Everton 1-0 Manchester United: Fellaini dominates in the air

August 21, 2012
Everton 1-0 Manchester United: Fellaini dominates in the air

Marouane Fellaini was the game’s star player, and scored the winning goal with a fine header.

David Moyes used a familiar 4-4-1-1 system, with Fellaini deployed behind Nikica Jelavic.

Sir Alex Ferguson had major injury problems at the back, with Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Jonny Evans and Rio Ferdinand all out. Michael Carrick had to play at the back, and Antonio Valencia started at right-back, with Rafael still recovering from the Olympics. Further forward, Shinji Kagawa started as the number ten, but Robin van Persie remained on the bench.

Manchester United performed as you’d expect by looking at their starting XI – they dominated possession and passed the ball swiftly across midfield, but they lacked a physical presence in midfield, and Carrick’s defensive weakness was exposed at the back. Read more »

Ferguson showcases a 4-2-1-3 against Everton

August 21, 2012
Ferguson showcases a 4-2-1-3 against Everton

The main story on the night was Everton’s excellent performance, but the more significant development in the long-term was Manchester United’s choice of formation and personnel. The arrivals of both Shinji Kagawa and Robin van Persie have seen many questions about precisely how they’ll fit into the side, and while this starting XI doesn’t solve the issue of where van Persie plays, it hints at a change in strategy.

I’ve written more about this at ESPN (before this match), but Ferguson has been playing a 4-4-2 / 4-4-1-1 system in the past three seasons or so. Regardless of what you want to call it, it’s generally featured two forwards – Wayne Rooney and one of Dimitar Berbatov, Danny Welbeck or Javier Hernandez. The wide players were deployed as wide midfielders rather than wide forwards. Read more »

Real Madrid 1-1 Valencia: Xabi Alonso dictates the game but Real fail to find the finishes

August 21, 2012
Real Madrid 1-1 Valencia: Xabi Alonso dictates the game but Real fail to find the finishes

Mauricio Pellegrino’s debut as Valencia coach resulted in a draw at the Bernabeu.

Jose Mourinho’s side was very familiar from last season – no new signings played. The main surprise was that Lassana Diarra was fielded alongside Xabi Alonso in midfield.

Valencia continued to play in a 4-2-3-1 system, the formation they’ve pretty much used since Pellegrino’s mentor Rafael Benitez was in charge of the club a decade ago. New signings Joao Pereira, Fernando Gago and Andres Guardado all slotted in where you’d expect.

This was a game that started surprisingly open, before becoming increasingly cagey as the match wore on, as Valencia sensed they could pick up a draw by parking the bus. Read more »

Newcastle 2-1 Tottenham: Pardew switches formation; Ben Arfa excels in both systems

August 20, 2012
Newcastle 2-1 Tottenham: Pardew switches formation; Ben Arfa excels in both systems

Newcastle started their 2012/13 campaign with a hard-fought victory over Tottenham.

Fabricio Coloccini wasn’t fit to start for Newcastle, so Alan Pardew used James Perch at centre-back. New signing Vernon Anita was on the bench.

Andre Villas-Boas left Jan Vertonghen and Rafael van der Vaart on the bench. Jermain Defoe, Tottenham’s only senior striker, played upfront.

This game started slowly but got progressively more interesting. There were three main points of interest – (a) Villas-Boas’ strategy in his first game at Tottenham, (b) the battle down Newcastle’s right in the first half, and (c) Pardew’s half-time change in formation. Read more »