I was a bit short on time last week so I was not able to get up a tactical review after the Champions League match with Otelul Galati. If you happen to be interested still, here is an abbreviated version. Five points on Manchester United's victory:
Opening Lineups & Formation
Manager Sir Alex Ferguson played his side in a 4-4-2 shape. David De Gea was between the posts at Old Trafford while Jonny Evans and Rio Ferdinand were the center-back pairing. Fabio deputised for Patrice Evra at left-back and Phil Jones was at right-back. Wayne Rooney and Anderson were the central midfielders and they were flanked by Nani on the left and Antonio Valencia on the right. Up front, Dimitar Berbatov and Michael Owen started as the strike partnership. The latter came off in the 11th minute for Javier Hernandez (Chicharito) after suffering from a thigh injury.
Galati manager Dorinel Munteanu deployed his side in a 4-1-4-1ish shape. Branko Grahovac was in goal while Adrian Salageanu played at left-back and Cornel Rapa was at right-back. In central defense, captain Sergiu Costin and Cristian Sarghi were the duo and the back four was shielded by holding-midfielder Ioan Filip. Gabriel Giurgui and Ionut Neagu were in the center of the park and they were flanked in the midfield by Liviu Antal on the right and Silviu Ilie on the left. Marius Pena was the lone striker up top.
1. Rooney was stellar - The numbers tell much of the story. Rooney completed an impressive 98 passes at a fantastic 89% success rate from the center of the park. In addition, he accurately completed 18 long balls out of an attempted 24. That is Paul Scholes territory.
With the recent injuries to Tom Cleverley, Ryan Giggs, and Michael Carrick, United lack a playmaker that sits deep enough in the central midfield and dictates matches. Rooney typically plays higher up the pitch and finds space between the lines. From here, he acts as United's main incisive playmaker through the middle of the pitch. Against the Otelarii, Wazza sat deeper in the central midfield where he dictated the pattern of United's attack.
It took about 10-15 minutes for United to get settled in this match but they were brighter for the remaining half hour of the first half. This coincided with Rooney growing into the match after a few loose passes in the early going. United controlled possession for much of the match but they began to create more chances and increase tempo when Rooney supplied the attackers with long-diagonal balls near the flanks. From here, it was up to the wingers, the strikers who had moved out wide to receive, and the overlapping full-backs to provide incisive play that would break down their Romanian opposition.
Rooney also did well to play simple swing passes out wide for the likes of Fabio, Nani, Jones, and Valencia to receive at their feet. Berbatov acted as a false nine and often came deep for the ball so that Rooney could supply him as well. Whether it was simple passes such as these or more aggressive passes such as the long diagonal balls, Wazza did well to read the game and set the necessary tempo for United when in possession.
2. Anderson was.... not so stellar - A look at the numbers is not necessary for any observer of the match to recognize that Anderson was poor when United were in possession. Nonetheless, here is a quick look. His 62 passes were only completed at a 76% success rate -- this is much too loose for a central-midfielder positioned as deeply as Ando typically is. Errant passes from the Brazilian -- in a deep enough position to make United vulnerable -- led to a few counterattack chances for Galati. After Anderson's promising start to the season, it is quite disappointing to see his declining form. It was somewhat surprising that it took 80 minutes for Ando to be substituted off. Ji-Sung Park, his replacement, was an instant upgrade when he came on. To Ando's credit, he competed well defensively. His four tackles and and four interceptions against a side that did not have much of the ball should be recognized.
3. Jones -- at right-back -- was United's most incisive attacker - It was discussed earlier how Rooney pulled the strings in the center of the park. But it should also be noted how the United attack failed to consistently create chances. The Reds were deserving of their victory but most assumed that it would have been more convincing and included more goals. Out wide, Nani was mostly ineffective on the left flank and Valencia has yet to find his fine form from last season's run-in. The former provided the only accurate cross between the two in the entire match. Berbatov was decent with his link-up play but his finishing was poor. Chicharito had a few chances but failed to bag a goal.
The most incisive part of United's attack came from their full-backs. Fabio had a memorable marauding run while Jones' overlapping runs created havoc throughout the match. Fabio contributed two accurate crosses while Jones contributed three -- their combined total of five was four more than what the wingers provided.
Antal did decently well to track back and pick up Fabio but Ilie was poor in tracking Jones. These are important responsibilities for Galati's wingers as their side was dominated in possession by United.
On United's opening goal, Valencia tucked inside and was picked up by Filip. Berbatov moved out wide to the right and when the ball was played into him, Galati left-back Salageanu came out to mark the United striker. Jones surged forward into open space for an overlapping run and Ilie failed to get back and track him. Jones then whipped in a delicious cross that got across the goal for Valencia to finish.This goal was a good representation of how Jones terrorized Galati all evening. Jones also had a terrific cross in the second half after an overlapping run that Chicharito failed to finish. He and Rooney were clearly the two key players in this particular match.
4. Galati defend bravely but are poor in attack - Credit should be given to the Romanian champs for defending bravely in this match. Filip in particular -- in a strict holding role -- was intelligently positioned throughout the match and he did well to nullify most threats between the lines.
Giurgiu was combative in his box-to-box role as his impressive five tackles and five interceptions can attest to. He had a few interceptions of errant Anderson passes and he did well to accurately distribute in a quick fashion to an attacker to ignite the counterattack. Giurgiu even did well to dispossess Rooney on a few occasions.
Both Fergie and Rooney expressed after the match of their slight surprise from Galati's pressing. United's center-backs were generally given time on the ball but once the ball reached the midfield, the likes of Neagu and Giurgiu were industrious in their pressing. Perhaps this is why it took United the 10-15 minutes to settle into the match -- well Rooney anyway as Ando struggled with this for the entire time he was on the pitch.
It was also a slight surprise that Ilie started in place of Sorin Frunza. In the reverse fixture in Bucharest, Frunza -- along with Antal -- provided a few bright moments in attack on the counter. Both provide the pace and technical ability to threaten any side if offered space to attack in. The Galati counterattack mostly sputtered at Old Trafford but it noticeably picked up when Frunza came on as a substitute in the 53rd minute. Without Frunza, Antal and Neagu appeared to be the only players on the pitch capable of providing a threat. Neither of the latter two did until Frunza entered the match.
5. 2nd half adjustments - No drastic tactical changes were made in the the 2nd half. Galati began to see more of the ball in the final half hour of the match. This is also when Rooney began to noticeably come deeper for the ball -- perhaps in an effort further influence the match and help United regain control of possession. Frunza's substitution for Ilie was a like-for-like one. As was Larentiu Iorga coming on for Antal in the 62nd minute.
Gabriel Paraschiv came on during the 81st minute and this signified Galati's late effort to chase an equaliser when the match had a 1-0 scoreline. Galati shifted to a 4-4-2/4-4-1-1ish shape with Paraschiv playing withdrawn from Pena. United's late substitutions were like-for-like. From here, the Reds added a second goal off a deflection and the match was essentially decided.
Rooney controlled the match from the center of the pitch while Jones' marauding runs were the most incisive part of United's attack. The Reds' dominance in possession helped prevent Galati from generating much of attack. When the away side did get a chance to get forward, United did well to nullify any counterattacking threat with solid defense. de Gea also provided a very good save in the first save when United failed to protect him on that instance. More goals were expected but United earned the three points that were needed -- in a quite uninspiring fashion. They are now tied on points with Benfica in Group C but top the table on goal differential. The next European tie is versus Benfica at Old Trafford and a better performance will likely be needed by United if they hope to take charge of the group.