On Saturday evening, if someone gave me the choice of being stabbed in the eye with a rusty nail or re-watching Manchester United's tepid (but important) 1-0 defeat of the soon-to-be relegated Reading FC, I likely would have pondered my options for awhile. In the past few days, though, I found myself curious* about Alexander Buttner because he's still a player I don't really have a feel for as his appearances have been limited due to the incredibly durable Patrice Evra. Therefore, I decided to re-watch the game and do a minute-by-minute observation of the Dutch left-back, Wilfried Zaha style. This may or may not teach me more about Buttner. Nonetheless, here I go:
* You know the proverbial warning 'curiosity killed the cat'? Well if you replace 'killed the cat' with 'lulled me into a near unconscious state due to the extreme boring nature of this match'', then it works in this case.
Pre-game: Buttner is making just his 2nd Premier League start of the season and his 10th overall appearance in all competitions. He's the left-back in United's typical 4-4-1-1ish shape.
1' - It takes Anderson literally 9 seconds to throw his weight around and draw a foul. I just remembered this running diary isn't about the
rotund jovial midfielder.
1' - United start with a spell of possession and slowly work the ball up the pitch. Buttner is involved in a few simple passing sequences down the left touchline but he eventually loses possession when his short pass for Robin van Persie spills out of play near the corner flag. A few simple movements in the passing sequence - Buttner went up the touchline when left-winger Ashley Young went inside and the former darted towards the box when the latter received again near the touchline.
2' - Buttner wins the second-ball after a Reading throw-in. He immediately tries to dart into attack before a challenge causes him to be knocked over. No foul given (rightfully), but the resulting loose ball leads to a Ryan Giggs (as a central-midfielder) pass out wide for Young. The winger eventually hits a cross that finds no one and trickles out for a goal-kick.
10' - There's not a whole lot going so far down Buttner's side of the pitch. Overall, the tempo of the game is very slow and both sides have stayed organized in their shapes. United just had a long spell of possession and the likes of Buttner, Young, Giggs, and Robin van Persie all continuously formed passing triangles for each other. Buttner does appear comfortable on the ball in attack and even when a defender is tight on him, he doesn't panic.
12' - A little bit of possession, finally, for Reading. Still not much going on in regards to Buttner. Positionally, he's been very cautious and has stuck quite close to left-center-back Nemanja Vidic whenever the Reds are out of possession. The United back four have been fairly flat with neither Buttner nor right-back Chris Smalling looking to get forward much. This has contributed to a static attack thus far for the league leaders.
15' - Reading right-back Stephen Kelly is playing quite narrow and by my count, United have already targeted 3 long right-to-left diagonals into the wide areas where Kelly is not guarding. Rio Ferdinand rakes a 40-50 yard diagonal out to Young just outside of the box before the winger unsuccessfully tries to curl an attempt into the far-post. Young is continuously in an inside-left position - perhaps this is why Kelly keeps positioning himself so narrowly - but Buttner is reluctant to get forward into the available space down the touchline. As a whole, with Danny Welbeck playing relatively narrow as the nominal right-winger, United need their full-backs to bomb forward in order for any sort of proper width to be provided. It's not happening so far.
19'- United transition forward through Giggs - who is positoned as the left-sided central-midfielder - for a 5 v 6 break. RvP trails the play and eventually fires a shot that is blocked. United's front four were very narrow and Reading were organized, tight, and compact. They only needed to hustle back and defend the width the of the box. Buttner could have surged forward to offer an outlet wide on the left -- but he didn't. The young Dutchman is clearly focused on his positioning and not being caught out when the transitions go the other way. It's almost as if the United full-backs are focused only on defending.
22' - Another patient build-up by United against a well-organized and narrow Reading defense. RvP drops deep between the lines and with Young in a narrow position, that leaves space out wide. Buttner ghosts a run in from the left-touchline and into the box. RvP tries to thread a through ball for his fellow Dutchman but Reading right-winger Hal Robson-Kanu recovers, slides, and barely blocks the pass. That incisive run was needed after an uneventful build-up. United's movement is mostly static up front and their wingers are not offering width.
25' - Buttner is very, very focused on staying goalside of Robson-Kanu. A long diagonal is played out wide for the Reading winger but when the ball arrives, Buttner is there to quickly close him down for a tackle. Perhaps the relatively poor long diagonal ball by Mikele Leigertwood bought the United left-back some time.
27' - I sometimes wonder if the ball is going to pop when Vidic tries to annihilate it with his head. Okay, back to Buttner...
28' - A cross is sent in by Leigertwood - aka Wayne Rooney's man-marker thus far - but Buttner does well to clear it at the far-post 7 yards away from goal. Vidic was near but he backed off so Buttner must've communicated to him that it was covered. Nothing spectacular about that play, but it was good, solid defending nonetheless.
30' - United have a mini-break forward after Young receives the ball in a cenral-position between the lines. The front four were all very narrow (again) and the attacking move eventually leads to a RvP 35-yard shot that doesn't trouble Reading goalkeeper Stuart Taylor. There was acres of space for RvP to slide Buttner into the attack near the touchline if the latter was willing to make a run into a very dangerous area. The left-back, though, never got forward.
32' - Buttner receives on the touchline about 20 yards into the Reading half. He sees Rooney make a half-hearted run into the box and tries to deliver an early cross. It's under-hit and the decision was poor in the first-place. A more conservative pass would have been prudent.
32' - Reading build an attack through their left-side. Smalling dives in trying to an intercept a pass near the touchline but he is woefully unsuccessful. Reading left-winger Garath McClearly skips free and eventually finds Robson-Kanu making a diagonal run towards the top of the box. Buttner, during the entire sequence of the play, is goal-side of the Reading right-winger but he's given him way too much space that near the goal and he is not tight enough to instantly close him down. Robson-Kanu is free to fire on goal and he only misses by half-a-yard.
34'- Buttner is loosely tracking Robson-Kanu and allows him space to receive and turn near the touchline. The Reading winger beats the Dutchman before unsuccessfully crossing from the byline. It's been a shaky few minutes for the United defender.
40' - Buttner is a bit tighter to Robson-Kanu in a Reading build-up and he cuts in front of him to intercept a pass. That was a Gael Clichy sort of defensive move. It eventually led to an unsuccessful United break. About 2 minutes ago, there was shouting from the United coaching staff -- perhaps it was them instructing the Dutchman to get tighter on Robson-Kanu.
42' - A terrible backpass from Buttner near the touchline is intercepted by Jobi McAnuff and the Reading midfielder bursts towards goal. Fortunately, Vidic and Ferdinand are well-positioned while Giggs and Young spring back to challenge McAnuff as he attempts a wayward shot on goal. If I were Rio, Vida, or goalkeeper David de Gea, I'd be giving Buttner the hairdryer treatment right now.
HT: A quiet opening half-hour for Buttner, which is often a good thing for a defender. He's clearly focused on not being caught out. Although, this has hindered his attacking ambition - something that is probably a strength of his and it would be useful with United's front four so narrow and not nearly incisiveness enough in attack. In the final 15 minutes, Buttner was a liability and half-time couldn't have come at a better time for him so that he can regroup.
47' - On defensive corners, Buttner guards the far-post -- Rafael's usual role.
48' - McClearly beats Smalling to the byline and sends in a cross to the far-post. Buttner doesn't clear it but he was well-positioned. No Reading attacker was available to get on the end of the cross.
50' - Buttner makes two challenges on Robson-Kanu when the winger comes deep to receive. After the first-challenge, Mike Phelan (I think) is yelling to Buttner "no foul, no foul!" The Dutchman does well to win the second challenge. Seconds later, though, after the throw-in, Buttner clatters into Robson-Kanu and referee Lee Mason warns Buttner. The Dutchman has been tighter on his counterpart since sitting off of him so much in the opening half-hour.
55' - Slow, slow build-up for United. And again, no width. Buttner makes a run down the left but Giggs over-hits the pass. This game could really use a Michael Carrick or Paul Scholes pulling the strings. That's not an indictment on the Giggs, though, he's played well.
58' - Buttner plays in Young near the touchline in attack. The United winger is doubled up by Kelly and a Reading central-midfielder. Buttner cleverly makes a run in behind Robson-Kanu and Young finds him before the United left-back darts into the box. Jem Karacan makes a last-ditch tackle on Buttner just before he was about to slide a cross in front of goal. Very well done by the Dutchman.
62'- Noel Hunt has to change shirts. I wonder if he's aware that a 5-year-old child has scribbled all over his back with permanent ink. I suppose, though, those could just be awful tattoos.
66' - Reading try to counter from a United corner. The last two defenders - Buttner and Ferdinand - do well to sniff out the brief attack.
69' - Buttner with a good slide tackle on Robson-Kanu after a restart. The aggression levels of the Dutchman have gone up.
70'- Robson-Kanu has been taken off and McCleary has now switched to the right-side.
74'- Young comes off for Michael Carrick. This results in Rooney now being Buttner's left-sided partner. The Buttner/Young partnership seemed to gain some understanding as the game wore on.
82' - United already look much more balanced with Carrick on. With him being a pivot from deep, the full-backs and Anderson seem more liberated to get forward. Buttner is scampering forward more often now and Carrick slides the ball out for him when he does. There's been little happening on Reading's right-side in attack and the Dutchman has been more willing to join the United attack this half. The Reds still aren't playing that well, but they do have better balance than they did earlier.
88' - Not a whole lot going on down Buttner's side in the past 20 minutes. Or maybe I just fell asleep for a few minutes. This hasn't exactly been a thriller.
90'+4 - Maybe Buttner put on a Callum McManaman shirt because Reading won't attack down his side anymore.
FT: United win 1-0. I am instantly going to delete this recording so that I never have to watch that football match again.
Well if I had to give Buttner a player rating for this match, I'd probably go with a 5. He was decent enough for about 75 minutes -- although he didn't do anything significant during that time -- but he was woeful for the final 15 minutes or so in the first-half. Overall, I don't think we learned too much about Buttner in this match because his attacking instinct seemed to be shackled. The energy of the 24-year-old was never on full display and I would have been curious to see how he defended while still having the license to get forward. Perhaps though, that's something the coaching staff did not want to see. Maybe the slow tempo of this match and the defensive solidity is what was needed after two recent exhausting clashes against Real Madrid and Chelsea.
There's a good chance we'll see more of Buttner during the run-in so hopefully these upcoming matches provide more insight as to what kind of player the Dutchman is. If I were a scout, I'd report back to my employers that this outing did not provide much knowledge about the player. A long-term replacement at left-back will soon be needed for the 31-year-old Evra. Perhaps Buttner is in contention or maybe he was just brought in as cover this season as Fabio continues to develop with regular playing time while on loan to QPR. Thus far though, I've seen nothing yet that suggests to me that Buttner is a better prospect than Fabio. Then again, I still feel like I haven't seen enough of the Dutchman.