On Tuesday evening at St James' Park, Manchester United were forced to settle for a 0-0 draw against Newcastle United. Despite the match being an open affair, the away side failed to inspire and were wasteful with their scoring opportunities. United currently are seven points clear of Arsenal FC in the Barclays Premier League title race, however, the North London side have a match in hand. The Gunners face rival Tottenham Hotspur tomorrow evening at White Hart Lane.
OPENING LINEUPS & FORMATION:
United played in a 4-2-3-1 shape. Edwin van der Sar was in goal and the center-back pairing was Nemanja Vidic and Chris Smalling. Patrice Evra was the left-back and John O'Shea was the right-back. Michael Carrick and Anderson were the central midfielders. Nani was the wide right player and Ryan Giggs was the wide left player. Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez was the striker and Wayne Rooney was withdrawn in a central playmaking role.
Newcastle also played in a shape that resembled a 4-2-3-1. Peter Lovenkrands notably was quite withdrawn from striker Shola Ameobi. Also, Danny Guthrie and Cheik Tiote both played quite deep as central midfielders. Tim Krul deputized in goal and Michael Williamson and Fabricio Coloccini were the center-backs. Jose Enrique was the left-back and Danny Simpson was the right back. Joey Barton was the wide right player in attack and Jonas Gutierrez was the wide left player.
I'll be quite honest, I don't feel that this match deserves a full 1,500-2,000 word write-up. United played uninspired. I feel quite uninspired. However, I'll provide some chalkboards, courtesy of the Guardian, that highlight some of the significant points of the match. I'll provide commentary as well:
* Newcastle got off to a tremendous start in the match and this was mainly attributed to their high-pressing game. United has shown vulnerability throughout the current season to teams that apply relentless pressure on them high up the pitch. However, this isn't sustainable over a full 90 for any side, including Barcelona. Newcastle pressed relentlessly for the first 30 minutes of the match, a stretch during which they were the better side. However, they were less willing to press in the last hour of the match, especially in the 2nd half when they were clearly content with a draw. This chalkboard compares Newcastle's tackling from each half:
* In contrast, United exhibited little effort to win the ball back in Newcastle's half. They were content to sit back, win the ball, and build up a patient attack. Here's a chalkboard that compares the tackling between the two sides:
* Newcastle's Tiote had a very solid match. In the early going, his work-rate was tremendous as he worked hard to close down Carrick and Anderson in United's half of the pitch. When his side decided to sit back a bit more, he essentially was man-marking Rooney in the area between the lines, which is the space that Wazza loves to operate in. He won 5 tackles in the match in all areas of the pitch:
* Tiote was also very accurate with his passing. He completed 37 passes out of an attempted 41 (90%). Most of these were square passes, but with his contribution in defense, it's an asset that he doesn't give the ball away when his side is in possession. He can leave the incisive passing to the more creative players by simply getting the ball to them.
* United's attack was clearly focused on the right-side. There was two clear linking points; (1) Carrick and Anderson in the middle getting the ball to the wide right areas. (2) Rooney a bit higher up the pitch and also playing the ball right. This mostly led to Nani, but Chicharito was also drifting to the wide areas as well in search of space. Here's a chalkboard of United's passing throughout the match:
* Carrick was tremendously accurate again with his passing, despite having one noticeable moment where a giveaway nearly led to another goal for the opponent. He did well to ping the ball wide with the simple pass, but he also provided a few precise diagonal balls to the flanks; again to the right more often than not. He also contributed with 1 interception and 2 tackles won. This chalkboard displays his passing; 52/57 (91%):
* Rooney continued to drop into the space in between the lines in search of space to create. However, when Tiote began to track him, he wasn't able to create many incisive passes to unlock the Newcastle defense. Therefore, he began to drop a bit deeper, almost into his own half, in order to create with diagonal passes and through balls. Again, you can see his passes generally went to the right as well:
* Rooney was extremely hard and he was successful applying pressure on Newcastle's defenders and deep-lying midfielders. He terrorized Newcastle with his work-rate by winning 6 tackles high up the pitch.
* Despite dominating possession, United were wasteful in the final attacking third. As previously mentioned, the attack was focused down the right-side. Despite Nani being a threat by playing quick 'one-twos' and also by cutting inside onto his left foot, his crosses that were whipped in from that side weren't finding anyone. This contributed mightily to United being wasteful in attack. This chalkboard displays Nani's passing on the evening:
* There were only two main tactical changes: (1) As mentioned previously, Newcastle slowed down with their pressing after the half-hour mark and they sat back a bit more. Tiote began to track Rooney. (2) In the last half-hour of the match, United switched to an aggressive 4-2-4 shape in search of the winning-goal. Newcastle switched to a 4-5-1 and played for a result.
* Gutierrez absolutely terrorized O'Shea early in the match. Newcastle's left-side was as advertised; Gutierrez the tricky-winger and Enrique strong with his overlapping runs. However, Enrique began to sit back more when Nani became more influential as the match wore on.
* Newcastle's shape almost looked like a 4-2-2-2 at times. Guthrie was almost an auxiliary center-back as his average positioning was nearly as deep as his center-backs. Gutierrez and Barton were positioned much higher up the pitch than the central midfielders.
* Carrick wasn't quite as deep-lying as he's been in recent months. He definitely had license to get forward with delayed runs; he took turns with Anderson in doing this and the other would provide cover.
* I thought our center-backs were very solid throughout the match. Once again, Smalling filled in tremendously today for Rio Ferdinand. I was shocked to see that Vidic actually bleeds... huh.
* Krul was very good in goal for Newcastle; amazing save on Chicharito in the early going.
* Overall, just a very flat performance. I was hoping for three points today so that we had a little more leeway on Saturday versus Everton, which is 3 days before the Champions League tie versus Schalke. Here's hoping Arsenal trip up tomorrow at White Hart Lane versus Spurs.