OPENING LINEUPS & FORMATIONS
Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson blended youth with experience in his side's 4-4-2 shape. Third-choice goalkeeper Ben Amos was in goal while captain Nemanja Vidic and Phil Jones were the center-back pairing. Zeki Fryers was chosen at left-back and Fabio played at right-back. Tom Cleverley returned from an injury lay-off to make a start and he was joined by Ji-Sung Park in the central-midfield. They were flanked by Antonio Valencia on the right and Mame Biram Diouf on the left. Up front, Dimitar Berbatov and Michael Owen were the duo.
Aldershot Town FC lined up in a similar 4-4-2 shape. Ross Warner was the goalkeeper and the center-back tandem was Darren Jones and Aaron Morris. Captain Ben Herd was the right-back and Anthony Straker was the left-back. In the center of the park, Luke Guttridge and Peter Vincenti were the pairing and they were flanked by Jermaine McGlashan on the right and Alex Rodman on the left. Michael Rankine was the center-forward and he was joined up top by Dannyl Hylton.
Cleverley and Park overran Aldershot
Perhaps it was simply due to the quality of competition, but the Cleverley/Park tandem in the middle proved to be an effective one.Their energy, movement, and understanding with one another resulted in Aldershot being overrun in the center of the park. The two combined brilliantly to set up Berbatov for United's opening goal. Cleverley received from Park near the top of box and he then played the ball back to the Korean with a defense splitting pass into the box after an intelligent off-the-ball run. Park then cut back the ball and Berbatov slotted it home.
For Cleverley, it was his first match since his injury at Bolton Wanderers and he looked both active and sharp during his return. When United worked the ball out of the back and into the midfield, Cleverley did well to receive, turn, and quickly pass forward. He would then actively seek space in dangerous areas where he looked to receive again. From there, he did well to supply United's attackers with some incisive distribution. This performance was against a League Two side -- not against a Premier League or Champions League side -- but this has been missing from United's midfield in the past few weeks. It was an encouraging sign to see Cleverley increase the tempo of play and look to ignite the attack from the central midfield in just his first match back from injury.
Park did what he typically does -- he kept things simple, defended bravely, and used his energy to tactically compliment Cleverley well. An underrated part of Park's skillset is his ability to combine well with his quick passing and using his intelligent movement to find pockets of space in the attack. This was exhibited in the previously described Berba goal.
It was somewhat surprising to see Aldershot use only two players in the central midfield. Perhaps using another player -- such as a holding player like Jamie Collins -- would have allowed them to compete better with Cleverley and Park. Both Vincenti and Guttridge sat relatively deep and maybe this was Aldershot manager Dean Holdsworth's tactical way of balancing things so that he could still have four attackers higher up the pitch. This simply allowed too much time on the ball for United's central players -- specifically Cleverley. When Vincenti and Guttridge did come higher up to press their counterparts, both seemed to lack the mobility to effectively challenge for the ball and the quality that Cleverley and Park possess allowed them to pass around the arriving pressure.
If Collins sat between the lines -- in front of Aldershot's back four and in behind Vincenti and Guttridge -- this could have provided Aldershot better defensive structure and made it more difficult for United to break them down. In addition, Rodman was already playing quite defensive as the wide left player for Aldershot and he was nearly nonexistent in attack. It would have been interesting to see if the Shots could have competed better with an extra man in the middle, using Rankine as an outlet to relieve pressure as the center-forward, and using the pace of McGlashan and Hylton in the wide areas on the counterattack. The latter two were the home side's brightest players in attack on Tuesday night.
United's right-sided attack
The Reds looked to penetrate Aldershot more from the right side than they did from the left side. It was a common sight to see Park and Cleverley swing the ball to the right side where Valencia and Fabio were. From here, Valencia often would dribble at his marker and Fabio would surge forward with overlapping runs -- many crosses were whipped in from the right flank. In addition, Owen continually dropped deep to link play between the midfield and attack. While Owen did not provide much in the way of incisive passing when he received the ball, his deep movement did create space in behind him for Cleverley, Valencia, and Fabio to exploit.
Relatively inexperienced players -- Diouf and Fryers -- were deployed on the left. Berbatov visibly became frustrated at times because he seemingly felt that Diouf was not making the correct off-the-ball runs. While Diouf did provide industry, he failed to provide enough quality in attack. Perhaps some of this was due to a lack of support from Fryers. Against Leeds United in round 3 of the Carling Cup, Fryers impressed during his senior debut while playing center-back. On Tuesday night, he was used at left-back and his sole focus seemed to be defending against his counterpart McGlashan. Fryers rarely ventured forward and McGlashan's pace in attack looked to be a genuine threat. However, the Aldershot right-winger's final product was lacking but credit should be given to Fryers for another solid performance in defense.
The two were last deployed together during the match at Leeds. And just like that match, both proved to be an effective partnership again. Both often came deep for the ball in the match to link play and each bagged a goal as well. It was Berbatov that was particularly bright in this match. The Bulgarian striker looked hungry and he was quite active with his off-the-ball movement and even his defending. He also did well to set up Owen for his goal. Throughout the match, Berbatov oozed class and his hustle likely endeared himself to many supporters who feel -- rightly or wrongly -- that he is lazy.
Each striker could walk into the majority of the Premier League sides and be instant starters. Unfortunately for them, they face quality competition at United and each is currently 4th-choice at best in Fergie's side. Perhaps this competition can be one to get them games for the moment. This partnership -- which seemingly is a very compatible one -- may be the one to ride for United as they look for a deep Carling Cup run.
A few individuals worth discussing
There is no tactical reason to discuss these players but I will anyway. Paul Pogba was the first substitute to come on for United and the youngster did well to break up play and use his strong technical ability to distribute the ball. A solid second senior side appearance for the highly-regarded central midfielder. He was later joined by two other young players -- starlet Ravel Morrison and defender Michael Keane. While neither was able to yield their influence during their short stints on the pitch, Morrison pretty much made Twitter explode when he came on. Many are aware of his immense talent and potential but many are also well aware of his continual legal troubles. It was just a nice sight to see such a bright prospect on the pitch playing football. It was also a special moment as well for Keane as it was his senior debut.
Vidic not being included in Sunday's derby was a talking point then but his performance on Tuesday night provided hints as to why. The skipper was sent off last week, at Otelul Galati, for a poorly-timed challenge during his first match back for United after an injury lay-off. Against Aldershot, he was booked again for a poorly-timed challenge just 9 minutes into the match. As Fergie indicated after Tuesday's match, fitness and form are a concern at the moment for Vidic and this match provided a good opportunity for him to work on both. He certainly does not look sharp at the moment but this Carling Cup tie allowed him to go a full 90 minutes -- which is a positive.
A good night. A relatively soft-landing after Sunday's derby nightmare. Squad players who have not been playing regularly got a game and many youngsters once again gained senior side experience through a Carling Cup match. Two hugely important players -- Vidic and Cleverley -- were able to get a good run in as well as each continues to regain form and fitness after their injury lay-offs. Perhaps this game would have been a bit more interesting to the neutral had Aldershot used another player in the center. United simply overran the League Two side with their quality.
Sir Alex Ferguson | MUFC manager
(On the performances of those squad players who haven't seen much action lately...) "They always give me nudges - it's difficult picking the team as we've a fantastic squad with so many good players.They needed games tonight, they've not had many first-team chances because the consistency of the side means I've not needed to make many changes. If you look at that tonight, we had 11 fresh players from Sunday and that tells you how strong the squad is. Because it's so strong, the young lads couldn't get into the team. Paul Pogba, Ravel Morrison and Larnell Cole... I'd like to have played them all but the ones who really needed a game had to play. Any time Owen plays, he scores. You can't ignore that - he's a fantastic professional with a fantastic ratio of goals per games. He's just got that knack and is an amazing player. Berbatov had a fantastic game tonight and scored a tremendous goal, it was a marvellous piece of football and Dimitar slotted it home. But they've all done well - Antonio Valencia and Cleverley's back and that's a good thing for us because he's an outstanding footballer and it's his first game for a while - since the Bolton match."
(On Vidic's selection for this match and his current fitness level...) "Vidic got 90 minutes and I think he needed it. Until he got his breathing going, he was feeling it and blowing quite hard. He's a big lad and needs games. These are bonus things for us as it's an important time in the season with European games, the League Cup and the league itself."
(On Aldershot...) "Aldershot fought really hard and must take a lot of credit as they never stopped running or pressing the ball," he added. "They put a good shift in but we showed our quality at times and could've scored a few more at the end of the game when they tired."
(On United's result...) "I'm satisified - the most important thing is to win the game in cup ties and we're into the next round now. I think we showed professionalism, discipline and kept consistency in passing the ball. That's a good habit to have in this type of match and the players enjoyed it."
Michael Owen | MUFC striker
(On bouncing back after the disappointing derby...) "There was a little bit of pressure after the City result,. Although no-one [in tonight’s team] started at the weekend, we still had the Manchester United reputation to look after in many ways. No matter what side we put out tonight, we wanted to bounce back and thankfully we got the win. As you can imagine really, the usual laughs and jokes at training quietened down a little bit after Sunday and it focused our minds. Sometimes you need a kick in the teeth to get up and going again and to concentrate on the basics. It was a big kick in the teeth and we were eager to bounce back."
(On United's performance versus Aldershot...) "“We played some good stuff in the first half. It was quite similar to the last tie at Leeds as again we went 3-0 up and then took our foot off the gas a little bit. It was a bit more even in the second half, and, to their credit, Aldershot never let their heads drop. We're thankful we're through to the next round of the Carling Cup. Roll on Everton [in the league] now."
Ben Amos | MUFC goalkeeper
(On his performance and his save late in the match...) "Obviously it was good to get the save at the end, to show what I can do, but I didn't have a lot to do, just distribution and tidying things up. That’s one of the biggest things about being a goalkeeper for Manchester United - you can have nothing to do all game and then, when the one thing you need to do comes along, you've got to do it well and keep it out. That's my job, to keep a clean sheet and I think everyone's happy."
(On how United wanted to approach this match...) "Our aim was to control the game at our tempo like we did at Elland Road [against Leeds in the previous round]. If you give the home team even a bit of encouragement, especially in a tight ground like this, the crowd get behind them and get on your back."If you're not switched on, these games can go horribly wrong. Concentration is vital and you need to be ruthless in the box and put your chances away. We wanted to kill them off early doors and we did it with some nice goals."