OPENING LINEUPS & FORMATIONS
Manchester United played in a 4-4-1-1/4-4-2 shape. Anders Lindegaard got the start in goal instead of usual No 1 David De Gea. Captain Nemanja Vidic returned from his injury lay-off and he was partnered by Chris Smalling in central defense. Patrice Evra was the left-back and Fabio got the nod at right-back. Michael Carrick and Anderson were the central-midfield tandem and they were flanked by Nani on the left and Antonio Valencia on the right. Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez (Chicharito) were the pairing up front.
Otelul Galati played in a 4-2-3-1 shape. Branko Grahovic was between the posts and the center-back duo was captain Sergiu Costin and Milan Perendija. They were flanked in defense by Cornel Rapa on the right and Adrian Salageanu on the left. Gabriel Giurgiu and Ioan Filip were the central midfielders in roles that resembled 'double pivots'. In the attacking band of the midfield, it was Ionut Neagu as the central-attacking-midfielder and he was flanked by Liviu Antal on the right and Sorin Frunza on the left. Bratislav Punosevac was the lone player up top for Galati.
Compartmentalized Otelul Galati
When the draw was announced for the UEFA Champions League group-stage play, most likely assumed that the Otelarii would finish as the last place team in Group C -- while conceding a high number of goals. Well, they certainly appear on their way to finishing last in the group but they have been a relatively difficult side to break down for goal-scoring chances. Prior to Tuesday, the Romanian champions only conceded a single goal against SL Benfica and two to FC Basel in an away tie. In their match versus United on Tuesday night, they showed themselves to be a very compartmentalized side.
As mentioned, Galati played in a 4-2-3-1 type of shape in Bucharest. Their back four were soundly positioned and they were well supported by two deep-lying players in the middle -- Filip and Giurgiu. In addition, both wide players -- Antal and Frunza -- worked hard to track back and help defend. Generally, it was very structured -- a compact six players that always tried to stay behind the ball and four attackers that tried to hit United on the counter.
United's two most creative outlets in this match were both Rooney and Nani. The deep-lying double pivots of Filip and Giurgiu did decently well to occupy the space between the lines -- space that Rooney prefers to roam in when he is partnered by Chicharito up front. In addition, Filip did very well to provide cover when Nani tried to cut in onto his right-boot from the left flank. Furthermore, Antal was typically quick as well to double up on Nani when he tried to take-on right-back Rapa -- who struggled when he was isolated one-on-one with the Portuguese winger. Filip did well in his holding-role and this was evidenced by his outstanding 8 interceptions in the match.
When Galati did win the ball, they had a few threatening moments on the counter-attack. Punosevac was mostly isolated up top but both Antal and Frunza had positives moments. Both wide players played somewhat narrow and Antal was almost a second striker when his side broke forward. Frunza had 4 key passes in this match -- defined as 'defense splitting passes' -- and combined well with left-back Salageanu. The latter had a threatening moment in the first-half when he surged forward to whip-in a dangerous cross -- a superb block by Carrick nullified the threat at the top of the box. Because of their compartmentalization and focus to to keep their defensive shape versus United, the home-side weren't able to accomplish much consistency in building an attack. However, they had a few bright moments -- mostly Frunza and Salageanu down the left on counters.
United's failure in the attacking third
As previously mentioned, Nani and Rooney appeared to be the defensive focus for Galati. But it was always one of them that was mostly likely to create a breakthrough for United. Although United's opening goal came from a converted penalty by Rooney, it was an opportunity created from a terrific ball over the top for him by Nani. Wazza then was about to slip Chicharito onto goal until Costin intervened with a handball.
After his recent return from injury, Valencia has struggled to regain his stellar form from last season's run-in. Perhaps some of this is due to his recent usage at both right-back and right-winger -- but he's yet to excel yet this season during his opportunities. When he is playing well, Valencia is a terror with his direct play down the right flank and he does well to provide quality service for United's forwards. When he struggles, his play is predictable and this can lead to a stale attack by United. The attack down the right side was too compartmentalized by United and Valencia's failure to influence this match -- by not being able to consistently beat his marker -- contributed to Chicharito's lack of involvement in this match. The Mexican striker will always work hard in pressing the opposition and with intelligent off-the-ball movement -- but he needs consistent service in the box to yield his influence.
Ando and Carrick did well to dictate the match
United were always likely to dominate possession in this match -- which they did (67%-33%). Hence, Galati's disciplined shape. Neither Anderson nor Carrick are between the lines sort of players -- neither are tasked with the incisive playmaking duties. That is mostly left to Rooney and the wide players. Ando and Carrick are simply tasked with tidy distribution to these attackers and the occasional late-arriving runs into the box (Carrick fluffed an opportunity though in the 1st half).
A look at statistics is quite revealing for these two on Tuesday. Carrick completed 89 passes at an exceptional 92% success rate while Ando completed 79 passes at an impressive 89% success rate. In addition, Carrick completed 11 accurate long-balls (out of an attempted 11) while Ando completed an accurate 9 long-balls (out of an attempted 10). This is very good.
When United were building an attack, both did well to receive the ball from the back and link play to the attackers. Ando is superb at receiving the ball from deep and using his pace and one-touch passes to fluidly work the ball forward. Carrick is exceptional at sending long-diagonal balls to the flanks for the wingers -- whether this is to their feet in a steady build-up or behind the full-backs to quicken the tempo. Each performed their jobs well on Tuesday night and manager Sir Alex Ferguson was quick to praise both during his post-match remarks. It was simply the failure of United's attackers to generate consistent creativity and this is why they struggled to break down Galati in the attacking third of the pitch.
There was some criticism that United lacked tempo at times and and withe implication that this was due to this duo. My rebuttal of that would be the high number of long-balls they successfully played to supply the attack -- this would result in an increased tempo. Particularly, each did well to stretch a compact and narrow Galati with their superb long-diagonal balls.
Late match adjustments
Two events significantly effected this match. Quite obviously,(1) Rooney's opening goal after a converted penalty in the 64th minute would force Galati to open up if they desired an equaliser. (2) Vidic's harsh sending off just minutes later would force United to play with 10 men.
Galati did bring on striker Marius Pena in the 72nd minute. Galati were now playing with a 2nd striker. United simply changed their shape to a 4-4-1. Valencia was subbed off for a center-back -- Jonny Evans -- and this resulted in Rooney moving to the left and Nani switching over to the right. Chicharito was the lone striker now up front. Ferguson further solidified United's defense by bringing on Phil Jones at right-back for Fabio. From here, United did well to keep possession and close out the match. Rooney even got his brace after he earned a penalty and converted it himself.
United were far from impressive in this match but credit should be given to Galati for being a difficult side to break down. The Reds never looked too threatened to concede a goal but some supporters surely got nervous and likely wondered if United could breakthrough. A terrific ball played over the top for Rooney by Nani earned the first penalty -- an opening goal was almost most likely going to come from one of these two players. From here, United closed out the match and earned three valuable away points in Bucharest. A crucial derby on Sunday versus Manchester City awaits United domestically.