On Saturday afternoon at the DW Stadium, Barclays Premier League leader Manchester United earned an important three points by disposing of Wigan Athletic 0-4. Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez bagged a brace and he was joined in the scoring late in the match by Wayne Rooney and Fabio. The contest was a nervy affair at times for United and goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar was forced to be called upon for a few vital saves. United grew much more comfortable when Chicharito scored his second goal in the 74th minute and at that point, United were concentrated piling on goals with concern to their season's goal differential. Away fixtures at Chelsea FC and Liverpool FC await United in the coming week and the Reds did well to stay four points clear of nearest title-contender Arsenal ahead of this challenging stretch of the season.
OPENING LINEUPS AND FORMATION:
United came out in a '4-2-3-1' shape. It's difficult to tell if this was by design, or because Rooney was coming deep on his own. Sir Alex Ferguson may have been shouting instructions to Rooney late in the first half to stay higher up the pitch. Nemanja Vidic and Chris Smalling were once again the center-back pairing, with John O'Shea at right-back and Patrice Evra at left-back. Both full-backs were getting forward making over-lapping runs when the attacking player on their side tucked in centrally; Evra more so. Edwin van der Sar was between the posts. Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick were the central midfielders, and both played deep as double pivots. Darren Fletcher was tasked to the right flank in the attack and the Scot did well to stay wide in the attack while drifting inward when United were defending. Nani was attacker on the left flank and he stayed high up the pitch. When the Portuguese winger would try to cut in onto his right foot in the final third of the attack, Evra would make overlapping runs. Rooney came deep for the ball and linked play from the midfield to the attack in a play-making role. Chicharito floated around in the attack as the striker.
Wigan played in a '4-3-3' shape and attempted to play with a very high defensive line. Antolin Alcaraz and Gary Caldwell were the center-back pairing and they were flanked in the defense by Maynor Figueroa to left and Steve Gohouri to the right. Ben Watson played as a holding midfielder and he was partnered in the center of the pitch by James McCarthy and Mohamed Diame. McCarthy played in a box-to-box role to the right of Watson and Diame wandered higher up the pitch to the left. Hugo Rodallega led the attacking line in the center and he often acted as a "false nine" by coming deep and creating space behind him for the flanking attacker to run onto. Charles N'Zogbia, who was on the right side of the attack, often utilized the space created by Rodallega and those two were interchangeable and fluid in their movements. Victor Moses was on the left flank in attack and he stayed much wider than N'Zogbia did on his side.
A breakdown of the match after the jump...
* Wigan made a positive start to the match and came at United in the opening minutes. The Lactics were playing with a high line in defense and they were applying defensive pressure high up the pitch. If forced a few poor turnovers, as the normally reliable Vidic and Scholes were forced into mistakes early on. van der Sar made two huge saves within the first 18 minutes of the match as Moses and McCarthy weren't able to capitalize early for Wigan. It seemed to be a conscious effort by the hosts to close down on Scholes and Carrick as quick as possible.
* The match-up was generally a '4-2-3-1' (United) vs '4-3-3' (Wigan). Scholes and Carrick were positioned deep as double pivots and Rooney generally only came deep in the center when United were in possession. When in defense, Rooney stayed higher up the pitch. This resulted in Scholes and Carrick having to defend three attackers on a consistent basis, thus they were being overrun. McCarthy and Diame had quite a bit of space and time on the ball in the center of the pitch, and they were often joined in the middle by either N'Zobia when he drifted central or Rodallega when he came deep for the ball. Watson was even making delayed runs to join the attack. What often resulted were favorable 3 v 2 situations in the center when United were defending, and this is not ideal when one of those two is Scholes. Carrick did well to intercept a few passes. It looked like this when Wigan had the ball in the center of the pitch. You can see the acres of space they had in the middle and the reason why they had so much time on the ball.
* A few times when Scholes and Carrick tried to close down on their midfield counterparts, N'Zogbia and Roddallega did well to move into the space in between the defense and midfield, thus causing trouble there as well.
* On the first goal, a superb "one-two" between Rooney and Nani. Chicharito, as he commonly does, did well to lose his marker and he clinically finished on a good cross from Nani. The goal came against the run of play as van der Sar's saves proved to be vitally important in the early going.
* Through much of the first half, United wasn't dominate by any means, and it could even be argued that Wigan were better. However, United did appear more threatening in the final third of attack.
* Fletcher truly is a swiss-army knife and he brings a lot of value to the club by being so versatile. Today he was tasked out to the right flank and he was very industrious there. He did well to provide a wide link in the attack when United were in possession, and he worked hard to track back defensively. The Scot even drifted back centrally when United were defending in order to help out when his side were being overrun there.
* Scholes and Carrick both grew into the match more as time went on, and they both began to swing the ball into the attack better. The two work well together and they were able to supply Nani and Rooney and allow them to create. Also, Carrick linked well with Fletcher on the right side.
* Nani has normally been tasked on the right flank during this season, but today he was asked to play on the left with United being limited in their selection of wide players at the moment due to injury. When he would cut onto his right foot in the final third of the attack, Evra did well to provide overlapping runs.
* Rooney was drifting deep and to the left in search of link up play. Watson did well to stay goal-side of Rooney, but the few times he didn't, United took advantage and Rooney was able to search for Chicharito or Nani in the attack.
* Moses generally stayed high and wide to the left in the attack. Diame was drifting left to occupy the space that Moses left behind. O'Shea did well to deal with this, a solid and disciplined match for the United right-back. On the other side, Rodallega was interchaning with N'Zogbia and the two were a fluid pairing on the right.
* No substitutions or formation changes at half.
* Rooney began to position himself higher up the pitch and United played more in a '4-4-2' shape this half, as opposed to the '4-2-3-1' shape they played in the first half. It's possible that Fergie wanted to play in a '4-4-2' the entire time but that Rooney's 1st half positioning made it a '4-2-3-1.' Around the 40 minute mark, Fergie could be seen shouting instructions and its possible he was telling Rooney to stay higher up the pitch and then reiterated the same message to his striker at half.
* Nani again was a big attacking threat but he was poor in his decision making for a 2nd straight match. There was one instance where Rooney was visibly frustrated with Nani's decisions. The announcer on my viewing had a very good description of the Portuguese's day.... "both illuminating and infuriating." His touch also appeared to be off. He may taken the worst free kick in the history of football as well.
* Wigan began to fatigue as the 2nd half wore on and as a result, they applied less pressure on Scholes and Carrick. Despite the middle being clogged for them, the less pressure allowed them a bit more time and they did well to swing the ball wide. Both have too good of vision and range of passing to be allowed that sort of time and space. United began to control possession for a good stretch of the 2nd half.
* With United not applying much pressure either and with Wigan's high line of defense, the away side was almost inviting Wigan to attack but then surgically hitting them on the counter. When Gibson came on, he played a great long ball to Dimitar Berbatov who was able to get behind the defense because of this high line. The Bulgarian striker then found Rooney on the break for United's third goal.
* Another great "one-two" between Rooney and Chicharito as they did well to cut through the defense when the Mexican striker bagged his brace. Chicharito has scored 9 times in just 13 attempts on goal this season.
* Caldwell was very poor throughout the match, as the Wigan defender was often poorly positioned and simply outclassed by United's attackers.
* No significant tactical shifts occurred and United did well to kill off the game when they gained control. 0-4 scoreline is evidence of that.
* A quick shout-out to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer... Happy Birthday to the United legend! Very fitting that Chicharito scores twice on the birthday of the striker that he's most compared to.
* Very important three points when you consider our away form this season and with our difficult upcoming fixture list. Also important is the +4 goal differential on the day, as this potentially may prove vital at the season's end in our quest for a record 19th league title.
* If Wigan is to be relegated, I really hope manager Roberto Martinez is not sacked. His willingness to attack is to be praised and if his side is to play in the Championship next season, I can see this style of play working well in that division.
* I'm glad Scholes didn't have to go all 90 minutes, hopefully this means the midfield maestro is fit to go on Tuesday.
* With Chelsea's recent usage of two strikers in a variety of '4-4-2' shapes, it appears that Fergie might go '4-4-2' at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday. Perhaps this is why he rested Berbatov today? I can envision Rooney paired with Berba up top, with Giggs and Nani as the wide players... we shall see.
* Absolutely stupid elbow thrown by Rooney early in the match, he was lucky to avoid being booked. Let's hope he doesn't face suspension if it's reviewed. Even if one feels as though he should be sitting on the bench in favor of both Berba and Chicharito, we still need him for the congested fixture list. Our next four matches are likely at Chelsea, at Liverpool, Arsenal, and Marseille... all within two weeks of each other.
* Good positive result away from Old Trafford. It should provide confidence to the club and its supporters ahead of our trips to the Bridge and Anfield.
* I typed this report up on a car ride.... I may or may not be very nauseous now. I thought you all should know.
* Man of the Match: My guess is that most will pick Chicharito, but I will go with van der Sar. The Dutch 'keeper came up with three monster saves when the match was still being contested. Who knows how momentum would have shifted had Wigan gone ahead or were allowed to equalise.