The price of focus loss
On Tuesday night, Manchester United and CSKA Moscow met at a rainy Old Trafford in a vital clash in Champions League Group B.
«That's Entertainment» by The Jam was booming around Old Trafford before the match but entertainment was the exact opposite of what the spectators inside the Theatre of Dreams got.
United fans have recently been complaining about the style of play by their team who hadn't scored since their 1-1 draw at Arena Khimki last month. Even midfield legend Paul Scholes had said he would not enjoy playing in this team. Before the game even started, the United fans were chanting «Attack!, Attack!, Attack Attack Attack!» in reference to their recent dull 0-0 draws.
Manager Louis Van Gaal seemed to heed the calls as he started with Frenchman Anthony Martial up front with captain Wayne Rooney playing just behind, something the Manchester United fans had recently been crying out for. On the face of it it seemed a good tactical move as Martial's pace could threaten the ageing CSKA Moscow defence.
This also allowed Rooney to drop deep and spray the ball around. This is arguably the England captain's best position and, as his career has progressed, he seems to have adapted brilliantly to this role as opposed to being the out and out striker he used to be a few years ago.
However, it was surprise selection Jesse Lingard who was United's best player. He looked very comfortable on the left hand side and created some good chances. Marcos Rojo, playing behind him at left back, also provided exceptional support for the young Englishman. Unfortunately for the Red Devils, Lingard wasted a good chance after the Red Devils had worked their way through the stubborn CSKA defence.
The Army Men from Moscow were content to sit deep and overall looked comfortable with the threat that United posed with Alexei Berezutski particularly dominant as he coped well with the pace of Anthony Martial. CSKA tried to hit United on the counter but they were completely impotent as they resorted to hitting the ball up to Ahmed Musa (1.70cm) who was supposed to hold it up - a non-contest against the much taller and stronger Chris Smalling (1.92cm).
A chorus of boos rang around the stadium at half time and the United fans demanded the team to attack.
This graphic shows how CSKA were incredibly compact in the first half whilst Manchester United dominated possession.
Although it initially seemed that CSKA would be more adventurous in the second half with a few more passes through midfield, they soon reverted to type and once again sat deep as United were unable to penetrate them.
The introduction of Seydou Doumbia had a positive impact on the game. CSKA manager Leonid Sluitsky decided to be more adventurous and switched from his 4-2-3-1 formation to a 4-4-2 with Ivorian Doumbia partnering Musa up front. This change in formation opened the game up and the match improved as a spectacle as CSKA looked to hurt the Manchester United backline. Despite the Manchester team's best efforts, the home fans started to get frustrated with their team's lack of clear cut chances. At this point the United player's started to panic and CSKA nearly took advantage.
Doumbia missed a glorious chance as his shot was cleared off the line by Chris Smalling. The man on loan from AS Roma was made to regret this later as Manchester United scored the winner.
Michael Carrick picked the ball up in midfield with no yellow shirted CSKA player near him, a criminal offence against such a great passer of the ball, the former West Ham United and Tottenham player then played the ball out to Lingard, at which point the Muscovite defence seemed to stand still and ball watch.
Lingard delivered a brilliant half-volleyed cross from Carrick's pin-point pass to the unmarked Wayne Rooney to nod home. It is also worth nothing that Marouane Fellaini was also unmarked, demonstrating the poor quality of the defending in this instance. CSKA's game plan had crumbled.
It was unfortunate for the Army Men as they seemed to cope very well with the United threat up until that point but just the one moment where they switched off cost them. The cheers from the United fans were more in relief than celebration as United scored their first goal in six hours and forty four minutes.
Manchester United fans will undoubtedly be pleased with the result and the barrage of attacks on the CSKA goal, although most of these resulted in nothing due to some stubborn defending from the Russian Premier League leaders. The United fans can now perhaps look forward to a more positive style of play for the rest of the season.
CSKA will naturally be incredibly disappointed with the result as they lost the game due to a temporary loss of focus. Having said that United deserved to win as they clearly had more ambition to collect 3 points from the match.
Questions will be raised of Slutsky who seemed to go into the game looking for a 0-0. While it is understandable to not want to lose such an important fixture, if a manager sets up a team up in such a negative fashion they are more than likely going to lose the match — as happened in Manchester.