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How the match was won: United v Leverkusen

A breakdown of Manchester United's 4-2 win over Leverkusen

By | 18th September 2013

Manchester United’s David Moyes will be thrilled to taste victory in his first ever European match with his new club as United ran out 4-2 winners over Bundesliga side Bayer Leverkusen. The Scot handed midfielders Shinji Kagawa and Marouane Fellaini their first starts of the season – and Fellaini’s first for United – but it was Wayne Rooney who stole all the headlines.

Rooney’s first half goal gave the Red Devils a 1-0 lead at halftime, before Robin van Persie cancelled out Leverkusen’s early second half equalizer in the 59th minute. A second goal from Wayne Rooney and a thunderbolt from Antonio Valencia made the match 4-1 before an 88th minute consolation goal ensured Leverkusen left Old Trafford with only a two goal defeat.

Moyes’ tactics appeared to be spot on during this match, while Leverkusen’s inability to connect on their long passes ultimately cost them big time.

Attacking by the numbers

Both sides had five shots on target, though United slightly edged the total attempts category 16 to 12. United were far more efficient in their passing by completing 89% of their 553 passes, while Leverkusen connected on just 77% of their 410 passes, giving United 57% possession during the match. While United held the passing advantage, it was Leverkusen who had more attacking third passes (86 completed out of 127 versus United’s 78 completed out of 113).

Crosses proved to be the difference

crossesWhile Leverkusen led the way with more attacking third passes, crossing proved to be the difference in this match. Both clubs attempted almost the same number of crosses – United’s 27 versus Leverkusen’s 24 – but it was the hosts that connected 10 of those crosses, compared to the Germans’ mere four. As you can see in the diagram above, most of United’s successful crosses came from Antonio Valencia’s right-hand side, while Patrice Evra’s cross from the left found Wayne Rooney for the opening goal.

The above diagram also shows Moyes’ reliance on Valencia’s width on the right-hand side. United have always been a team that plays extremely wide football, but with Shinji Kagawa starting on the left and drifting into the middle the hosts relied on Valencia’s strong flank play more than ever.

Leverkusen’s long passes cost them possession

long passesManchester United played 13 fewer long passes than their opponents, but connected on 10 more of them. The diagram above shows just how terrible Bayer Leverkusen’s long-ball approach was, with United breaking up almost all of their long attempts. The Red Devils, meanwhile, had excellent distribution from their back four and goalkeeper David De Gea, which sparked countless counter-attacks throughout the 90 minutes.

You’ll notice that many of United’s long-balls were passes to switch the field, giving United a dynamic attack that often went from left to right in the blink of an eye, sparking a forward run from winger Antonio Valencia. As to be expected from United teams of old, long-balls up the middle of the pitch were almost always unsuccessful. It’s United, not Stoke City, remember!

United won the aerial battle

aerialOne of David Moyes’ tactical changes from Saturday’s match against Crystal Palace was the introduction of Chris Smalling at right-back in place of Fabio. The decision paid off, as United won all but four aerial battles in their own half. Smalling led the way in the air last night, winning all eight of his aerial battles against the Germans, a feat usually accomplished by fellow defender Nemanja Vidic.

The above diagram shows the persistence of United in the air, who won 77% of the match’s aerial battles. Smalling was immense, nullifying many of Leverkusen’s above-mentioned long-balls, killing much of Sami Hyypia’s game plan at Old Trafford. It may have been different if Fabio or twin brother Rafael started the match, so credit to David Moyes for that.

United’s tactical setup

player influenceThe above diagram shows the players’ influence in the first half (left side) versus the second half (right side). The size of the player indicates how involved he was (measured by passes received, passes distributed, shots, touches, etc.) while the player’s position indicates his average position on the field.

With the match at 1-0 at halftime, United clearly switched their approach slightly in order to open the floodgates, which they succeeded in doing. Earlier this week David Moyes made it clear that he views Wayne Rooney as a striker, and in the second half we saw the England international make his mark on the game by pushing farther forward. The first half saw Rooney dropping deeper than Robin van Persie, but that changed in the second half.

This is a tactical switch from the days of Sir Alex Ferguson, as the retired manager used to use Rooney as a deeper forward. The above diagram also shows the impact – or lack thereof – of Shinji Kagawa. David Moyes clearly under-utilized the Japanese midfielder by starting him in a wide left position, as the midfielder most often ended up drifting in-field anyways in an attempt to get touches. This left United largely without an influence on the left flank, which is also highlighted in the crossing diagram shown above.

Also of note in the first half was the team’s reliance on the center of the pitch. Michael Carrick and Marouane Fellaini were the most involved players, whereas in the second half United very clearly made a switch to playing a wider game, which paid off. Chris Smalling and Patrice Evra made more runs, while Antonio Valencia was brought into the match and made massive positive contributions.

Michael Carrick v Marouane Fellaini

One of the major talking points around Old Trafford has been about the addition of £27.5 million Marouane Fellaini. There are a plethora of questions about where Moyes sees the Belgian fitting into his system, and in particular how Fellaini will play off Michael Carrick, who has perhaps been United’s most pivotal figure in recent seasons.

It was clear throughout the match that Moyes is opting to play the two side-by-side rather than in a diamond midfield (as evidenced by their average positions above), but there are very clear differences between the two players’ roles. Despite the fact that Marouane Fellaini was an attacking force at Goodison Park, he played a more defensive role against Bayer Leverkusen last night. Whether that’s how Moyes views him at Old Trafford or if it was a tactic to counter-attack the Germans we don’t know, but this diagram shows how Michael Carrick was a far more pivotal figure when it came to attacking third passing.

carrick v fellaini attackingFellaini only attempted 15 passes to the attacking third of the pitch, completing just half of those. Michael Carrick, meanwhile, was a pivotal force when it came to attacking third passes, completing 17 of his 24 attempted passes.

If Fellaini didn’t play an attacking role, supporters may question what his overall impact was. Many pundits have pointed to the giant Belgian increasing United’s presence in the center of the pitch, and the statistics support that. While Carrick played a quarterback role from midfield, Fellaini was undoubtedly the enforcer, as evidenced by the pair’s comparison of aerial battles. Fellaini clearly played a clear role in breaking up Leverkusen’s attacks, stopping their aerial threat across the pitch.

carrick v fellaini aerial

Champions League versus Premier League

It’s clear across almost all categories that David Moyes’ tactics in his maiden European game with the Premier League champions worked. It will be interesting to see how the Scot’s tactics differ from European play to domestic play, especially considering the vast differences between Sir Alex Ferguson’s tactics, with the now-retired manager often opting for a more hybrid 4-3-3 in European play.

Leave your comments below on what you saw in last night’s match and your thoughts on Moyes’ approach to the match.

Reader Comments

The below views are those of our readers and do not reflect the opinions of Premiership Talk or its employees.
  1. Kaguta Olive says:

    fellaini ,carrick and kagawa ….was a good paternship

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