Different day, same story: Another 2nd half comeback. In 4th round FA Cup action, Manchester United fought back again from a late deficit to defeat Southampton at St. Mary’s Stadium. After Richard Chaplow fired Southampton into the lead in 45th minute, 2nd half goals by Michael Owen and Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez helped rescue the Red Devils from their League One foe and Sir Alex Ferguson’s lads have earned passage to the last 16.
OPENING LINEUPS AND FORMATIONS:
It initially appeared to me that United were going to lineup in their ‘4-3-3/4-5-1’ hybrid. However, Fergie changed it up, and went with a ‘4-1-2-1-2.’ This is similar to the ‘4-3-3/4-5-1’ in the defensive and midfield bands, but it drastically differs with the attacking three players. It's somewhat similar to the diamond midfield Chelsea has used at times. Gabriel Obertan and Chicharito were basically strikers, but Owen played deeper and in between the two strikers and the three central midfielders. His role was essentially what’s known as the "trequartista" role, one of a playmaker who’s role is to link play and create. This formation is also extremely narrow, and the only width provided is from diagonal runs that run from the center to the flanks, or forward runs from your fullbacks. Fabio and John O’Shea were getting forward, providing a bit of width when United had possession of the ball. Paul Scholes sat in front of the two central defenders, in his typical role as the deep lying playmaker. Anderson and Darron Gibson played as central midfielders as box-to-box types, ahead of Scholes. Owen, in that trequartista role in between the lines, drifted all over.
Southampton came out in a ‘4-2-2-2’ shape. For those of you who follow the U.S. men’s national team, it’s similar to what coach Bob Bradley used at this summer’s past World Cup in South Africa. It’s also a very narrow formation, as the two players ahead of the central holding midfielders and behind the two strikers, cut inside from their initial wide positions. For those of you who watch La Liga, it’s somewhat similar to they system Villareal runs. Both fullbacks for Southampton were making select runs forward, Dan Harding more so than Danny Butterfield. Morgan Schneiderlin played as a holding midfielder, but he made a few select and delayed runs forward when the Saints attacked. Chaplow was a holding midfielder when defending, but he was getting forward into the attack throughout the game. He was probably more in a box-to-box role. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain played narrow, and made many runs inward from a wide starting position. Guilherme Do Prado mirrored Oxlade-Chamberlain’s movements, but did so more drastically. Lee Barnard came deep for the ball at times, but also peeled out wide when either Do Prado or Oxlade-Chamberlain cut inside. Lambert played a typical striker’s role.
- The focal point of United’s struggles was in the middle of the pitch. Anderson and Gibson were unsure at times on who to mark. Whenever Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Do Prado made diagonal runs inside, Ando and Gibson were often confused. This left Schneiderlin, and especially Chaplow too much time on the ball when the two United midfielders picked up these inward runs. This was magnified as a problem since Owen wasn’t doing a consistent job drifting back to help on Southampton’s 2 deep lying midfielders. Furthermore, Ando and Gibson weren’t pressing much, thus there was little pressure on Chaplow and Schneiderlin when they were on the ball.
- This actually left Scholes some time on the ball in his deep lying position, as he left mostly unoccupied at times. Scholes was essentially playing in between the midfield and defensive lines, and there were no Southampton players in the vicinity. The only rare exception was when Barnard was already in the area during brief ventures deep. However, despite having time on the ball, Scholes had no consistent outlets. He had rare link-up play with Ando and Gibson, as they were getting overrun in the central midfield. Owen wasn’t able to consistenly link up with the ‘ginger maestro’ from his trequartista positon. Scholes’ only consistent outlet were lateral passes to O’Shea or Fabio.
- Because there was ineffective linking play to Obertan and Chicharito, neither was influential in this half. Chichartio worked hard and used his tactical awareness to make a few dangerous runs, but Obertan was a complete non-factor. The only threat in the half was when Southampton played a high-line at times, and Scholes tried to play Chicharito or Obertan in behind the defense. However, this was well covered.
- When Anderson and Gibson would get occupied by Do Prado and Oxlade-Chamberlain, Chaplow was taking full advantage of essentially being free, and he yielded his influence throughout most of the match. He was their creative force.
- Back to Owen: Owen worked hard to find space so that he could create, but he was inconsistent in being the creative force for United’s attack. A problem that results often when you give someone the role of trequartista, is that your attack has one focal point. If he struggles or is marked out of the match, then your attack sputters. This is why United’s attack was inconsistent in the first half, despite them having more possession. It’s not a knock on Owen, but this role isn’t suited for him.
- On Southampton’s goal, Johnny Evans made a poor touch/attempted clearance, which momentarily made Fabio confused as to whether he should cover or not for Evans. This slight hesitation freed up Chaplow, who was being marked by Fabio, to make his run and brilliantly finished his chance. It appeared to me that blame could go both ways on the two defenders, but Fabio got benched at half-time.
- Wes Brown came on for Fabio to start the half. He played at right-back, which switched O’Shea to left-back.
- To begin the half, no formation changes were made, and the run of play remained the same. Southampton were fully deserving of their lead. With it being crowded in the middle and with no width for either team, Southampton still had the better of it.
- In the 58th min, the game completely changed when Fergie made personnel and tactical changes. Both were vital. Ryan Giggs and Nani came on for Gibson and Anderson. United also switched to a ‘4-2-3-1’-ish lineup. Nani and Obertan played out wide, now providing the width that hadn’t existed up to this point. Giggs played alongside Scholes in the central midfield, but a little bit higher up and more into the attack. . Chichartio was the lone striker, with Owen withdrawn in support. It ended up looking like this in relation to Southampton’s ‘4-2-2-2.’
- The match was essentially won in minutes 58-73, when in that 73rd minute, Saints sent on Ryan Dickson for Barnard, in order to combat the width of United. Giggs, Scholes, and Owen were quickly relieving pressure by getting the ball wide to Nani and Obertan and they were causing trouble for Southampton.
- Owen was no longer the single focal point of attack, as the goal was to get the ball out wide versus the narrow shape of the Saints. Owen began to thrive as the game wore on.
- On United’s equaliser, Owen sprayed the ball wide to Obertan, who then beat his defender and played a fantastic ball into Owen for the goal ,who had made a delayed run into the box. United’s width created this goal as it exposed the narrow shape of the Saints.
- Just after Dickson came on to combat this problem, he made a poor touch on the ball, which he lost to Owen. The ball was then passed to Giggs, who then played a magnificent ball to Chicharito, who was making a run into the box, and the little Mexican brilliantly slotted home the match-winner.
- When Dickson came on, Southampton matched United’s formation with their own 4-2-3-1 for about a 7-minute stretch. However, since they were now chasing the equaliser, they began to play with two forwards when Dany N’Guessan came on for Do Prado in the 80th minute. Another positive substitution was made in the 84th minute when Oscar Gobern came on.
- By this point, United were firmly in control and confidently held on for a 2-1 victory.
- In Anders Lindegaard’s debut, I didn’t see much to be able to provide any sort of meaningful judgment. Maybe he gave up too much of the near-post on the goal, but it’s difficult to pass blame on him for that blistering finish by Chaplow. His distribution was solid, as he exhibited compsure on the ball. Not a bad debut by the Dane.
- The other player I was curious about was the 17 year-old Oxlade-Chamberlain, since he’s been involved in transfer rumors to a number of big clubs. I don’t think he had any sort of brilliant match, but you could see he’s got good pace and is willing to run at defenders. It wasn’t a performance to provide enough judgment, but he displayed class at times.
- Despite being on the losing side, my "man of the match" goes to Chaplow. He provided energy and creativity, and he was the spark for Southampton when they had the run of play for the first 60 minutes of the match.
- The only consistent stand-out performance for United was from Giggs, but he was only on for 32 minutes. Owen, Chicharito, and Scholes all flashed stretches of good play.
- Despite the match being an ugly affair, I’ll take it. We advance and didn’t strain any of our regulars too badly, although I wish we didn’t have to bring on Nani and Giggs. I sort of felt this would be a difficult match. Despite our reserves being much more talented than Southampton’s first team, they don’t often play together, especially in the formation that Fergie unveiled today to start the match. The Saints’ side is a much more cohesive unit, as they trotted out close to their preferred side.
- Not a particularly strong match for Evans, and he’s beginning to be overshadowed by Chris Smalling. Both are young and talented, and as long as Vidic and Ferdinand can stay healthy, they’re fine as deputies for now.
- Some of it was tactics today, but I’m really worried about the class we have in central midfield. I don’t worry about Scholes though, he’s fine when healthy. Darren Fletcher hasn’t been the same as of late, but I still have faith he’ll pick up his form in the stretch run as he gets healthier and regains full fitness. Anderson is an enigma, he’s brilliant one day and absolute crap the next. Consistency is the key for the talented Brazilian. Darron Gibson just isn’t ready at the moment to play significant minutes, plain and simple. I will soil myself if I see him out there again for an important league match or in Champions League.
- I’m thrilled we don’t have to worry about a replay, any extra matches at this point would just stretch the club more.
- Anyway, United have set themselves up nicely at this point of the season. Top of the table with a slight cushion, good draw for first round of Champions League knock-out stages, final 16 of the FA Cup, relative good health, and the soon return of Park Ji-Sung and Antonio Valencia. Life is good.