Instead, their attacking contribution was average at best. 

Whoever plays wide of the attack for United will always be aware that there could be danger behind him whenever these two full-backs are paired with him, and this will naturally inhibit the team's play. 

 

Chicharito—The striker with no first touch

Clive Mason/Getty Images

It might seem harsh to criticise the player who forced the penalty shootout with his last-gasp goal, but Chicharito's continued poor use of the ball is a huge issue. It is crystal clear why a player with his goalscoring capabilities does not play more: Chicharito cannot control a football, and that is a huge issue in the world of the professional game.

Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

His 74 percent passing accuracy statistic, per WhoScored.com, is a reflection of how poor he is at joining in play. 

In hindsight, Moyes should have continued with Welbeck at the point of the attack, as he's a player in goalscoring form and one who is strong in possession. However, the Mexican needed a game and got his customary goal.

Still, the issues are wider with him. If your striker continually loses the ball, then it is impossible to play through your opponent's defensive line. 

Is Chicharito a serious threat to United's other strikers? His all-around play would dictate not. 

Sky Sports

And when it really mattered, as we see in the picture above, deep into extra time, Chicharito did not have the ability to control and dribble before finishing off the match with a strike. 

Yards away from his nearest marker and as a player with good pace, you would expect a more technical finish from any forward in the squad. The basics are simply not a part of his game, as lethal as he is 10 yards from the goal. 

 

The Autopsy Report

Clive Mason/Getty Images

This is as bad as it gets for United. Despite defeats to the likes of Everton and Newcastle at home, this performance cuts deeper. It feels like Moyes has truly hit rock bottom and now needs to reconstruct his squad from the ground up.

Yes, United are missing the world-class talents of Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie, but their replacements are all international footballers decorated with championship-winning medals and more.

Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Kagawa's time at United appears to have come to an end. As the champions move to secure the services of Juan Mata, per David Bond and Ben Smith of the BBC, you cannot help but feel that the Japanese international has not done enough to remain at the forefront of Moyes' plans.

In his defence, none of the full-backs are safe. Their positions in this team will be threatened by new arrivals, either in this window or the next.

As Patrice Evra says his goodbyes to Manchester, as his contract expires, Rafael may also be a surprise exit. Injuries have indeed hampered the Brazil right-back, but his performance levels this season have been erratic and inconsistent. He is not hitting the required standard. 

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Mata's arrival would give United a huge shot in the arm and could possibly cause an "Mesut Ozil Effect," as we have seen at Arsenal. However, the team's issues in midfield cannot be ignored. 

Marouane Fellaini will aid any recovery, but he is not the cure to the illness. United can no longer rely on Fletcher and Carrick to compete with more mobile midfielders. They both still have their function within the squad, but they are not players to build success around. The two players are supporting actors in this football drama. 

Moyes will be given time to get it right, but if the team's form continues on this path, he will not be in charge next season. Even fifth or sixth place could see him retain his job, but if the club falls below this position in the league table, the axe will fall on his head. 

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