Manchester United suffered their second home defeat in a week against Newcastle United on Saturday. The manner of the defeats were even worse given that the champions failed to score in both games. This article is mainly about what the problem's were with Manchester United's attacks against Newcastle United.

The formations

 Manchester United started in a 4-4-2 formation. Tom Cleverley and Phil Jones started in central midfield. Robin van Persie started with Javier Hernández up front. Adnan Januzaj started on the right wing, Nani started on the left wing.

 Newcastle United started in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Vurnon Anita started as the holding pair of Cheikh Tioté. This allowed Yohan Cabaye to play as the central attacking midfielder.

United's problems in possession

 Mancheser United struggled to bring out the ball against a set Newcastle United defence. The positioning of Jones and Cleverley made it easy for Cabaye and Rémy to block the passing channels from the defenders to the midfielders. Cleverley or Jones rarely dropped between the full-back and the central defender on their respective side.

The Manchester United defenders had no choice, but to pass the ball to each other, occasionally attempting long balls. United were not advancing it in an organic manner. However, one instance occured in the 7th minute, which showed what United should have been doing in order to be able to bring out the ball in a more calculated way.

 Evra moved into Newcastle's half, which allowed Cleverley to move between him and Vidic. The midfielder played a long ball to the, who was pushing up on the right wing. The horizontal movement created space for Cleverley. The Newcastle forwards were not able to track him without leaving the vertical passing channels open. As this was not an option, Cleverley had the time and space to pick out a perfect pass.

Cleverley and Jones moved away from the centre horizontally, escaping from Cabaye and Rémy.

 You can see Robin van Persie in a deep position on the above picture. Ideally one would want RVP to play as close to goal as possible, but he was forced to play deeper as he was not getting support from his team-mates. This forced him into a role that is not his best. Both Rooney and Kagawa would have been much more suited to linking up play in the middle, but neither of them were available for selection.

Robin van Persie's heat map. He was forced to play deep,
 and link up the midfield with the attack.

 Januzaj and Nani attempted to move towards the middle when the full-back on their side pushed high, but these movements were out of rhythm. This played into Newcastle's hand as such moves didn't create a numerical advantage against the trio of Cabaye, Tioté and Anita. United would have been better off if they had targeted Newcastle's full-backs - Santon and Débuchy. It was strange to see United's wingers coming inwards, when they had success whenever they attacked on the wing.

 There were two instances in the game that have highlighted United's problems with positional play. Cleverley once dribbled the ball for 30 yards forward from midfield towards Nani on the right, instead of passing it to him. This dribble highlighted the lack of overall concept for United. If the team is in possession, and have a plan for attacking, there is no need to make such runs with the ball. However, if the players are not fully aware of what the team's tactics are, such unnecessary moves can be observed. 
 As they believe at Ajax, running is not tiring, aimless running is. With players making unnecessary runs, it is no wonder that United have conceded that many late goals in previous weeks.

United's counter-attacks

 Manchester United had two early counter-attacks. First, it was Jones who got through on goal after Santon stepped up to close down Januzaj in possession, while Coloccini was pulled towards the wing by Hernández. A channel opened in the defensive line, allowing Jones to shoot from the edge of the box.

 The second time United broke from winning the ball in their own half. Debuchy attempted to dispossess Evra high up the pitch, while the other three defenders were dropping with Hernández and van Persie. Cleverley arrived in the second wave of the attack, but his shot was blocked by Tioté.

 It was no wonder that both of United's early counters were finished by their central midfielders. David Moyes started with two strikers, who played one-on-one with the two central defenders. When a full-back stepped higher to confront a Manchester United winger, at least one striker was in an advanced position to make a run behind the full-back. If the full-back was beaten, one of the Newcastle holding midfielders had to provide cover on the wing, while the other holder had to drop towards the defenders, to help them defend against the incoming cross. This made it impossible to deal with the United midfielders – Jones or Cleverley- arriving in the second wave of the attack.

Newcastle targeted Debuchy with diagonals. United's left side was arguably the weaker one. Evra have not been in the form of his life so far, Nani is prone to switching off when it comes to defending, while Cleverley is certainly inferior to Jones in this regard. 

 Evra was caught ballwatching in the first minute of added time in the first half. Gouffran played the only possible forward pass, but Evra failed to anticipate it. All the other forward passing channels were blocked by the United players. 
 Debuchy received the ball behind Evra, forcing a save out of De Gea. Evans and Cleverley should have been more aggressive with Gouffran. As the Frenchman was in shooting distance of goal, he should have been challenged.

 Newcastle took the lead in the 61st minute. Evra might have been unlucky as his header bounced back from Sissokho's head. On the other hand, his header was poor as one should not head the ball downwards when trying to clear it.
 Cleverley was on the wrong side of Cabaye, which prevented him from tracking the run of the Frenchman. Cabaye finished the attack unchallenged, giving the visitors the lead.

 After going a goal behind, United failed to change the game. David Moyes made attacking substitutions, as he sent on Zaha for Nani, and Anderson in place of Cleverley. Given United's problems with positional play, it was not surprising that they couldn't crack Newcastle open. The visitors sat deeper than before, and neutralised Manchester United's attacks.


 Manchester United have suffered their second home defeat in a week. At the moment, it seems like the players are not exactly sure about what the team's gameplan is. This prevents them from reacting to changes on the pitch, and adapting their tactics to their opponent's way of playing.
 Manchester United will have to spend a lot of time on the training pitch in order to change around their so far disappointing season.

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