Birmingham 1-1 Man Utd – two dropped points and two tactical errors from Ferguson

January 9, 2010

Let’s make one thing clear – Birmingham are a very good side this year, and a point at St Andrews is not a disastrous result. Nevertheless, United will have been disappointed to come away with just a draw, because Birmingham didn’t play well on the night, and if you have 62% of possession, you should end up with more than the three shots on target that United managed.

Birmingham first. They started with an unchanged line-up for the tenth consecutive game, and set out similarly to how they did against Manchester City earlier in the season. There were two slight differences. Firstly, Jerome and Benitez didn’t press the centre-backs at all (a key feature of the City game) and instead dropped deep to make the midfield even more congested. Secondly, James McFadden played extremely deep, and spent most of the game tracking the runs of Antonio Valencia.

United set out in a vague 4-1-4-1 system – attacking wingers, and Darren Fletcher and Michael Carrick sent to do battle in the centre of midfield with Lee Bowyer and Barry Ferguson. This meant that the free man in the deep-lying midfield position was Paul Scholes, presumably in order to spray passes around the pitch. Scholes didn’t have a particularly good game, however, and it seems slightly odd that it was not Carrick who was sitting in front of the back four, with Scholes pushed forward to provide a goal threat that United were simply missing from anyone apart from Rooney. Although Scholes’ passing was not poor, it was relatively easy for Birmingham to shut him down by dropping one of the forwards into his zone, and then playing an extremely narrow defence and midfield, with no more than ten metres between the two lines when Birmingham didn’t have the ball.

Ferguson’s second error was to field Valencia and Park on the wings. Both are decent players, both are certainly wingers, but neither offered any threat of coming inside and actually running at the defence. As stated previously, Birmingham play extremely narrow, and they were perfectly happy to show the two wingers down the line and encourage crosses, for Neil Dann and Roger Johnson will always dominate Wayne Rooney in the air.

In a game like this, when there is so much space in the wide areas, surely the best option is to play Rooney in a wide role, where he’ll attract defenders out of their comfort zone, where he’ll┬áreceive┬áthe ball more frequently, and where he’ll have more time on the ball. He offers as much defensively as Park does in the wide role, but far more creatively.

It was telling that when Ferguson made substititions and put Ryan Giggs on, he chose to deploy him on the right, and Valencia on the left (in other words, the opposite to their natural side) because United simply needed to cut in from wide areas into the danger zone, rather than accepting Birmingham’s full-backs’ invitation to get to the byline.

The general consensus is that United are lacking some creativity and flair in the wide positions, and this game simply supported that argument.

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