Manchester United 3-0 Hull City: Three Observations

1. Van Gaal reintroduces the diamond

Last month’s decision to dispense with the diamond in favour of a 4-3-3 was successful in stemming accruals to Louis Van Gaal’s goals against column. Unfortunately, it also had the unintended consequence of reducing his side’s attacking threat. United’s primary creative outlet, Angel Di Maria, looked particularly discommoded by this switch, forced to toil in wide areas rather than his preferred shuttler role on the left of the diamond.

Having ridden his luck with a shaky looking 3-5-2 against Arsenal, Van Gaal was expected to persist with that shape today – indeed, media present at Old Trafford reported that his coaches had drilled the side in this configuration during the pre-match warm-up. Van Gaal chose to spring a surprise, however – United started the game with a back four and a midfield diamond, forcing Hull manager Steve Bruce to rush (other verbs are available) to his technical area in the opening minutes to clue his players in on the situation. Continue reading

Scotland 1-0 Ireland: Three Observations

1. O’Neill selection cedes midfield to Scotland

Martin O’Neill began this qualifying campaign by selecting a 4-1-4-1 away to Georgia. Against a side with five defenders and a lone striker, this was rightly seen as an overly conservative approach. Ireland eventually avoided punishment for that decision courtesy of a fantastic late Aiden McGeady winner. McGeady then went on to find himself in an unfamiliar number ten role away to Germany as O’Neill switched to a 4-4-1-1. This too was a poor tactical decision from the Irish manager and again his side had to bail him out with a late goal.  Continue reading

Swansea City 2-1 Arsenal: Swans come from behind to edge a tight, counter-attack oriented game

Both sides sit and use a wide dribbler as their outlet

Games of this nature – where both sides set out with a low block and look to break – are invariably pretty dull affairs. This one was no different, particularly before the deadlock was broken. The first half sported a mere three shots on target – two from Swansea and one from the visitors.  Continue reading

Newcastle United 1-0 Liverpool: Brendan’s back three backfires

Rodgers springs a surprise

The Liverpool manager’s decision to field his side in an usual 3-4-2-1 shape surprised all, not least Newcastle boss Alan Pardew. In his pre-match interview, Pardew alleged that the key to beating Liverpool was “putting pressure on them in key areas”, a statement that could be interpreted as intent to attempt to control the game. Pardew presumably expected Liverpool to persist with the 4-3-3 that they fielded against Hull, allowing his side’s 4-2-3-1 to man-mark in midfield, putting pressure on Gerrard and choking Liverpool’s attempts to pass out from the back – a strategy that has already worked wonders for a number of sides this season. Continue reading