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Manchester United fail to capitalise on opportunity to win in San Sebastian

Robin van Persie's missed penalty, however United were guilty of a much bigger miss throughout the match.

Robin van Persie’s missed penalty, however United were guilty of a much bigger miss throughout the match.

Manchester United earned a creditable point away in San Sebastian yesterday evening as the match with Real Sociedad ended 0-0. Many supporters and pundits alike have alluded to United being happy taking a point away from such a game but when you look at certain points within the match the visitors should be disappointed at missing an opportunity to exploit an obvious weakness in the Basque side’s defence.

Newly appointed Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill made suggested before kick-off that Sociedad were susceptible to attacks down either flank as their full-backs, Carlos Martinez and Alberto de la Bella were not great defensively. This proved out to be a valid point throughout the ninety minutes as the two Sociedad full-backs were often caught out of position and found themselves easily beaten when being directly taken on down the sideline.

However Manchester United failed to fully capitalise on this glaring window opportunity to take the game beyond Sociedad, Manchester United created three outstanding chances from open play and all three of this opportunities were created by a move directly down one of either the left or right hand side. Sociedad looked in danger when either Shinji Kagawa or Ashley Young got one on one against Martinez on the left hand side and with space so condensed in the central areas, out wide looked to be the logical place to orchestrate most of United’s attacks. For whatever reason Manchester United repeatedly chose to ignore this and seemed insistent on cutting inside whenever the ball was shifted to either side with the hope of feeding either Wayne Rooney or Javier Hernandez in through the middle.

The majority of the match was played in the midfield with Manchester United having much of the ball throughout but unable to break Sociedad down on many more than a handful of occasions. With the central areas so condensed the decision taken by United’s wide midfielders to cut inside was a strange one as they ran into one, if not two defenders looking to close down the ball every single time. This was a sharp contrast to going down the flank where it was often a direct one v one against the isolated defending full-back on either side.

Admittedly on the left hand side Shinji Kagawa was playing out of position and being the creative number ten he naturally is it seemed only natural to expect that he would cut inside more often than not however on the right hand side with Antonio Valencia it looked as if the option of taking de la Bella on was completely ignored with the Ecuadorian international repeatedly moving infield and being forced to move the ball backwards to one of Fellaini or Ryan Giggs courtesy of quick Sociedad pressure from midfield and defence.

Here we see how Valencia's cutting inside hindered United's attacking opportunities. There was a direct one vs one with de la Bella on the right hand side most times Valencia had the ball in the above position. Valencia however instead decided to cut inside and move into a more congested area, which resulted in Valencia being immediately greeted by the three man pressure movement from Gonzalez, Inigo Martinez and Bergara as indicated by the yellow dashed lines towards the ball. Rooney and Hernandez were now taken out of the game as Valencia couldn't work the ball towards them in such a tight space, the only option was to move the ball back to one of Giggs and Fellaini which took the entire sting out of the attack.

Here we see how Valencia’s cutting inside hindered United’s attacking opportunities. There was a direct one vs one with de la Bella on the right hand side most times Valencia had the ball in the above position. Valencia however instead decided to cut inside and move into a more congested area, which resulted in Valencia being immediately greeted by the three man pressure movement from Gonzalez, Inigo Martinez and Bergara as indicated by the yellow dashed lines towards the ball. Rooney and Hernandez were now taken out of the game as Valencia couldn’t work the ball towards them in such a tight space, the only option was to move the ball back to one of Giggs and Fellaini which took the entire sting out of the attack.

In contrast to the above image we can now look at the three separate attacking moves in the second half where Manchester United actually attacked Sociedad directly down either flank and looked dangerous with Robin van Persie hitting the post, Javier Hernandez missing from close range and Shinji Kagawa being just unable to get on the end of Robin van Persie square pass into the penalty area.

The move begins with Marouane Fellaini having the ball in a central position just outside the Sociedad penalty area. He chooses to work the ball to Shinji Kagawa who then takes on the full-back Martinez down the left hand side and beats him with consummate ease. Kagawa then once free of Martinez has the option of cutting the ball back to Hernandez on the six yard line and does so giving the Mexican an opportunity at a near open goal with Bravo having slipped as the ball travelled to Hernandez. In this situation Hernandez missed from close range but the evidence had now been made clear, United's best area to create chances was to go down the flanks.

The move begins with Marouane Fellaini having the ball in a central position just outside the Sociedad penalty area. He chooses to work the ball to Shinji Kagawa who then takes on the full-back Martinez down the left hand side and beats him with consummate ease. Kagawa then once free of Martinez has the option of cutting the ball back to Hernandez on the six yard line and does so giving the Mexican an opportunity at a near open goal with Bravo having slipped as the ball travelled to Hernandez. In this situation Hernandez missed from close range but the evidence had now been made clear, United’s best area to create chances was to go down the flanks.

With Ashley Young replacing Javier Hernandez midway through the second half Shinji Kagawa was allowed to move into his favoured number ten position. Ashley Young was put on the left hand side in order to give United's attacks a bit of impetus and speed. From the outset it looked as if Young would take Martinez on repeatedly however the England international only did so once as illustrated above. Young easily beats Martinez for pace and then cuts the ball back to van Persie at the back post who hit the post but yet again Sociedad's frailties in the full-back area were highlighted.

With Ashley Young replacing Javier Hernandez midway through the second half Shinji Kagawa was allowed to move into his favoured number ten position. Ashley Young was put on the left hand side in order to give United’s attacks a bit of impetus and speed. From the outset it looked as if Young would take Martinez on repeatedly however the England international only did so once as illustrated above. Young easily beats Martinez for pace and then cuts the ball back to van Persie at the back post who hit the post but yet again Sociedad’s frailties in the full-back area were highlighted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kagawa in his preferred central role can see the run van Persie is about to make down the right hand side. The Japanese international feeds the ball into his teammate who is then one against one with de la Bella. Robin van Persie then goes past a yet again isolate full-back and looks to cut the ball back into the path of Kagawa's forward run indicated by the yellow arrow. Unfortunately Kagawa slightly overruns the pass and then ball from van Persie is ever so slightly behind him but it yet again showed how space could be found inside the penalty area as a result of wingplay rather than repeated attempts to break Sociedad down through the centre.

Kagawa in his preferred central role can see the run van Persie is about to make down the right hand side. The Japanese international feeds the ball into his teammate who is then one against one with de la Bella. Robin van Persie then goes past a yet again isolate full-back and looks to cut the ball back into the path of Kagawa’s forward run indicated by the yellow arrow. Unfortunately Kagawa slightly overruns the pass and then ball from van Persie is ever so slightly behind him but it yet again showed how space could be found inside the penalty area as a result of wingplay rather than repeated attempts to break Sociedad down through the centre.

What is interesting is how these three moves all occurred within a ten minute period. It seemed as if after a difficult first half during which Sociedad had demonstrated their ability to deal with central attacks, United were now going to exploit the wings yet a consistent flow of similar attacks never came. It was these three isolated attempts which were arguably Manchester United’s best opportunities from within open play to score and that was that, Ashley Young followed the example set by Valencia in the first half and kept cutting infield and defensively speaking it was a more comfortable night for Sociedad than many would have imagined.

Let’s make no mistake however, a draw away from home in the Champions League is not to be sniffed at, especially when you consider United have only won two out of twenty two visits to Spain following yesterday evening’s clash. The fact that the other fixture in Group A between Shakhtar Donetsk and Bayer Leverkusen also finished 0-0 ensured that Manchester United won’t immediately rue missing out on three points last night but it was a glaring opportunity to put one foot in the knockout stages and whilst many will argue United could have been 3-0 up last night it is worth remembering that David Moyes men would have created a lot more scoring opportunities had they exploited the sizeable weakness on the Sociedad flanks.

Written by Chris Winterburn

You can follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4

 

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