Manchester United vs. Sunderland: 6 Things We Learned

Rob BlanchetteFeatured ColumnistMay 3, 2014

Manchester United vs. Sunderland: 6 Things We Learned

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    Manchester United fell to yet another surprise loss at Old Trafford and their 12th defeat in the Premier League, per BBC Sport, as Sunderland took all three points back to the north east. 

    The Ryan Giggs roadshow came to a shocking halt as the Reds failed to score in a match that they dominated for most of the 90 minutes.

    Sunderland's Sebastian Larsson scored the only goal of the game to break United hearts and further the Black Cats' chances of survival. 

    United once again failed to meet the performance standards expected of them at home in the league, and their problems continue after an impressive result against Norwich. 

    Here, we take a look at six things that we learned from the game: 

Final Ball a Huge Issue for Manchester United

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    United started the game with a good intensity in Ryan Giggs' 4-4-1-1 formation against Sunderland, but there was a clear and distinct lack of a final product from the Red Devils' midfield.

    Nani and Ashley Young saw plenty of the ball in the early stages of the game but struggled to find Chicharito and Juan Mata from good attacking positions.

    Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher also failed to support the players in front of them, leading to a disjointed performance.

    The Red Devils saw the majority of possession but failed to penetrate Gus Poyet's defence. 

    It was yet another bad day at the office for United's attack, and the end of the season can now not come quick enough.


Darren Fletcher and Michael Carrick Is Not a Viable Partnership

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    United's central midfield core struggled on Saturday afternoon, with Darren Fletcher being directly responsible for Sunderland's first-half goal.

    The Scotsman failed to close down Connor Wickham by the corner flag, allowing the in-form Black Cats striker the opportunity to cross the ball into the box for Sebastian Larsson to neatly slot the ball past David de Gea.

    The ageing legs of Fletcher and Michael Carrick will be an issue both players will have to face in the twilights of their careers, and playing them together as a pair will further hamstring the team. 

    The game on Saturday proved beyond all doubt that United must invest in a world-class central midfielder as soon as possible. 

4-4-2 Is Dead

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    4-4-2 worked a treat for Ryan Giggs in his first game in charge against Norwich, as his side dismantled their poor opponents after a mediocre start by United.

    This time, however, a more resolute side in Sunderland stifled the Reds, allowing them the width while packing the middle to good effect.

    United's wingers and full-backs were unable to provide the quality needed from these areas, giving the Black Cats the defensive security they needed for victory. 

    Giggs clearly wants to play to a traditional United formula, but 4-4-2 is not always the correct tactic against every opponent. As a modern formation, it becomes less relevant by the year. 

    The formation did not suit Juan Mata, and it showed, with the Spaniard being substituted on 66 minutes. 

    Does Ryan Giggs have the tactical acumen to run Manchester United? It is the biggest question in the experiment of the legendary player managing the side. 

    United need to move away from 4-4-2 and stop being so predictable. 

Nani Finished at United

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    Portugal's experienced international Nani had a disappointing day on his return to the first team, being substituted early on in the second half for Adnan Januzaj.

    The winger played on the left-hand side during his 50 minutes on the pitch and failed to provide the creativity United demanded.

    The player appears to be playing out his days at Old Trafford now and has not impressed in a Reds' shirt for some time. 

    He will be lucky to be retained by any new manager, and the time might be right for a fresh challenge for the player at another club. 

United Missed Wayne Rooney More Than They Should Have

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    The match on Saturday against Sunderland showed just how over-reliant United are on Wayne Rooney.

    The team failed to link as well as they do when the England attacker is on the pitch, and rather than find a tactic that works without him, it feels like United have a one-track mentality.

    Players like Juan Mata and Shinji Kagawa give United options at No. 10, but Giggs could not find the way to bring the essential creativity he needed to push his team forward.  

    Any new manager will be taking note of this dilemma, and future transfer targets might be based on Rooney alternatives to make the Reds tick. 

    David Moyes thought he could base his Red Devils team around the Merseysider without a plan B. That is not a theory that United can contemplate long-term. 

Louis Van Gaal Gets the United Job!

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    Despite having most of the ball, United clearly lacked a variation of tactics against Sunderland.

    This was always going to be Ryan Giggs' biggest issue as he unifies the dressing room behind his philosophy, but managerial experience does count for so much. Louis van Gaal will bring this to the red half of Manchester.

    The Moyes hangover is still very much evident at Old Trafford, and the club needs the fresh approach from a coach who knows top-level European football.

    United need evolution, not revolution, and the Dutchman can formulate a blueprint to make the Champions title contenders once again.