Woeful was Manchester United in their 1-0 FA Cup 5th-round victory over Conference side Crawley Town at Old Trafford. It was a valiant effort by the west Sussex side, and United was fortunate that Wes Brown's header in the 1st half was enough to give his side an unconvincing passage to the FA Cup quaterfinals. Sir Alex Ferguson began the match resting most of his first team regulars, but later brought on Wayne Rooney, Darren Fletcher, and Chris Smalling to close out the match. Despite being below United by 97 places in the English football pyramid, Crawley were able to win the possession battle 53%-47%.
OPENING LINEUPS AND FORMATIONS:
United began in a '4-3-3' shape. Anders Lindegaard made his second start for the club in goal. Brown paired with John O'Shea at center-back. The da Silva twins were the two full-backs, Rafael on the right and Fabio on the left. Michael Carrick positioned himself in front of the center-backs and played as a deep-lying playmaker. Anderson and Darron Gibson joined Carrick in the center of the pitch, and both were employed as box-to-box type of center-midfielders. Bebe started on the right flank in the attack, with Gabriel Obertan on the left. Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez lead the attacking line in the center.
Crawley played most of the match in '4-2-3-1' shape. Pablo Mills and Kyle McFadzean were the center-back pairing. Dean Howell played left-back while David Hunt was the right-back. Dannie Bulman played as a holding-midfielder, while Sergio Torres paired with him in the center of the pitch and got forward a bit more. Willie Gibson was on the right in the band of three, with Ben Smith in the middle and Craig McAllister on the left. Matt Tubbs was the striker.
* United's attack was very left-sided in the first half. Fabio played extremely well and he may have been the most dangerous attacking player United had. He was bombing up the left flank in support Obertan, who was often cutting inside onto to his right-foot. Bebe only completed four passes from the right side in the half.
* Although Bebe was poor and was rarely involved in the attack, the few crosses he sent in were quality. He appeared to be much improved in whipping in balls.
* Crawley started well, then United grew into the game a bit and played better in the middle portion of the 1st half. Gibson played a very good ball on the goal, one that Wes Brown nicely flicked on for the winner.
* Gabriel Obertan didn't provide much at all, other than his pace. But his technical quality was very poor, and it was a very disappointing effort from him.
* Chicharito was not getting much service, but he also didn't do much with a great opportunity when Gibson played a nice through ball into him.
* Crawley came to play, and didn't just pack it in. Both full-backs for them got forward in the attack at times and provided support. Torres played a box-to-box role, and made many runs forward.
* I've never seen Crawley play before, but all indications were that they typically play with a '4-4-2' shape. If that is the case, that likely explains why McAllister was always drifting towards the center of the pitch from his role wide left. He may just feel much more comfortable there.
* Crawley's Gibson played very conservative on the right, and he was pinned back because of Fabio's runs forward.
* Overall, the first half was a bore. United didn't play well, but they were deserving of the lead at that point. 1-0 seemed about right.
* Rooney was brought in at half for Anderson. Although most probably saw the United shape change to a '4-4-2' with the substitution, I saw it a bit more in a '4-2-3-1' shape. Rooney was playing much deeper than Chicharito, and Obertan and Bebe were still very much attack-minded... neither provided much in getting back in defense. United played much of the 2nd half in this shape:
* Obertan and Bebe switched sides during the half. Obertan appears to be more comfortable on the right.
* Crawley really grew into the match, and had the better of possession in this half. They stayed in the same shape for most of the half and their substitutions for mostly 'like-for-like,' In the last 5-10 minutes, they began to throw more players up into the attack while searching for the equaliser.
* Sky Italia apparently commented that Fletcher was a "swiss army knife," when he came on for Fabio and played right-back. That description could be aptly be used for O'Shea as well, as he was employed in three different positions tonight (center-back, right-back, and left-back).
* As previously mentioned, Rooney played much deeper than Chicharito, in a playmaking role. He was out there to link play, and although he wasn't fantastic, he did better than Ando.
* Carrick was very solid and did well to both make the simple pass and intercept passes.
* United were completely out-played this half and were fortunate that Crawley didn't force a replay with an equaliser. It was not an entertaining half by any means for United supporters. It was fairly boring tactically as well.
* After dominating possession in the first half with 60%, United had their fortunes completely reversed in the 2nd half, as Crawley's 53% possession for the match indicates. The west Sussex side completed 370 passes tonight, more than six Premier League clubs were able to achieve in their visits to Old Trafford this season.
* There wasn't that many good performances in the match from a United perspective. Fabio was very solid but I'll give the "man of the match" to tonight's skipper Wes Brown... both for his goal and solid defending.
* The supporters with the Cantona masks were fantastic!
* Bebe really looks to lack confidence at this point, and while it's too early to write him off, his transfer to United seems to be a bit puzzling. Might his signing have been a favor to someone???
* Obertan at this point is not United quality. His pace and athleticism are fantastic, but his technical ability isn't nearly enough at this point. I hope he can still develop.
* Chris Smalling was very solid again when he came in the 54th minute. Who's the better signing, Smalling or Chicharito? I think a case could be made for both.
* Gibson gave a solid effort, much better than his past few performances. He played a terrific ball in on the goal, and also provided a few other incisive passes. An encouraging game for him.
* Everyone should be properly rested for the match at Marseille. The only player who might be featured there and to play 90 minutes tonight was O'Shea. Rafael left the game with an apparent injury, no word yet on how serious it was. None of Ando, Rooney, or Smalling were required for more than 45 minutes.
* After I finish this write-up, I'm done thinking about this game. I just feel fortunate that United advanced, and won't be forced to play a replay with the congested fixture list coming up. We're in the quarterfinals and that I'm pleased with; today's performance I'm certainly not. On to the next.