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My Group Stage Scouting Report featured on UEFA.COM

Hi Guys,

Just a quick update, you can find my scouting report on this season’s UEFA Champions League Group Stage available online at UEFA.com as well as in the print copy of Champions Matchday for January 2015.

Here is the link- http://www.uefa.com/uefachampionsleague/news/newsid=2202605.html , any feedback would be more than welcome.

Chris

Bayern Munich reach near perfection in Eternal City

Bayern Munich's players celebrate in front of the travelling support at full-time. Photograph: Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images

Bayern Munich’s players celebrate in front of the travelling support at full-time. Photograph: Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images

Written by Chris Winterburn

Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4

Every so often you see something in football that makes your jaw drop, yet next to no words follow. FC Barcelona’s comprehensive domination of Manchester United in the 2011 European Cup final was one such occasion, as was Germany’s 7-1 victory over hosts Brazil in the semi-final of this summer’s World Cup. Last night Bayern Munich forced another such moment with their 7-1 victory over AS Roma at the Stadio Olimpico, a scoreline which nobody could have predicted.

It was by no means a surprise that Bayern Munich won, that isn’t the issue, it was clear before kick-off that Pep Guardiola’s side has a wealth of talent however this wasn’t a mismatch on paper. Roma, despite finishing second in Serie A last season, are perhaps, due to the exit of Antonio Conte at Juventus, the best team in Italy. Under Rudi Garcia, Roma have returned to Europe’s top table and can be considered, quite fairly, an elite team.

Bayern Munich, however were on another level in the Italian capital last night. It was quite captivating just how close the Bavarian giants came to reaching football perfection, a description solely reserved for Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona team in more recent times.

Throughout last season Bayern Munich were impressive, winning the Bundesliga title, German Cup and reaching the last four of the European Cup. It is fair to say that in spite of all that success there was always a feeling that something just hadn’t quite clicked into place as yet, this is by no means a criticism of Bayern as adapting to a new coach, especially one as unique and demanding as Pep Guardiola, is always likely to take time.

Last night however felt to me like the line in the sand performance. The moment where Bayern have entered that sphere that most football teams are never able to, the sphere that Guardiola’s Barcelona reached between 2009 and 2011. Everything seemed to click into place.

Interestingly enough it was Roma who started the match the better with the hosts galvanised by Manchester City’s rather inexplicable failure to hold onto a 2-0 lead away in Moscow. A victory from Roma would have sent the Italians to the top of the group with qualification a serious possibility. Gervinho was busy running through the gap of Boateng and Benatia in Bayern’s back four and Rudi Garcia’s side were comfortable in possession inside their own half.

Of course this was just a five to six minute period but it looked as if we were in for a classic cagey, yet enthralling, European tie.

Then with what seemed like a flick of a switch Bayern turned things up a gear. Arjen Robben received the ball inside Roma’s penalty area and punished Ashley Cole for showing him inside to a shooting lane in the most emphatic way possible. Robben arrowed the ball past Morgan De Sanctis and into the far corner. This is the moment Pep changed the game.

The first shot of celebration on camera was between Guardiola and Neuer however it was more a case of Guardiola giving Neuer instructions. One of the keys to Guardiola’s success as a coach has been a quick pressing game and a high defensive line. Bayern’s defensive line had actually been uncharacteristically deep until the goal, to the visible frustration of Guardiola on the touchline, and it appeared that Neuer had been instructed to tell the defence to push up and thus start controlling the game as well as pushing further forward himself.

From this moment we saw a totally different shape from the visitors. Bayern’s defensive line pushed right up to the half-way line and penned Roma into their half.

Two of Roma’s most influential players, Francesco Totti and Miralem Pjanic were taken completely out of the game. This was the beauty of Bayern’s tactical switch. Roma now had no single outlet to retain possession or possibility to clear the ball and regain their own shape.

The only thing Bayern had to worry about was Gervinho nipping into the space between the two centre-halves and beating the offside trap however this is not a sustainable model of attack given the 50/50 nature of being called offside. Again another means of Bayern holding control.

Boateng and Benatia sat on the halfway line whilst Juan Bernat and Xabi Alonso pressed with speed and penned Totti and Pjanic into a small circle just inside the left side of Roma’s half, thus taking them out of the game completely. With Roma’s midfield bypassed, Bayern could solely focus on attacking and putting pressure on the two full-backs, Torosidis and Cole, who were both enduring nightmare performances.

Singling out one player can fully illustrate Bayern’s development as a team under Guardiola. Xabi Alonso’s pressing work in the midfield was surprisingly quick for a player not known for his speed. In his position last season was Toni Kroos, a player whom Pep Guardiola was hugely reliant on during that period. However one of Kroos’ weaknesses is his physical attributes, he isn’t an energetic midfielder and doesn’t have the tools to press quickly and then regain a shape.

His outstanding talents all come with the ball at his feet, which in a Guardiola team, may be too one dimensional to excel. With Alonso’s willingness to press came a tactic which took Roma’s midfield out of the game and allowed Bayern to show their footballing dominance in the form of seven goals.

An illustration of Bayern's effective high defensive line. Totti and Pjanic are totally cocooned inside the small red circle, outnumbered by the trio of Bernat, Boateng and Benatia. Alonso and Bernat's pressing work ensure that the pair have no time on the ball as well as forcing Roma deeper and deeper towards their penalty area.

An illustration of Bayern’s effective high defensive line. Totti and Pjanic are totally cocooned inside the small red circle, outnumbered by the trio of Bernat, Boateng and Benatia. Alonso and Bernat’s pressing work ensure that the pair have no time on the ball as well as forcing Roma deeper and deeper towards their penalty area.

What followed was a football team hitting their absolute peak and an opposition team having absolutely no answer. The shots rained in on De Sanctis’ goal and despite a drop in intensity in the middle period of the second-half, the final score could have read a lot worse than 7-1 from a Roman perspective.

Guardiola was keen to urge caution following last night’s result, claiming Bayern “must do better” before labelling the scoreline “an exception” however you would expect nothing less from a coach always in pursuit of total perfection. Last night we saw a football team with natural talent that we have been aware of for the past 2-3 years, however we saw the first real moment of total acclimatisation to Guardiola’s system and one which cannot be reversed and for the rest of Europe, that is indeed a worrying prospect.

Paris Saint-Germain prove they are more than just pretenders with victory over Chelsea

Written by Chris Winterburn

Paris Saint-Germain dispelled the belief that the perceived lack of competition in Ligue 1 would hinder their chances in the Champions League with a 3-1 victory over Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea at the Parc des Princes this evening, despite giving up a one goal lead inside the first half.

Much was made of the attacking qualities in the French Champions’ locker before the kick-off and it was no surprise when the hosts went one goal to the good inside three minutes after a very positive start on the front foot. Chelsea were caught cold by the pace of the Parisians’ attack and Ezequiel Lavezzi slammed the ball past Petr Cech when the ball finally fell into a shooting position after impressive work on the flank by Blaise Matuidi.

Javier Pastore sealed the 3-1 victory with a sensational individual goal in injury time. (Photograph courtesy of Reuters)

Javier Pastore sealed the 3-1 victory with a sensational individual goal in injury time. (Photograph courtesy of Reuters)

Jose Mourinho’s decision to play Andre Schurrle as a lone forward cum attacking midfielder this evening was pondered by the media prior to kick-off as possibly a message to owner Roman Abramovich with regards to the purchase of a striker in the summer, however it must be said that the German winger by trade put in a commendable shift. Schurrle consistently harried the defensive pairing of Alex and Thiago Silva and then had the energy to put Marco Verratti under pressure when the ball was moved onto the Italian.

Paris Saint-Germain seemed to have stunned themselves such was the early timing of their opening goal with Laurent Blanc’s side unsure whether or not to pile forward and try and take further advantage of Chelsea’s sluggish start. The home side did in fact show a hint of indecisiveness and elected to sit back on their one goal lead and it allowed Chelsea to compose themselves and gain a foothold in the contest. It was the sort of faux mercy that Europe’s elite tend not to show after taking a lead and that is something Paris Saint-Germain will have to learn from should they progress to the semi-final stage.

Chelsea’s equaliser came through a rare Thiago Silva mistake, the Brazilian defender seemed to get the timing of his challenge ever so slightly off and Oscar was felled by a trailing leg. Eden Hazard comfortably stepped up to wrong foot Salvatore Sirigu with his penalty finding the bottom right hand corner of the net.

Marco Verratti will come in for criticism tonight as the Italian gave the ball away a few times too many however the former Pescara midfielder was crucial to PSG’s ball retention throughout the match. Seldom did you see the French champions play an aerial ball from their own penalty area, the hosts much rather preferred to play the ball out from Sirigu and Verratti was often the recipient. As Marouane Fellaini found last night in a similar position, against a team who presses high up the pitch at pace it is a thankless task receiving the ball from the goalkeeper as you have to turn, often be faced with two or more men and try and slide an inch perfect pass through a miniscule opening.

Verratti did manage to retain possession more than people realise as well as running himself into the ground to create an opening for others to pass into. It was a rather sacrificial performance with Verratti giving up potential rave reviews for his own performance for the good of the team.

The match had slipped into a lull after the break with neither team looking particularly threatening going forward, Chelsea happy with their away goal and PSG rather puzzled with regards to how to regain their earlier tempo. PSG were given a significant helping hand by David Luiz just after the hour when the Brazilian gave away a sloppy free-kick wide on the left hand side in a position where PSG were looking unlikely to develop the move. The man of the match Lavezzi went on to deliver an almost perfect delivery into the gap between the goalkeeper and the line of defenders with David Luiz putting the ball into his own net.

An injury to Zlatan Ibrahimovic not long after saw the introduction of Lucas Moura. The direct running of the former Sao Paulo starlet caused Chelsea real problems and Moura’s positivity proved to be infectious to the rest of the team.

Chelsea had lost their momentum courtesy of both the goal and the introduction of Fernando Torres in place of the hard working, if isolated, Andre Schurrle and PSG took full advantage of the newfound room in midfield, Thiago Motta orchestrated the tempo without so much as a second glace from Chelsea’s forward line. It seemed only a matter of time before another PSG goal came.

In truth it looked as if both teams had settled for the result as it stood heading into injury time, until €42million substitute Javier Pastore received the ball in the right hand corner of Chelsea’s half. The Argentinean playmaker seemed to flick a switch and turn on the style out of the blue with his nimble feet seeing him beat three Chelsea defenders before powering the ball past Petr Cech at his near post to send the Parc des Princes into an ecstatic frenzy just seconds before the full-time whistle.

Jose Mourinho was unsurprisingly disappointed with his team after conceding a late goal labelling the manner in Chelsea allowed Pastore to score as “ridiculous.” Mourinho continued on what appeared to be the words of a frustrated man by suggesting it would be “difficult” to overcome the 3-1 deficit with Chelsea “not a team full of talent to score a lot of goals.”

On the topic of PSG, Laurent Blanc’s men showed that they were far more than wealthy pretenders this evening with the widespread quality in the side showing them to be a class above Chelsea, despite a difficult period following the equalising goal. Thiago Silva was a rock at the back with the captain’s reading of the game cutting short Chelsea attacks before they had even had chance to develop, giving away the penalty was the only blotch on his copybook.

There are worries for Laurent Blanc ahead of Tuesday’s return leg at Stamford Bridge with Marco Verratti and Zlatan Ibrahimovic both being substituted through injury with Ibrahimovic appearing to have pulled a hamstring which will almost certainly see him miss the trip to London. Lucas Moura’s twenty minute cameo did however show that there are options from the bench to replace Ibrahimovic without too much of a decrease in production.

With the heavyweights in the competition all in a good position to progress to the semi-final you have to feel that PSG showed tonight that they have a good mentality as well as individual quality on the pitch. A year ago we saw a team which perhaps wasn’t ready for the pressures that come with latter stage Champions League football however this year they have taken that next step. Despite a set-back following their early opening goal the French side remained largely positive in the second half and with this added to their obvious footballing qualities, it is easy to see them being more than a match for any of the side’s left in the competition.

Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4

Manchester City gain valuable European experience despite falling short: Champions League Diary 13.03.14

Manchester City’s first venture into the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League came to an end in Barcelona last night with the Blues going down 2-1 to the Catalan giants in a 4-1 aggregate defeat. Manchester City were without the touchline presence of manager Manuel Pellegrini who was suspended courtesy of his comments regarding referee Jonas Eriksson just after the first leg where the Chilean coach called into question the Swedish official’s impartiality after he felt there was a string of wrong decisions which went against his team.

Joleon Lescott struggled to contain Messi all evening long and it seemed only a matter of time before the Argentine got the better of the English centre-half.

Joleon Lescott struggled to contain Messi all evening long and it seemed only a matter of time before the Argentine got the better of the English centre-half.

With the much maligned Martin Demichelis suspended as a result of his red-card in the first meeting between the two sides, Joleon Lescott was brought into the starting eleven to partner Vincent Kompany whilst James Milner was positioned on the left hand side of midfield to track the forward runs of Dani Alves just as Kolarov had done three weeks’ previously. The first half was a fairly even affair with perhaps Barcelona having the better of the opening exchanges with there being shouts for a Barcelona penalty turned down when Joleon Lescott was far too late to a challenge on Lionel Messi however referee Stephane Lannoy rather inexplicably waved play on.

Whilst Barcelona looked much more comfortable on the ball than their English counterparts in the first half, Manchester City were still more than in the game, Yaya Toure was a real threat in the centre of midfield with the Ivorian looking to push back the duo of Xavi and Fabregas through his marauding forward runs and as the half wore on it became more apparent that there was a sense of panic within the Barcelona backline whenever Toure set off on a forward drive such was the rather uncharacteristic tendency to try and bring Toure down once he got past one player to limit any damage he could possibly cause.

The inclusion of James Milner was a clever one, whenever Toure ran forward Milner would drift into a central position and provide light cover for the now exposed Manchester City midfield and this was possibly something which Pellegrini could have done with in the first leg.

Prior to kick-off Sergio Aguero had been heralded as the great hope for Manchester City to turn the tie around however the Argentine was very much on the periphery of the match with statistics showing the former Atletico Madrid forward had only six touches of the ball throughout his entire evening’s work. Aguero was withdrawn at half-time with a hamstring injury and looking back his first-half display was very similar to Mesut Ozil’s against Bayern the previous evening with the German international too suffering a hamstring complaint.

Manchester City started the second forty five minutes much the better team with captain Vincent Kompany leading from the back. The Belgian’s reading of the game was perfectly displayed last night however Barcelona’s lack of running options in behind allowed the City back four to step out and try and intercept a pass before it had reached its destination as there was no danger of a Pedro or an Alexis Sanchez running in behind and having a one on one with Joe Hart.

Barcelona looked to be on the ropes for the first ten minutes of the second-half with substitute Edin Dzeko looking to be a catalyst for a highly unlikely comeback. There is a feeling amongst Manchester City supporters that you can usually tell whether or not the Bosnian forward is in the mood based on his first few involvements in a match. Going by that charter you could see Dzeko was set to impress and his first touch was a shot which tested Victor Valdes.

In the ten minute period that followed Manchester City may well look back and reflect that they may well have not been adventurous enough to really make the most of their dominance. James Milner, whilst having a good evening doing the task he was entrusted with before kick-off, is not a real creative force. Whenever the ball went to the left hand side for a Manchester City attack it was slowed down by Milner and allowed the Barcelona back four to get back into some form of shape. Had Jesus Navas been introduced on the left hand side at half-time or even if Samir Nasri had just swapped sides there was a real chance for City to turn the screw.

As it happened Barcelona came out of a difficult period unscathed after Edin Dzeko forced a fine save out of Valdes whilst Pablo Zabaleta went close with a half volley from inside the penalty area. City’s valiant defensive efforts were in vain as Lionel Messi put the hosts in front with little over twenty minutes to go following a calamitous first touch from a not fully sharp Lescott allowed the Argentine in behind with only Joe Hart to beat.

City with now an even bigger task continued to fight on but it appeared too little too late and Stephane Lannoy’s decision not to award the Sky Blues a penalty when Gerard Pique clumsily brought Edin Dzeko down from behind only worsened the French referee’s shocking evening. The following complaints from Fernandinho and Pablo Zabaleta earned the Argentinean full-back a second yellow card and he will be out of City’s first Champions League fixture of next season.

Manchester City did pull a goal back in injury time through Vincent Kompany following a poorly defended corner from a Barcelona perspective however with only a surprisingly short two minutes of added time there was no hope for the visitors to mount a historic comeback.

Bayer Leverkusen travelled to Paris already knowing they were all but out of the competition however Sami Hyypia’s team began the match with a sense of freedom and took the lead early on from a smart Sidney Sam header at the back post. If there was even the slightest hint of belief from the German side it was quashed not long after when Marquinhos levelled the match for the Parisians with a powerful header from a corner.

Paris Saint-Germain celebrate progression to the quarter-final stage knowing they could pose a real threat to any opponent with the attacking talents at their disposal.

Paris Saint-Germain celebrate progression to the quarter-final stage knowing they could pose a real threat to any opponent with the attacking talents at their disposal.

Leverkusen then missed a penalty through captain Simon Rolfes and this killed any momentum Leverkusen had and the game lessened as a contest, it became at times like a practice match and PSG sealed their passage through to the quarter-final stage for the second season running when Ezequiel Lavezzi fired the hosts in front with a powerful shot from the edge of the area which beat Bernd Leno at his near post.

As many will tell you the Champions League is very much a steep learning experience. Manchester City have now had three seasons in the competition and this year was a real sign of improvement. The experience gained from the two ties against one of Europe’s elite in FC Barcelona will only serve as positives for the majority of the squad. At no point over the two matches when it was eleven vs eleven did City look completely out of their depth and with a central defender added in the summer to partner Vincent Kompany there is a very real chance City could improve on their performance in this year’s Champions League next season.

Written by Chris Winterburn

Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4

How the game was won – Napoli vs Arsenal

December 11, 2013 Leave a comment

Napoli 2 – 0 Arsenal

Both Napoli and Arsenal put a 4-2-3-1 formation to use this evening in a Champions League group which went right down to the wire much to the eventual dismay of Napoli. This choice of formation made for a match which in the first half appeared an end-to-end contest courtesy of the gaps a two man midfield cannot legislate for which we saw in even greater evidence during last season’s Champions League final between Dortmund and Bayern Munich.

Olivier Giroud missed Arsenal's best chance of the night which may prove to be a bigger miss in the latter stages of the tournament.

Olivier Giroud missed Arsenal’s best chance of the night which may prove to be a bigger miss in the latter stages of the tournament.

Arsenal’s first half ball retention was impressive with Mathieu Flamini’s mobility being key in Arsenal being able to keep possession away from Napoli for reasonably long periods, furthermore Flamini was able to get across and cover for Mikel Arteta who did not enjoy the best of nights prior to being sent off 10 minutes from time.

Napoli’s play throughout the game was reminiscent of the English sides which surprised the rest of Europe in the late nineties with their rip-roaringly energetic attitude to both sides of the game, Napoli pressed in numbers at pace across the whole of the pitch and they went forward in attack with up to six players at one time due to Armero and Maggio’s wing-back role. Napoli’s attacking play however was lacking in the final third and the craft of Lorenzo Insigne was missed significantly until his second half introduction.

Arsenal could have made the match a very different one near the climax of the first half when Olivier Giroud had an opportunity to have a shot on goal only for the Frenchman to fire straight into the hands of Rafael. These are the golden half chances which you have to make a better use of when you go away from home later on in the Champions League, if you are to stand a chance of winning the competition.

The game changed for Napoli early in the second half when Rafael Benitez introduced Insigne and the young Italian turned the match on its head. The Naples born attacking midfielder just added the final element of craft to the many profligate Napoli attacks which had been lacking a finishing touch up until that point. Insigne’s direct style of play coupled with the Italians rejuvenated pressing game caused the visitors problems and Arsenal struggled to hold onto the ball as they had throughout the opening forty five minutes, and this gave Napoli the impetus to go forward and open the scoring twenty minutes from time.

Arteta’s clumsy red card whilst harsh was indicative of his evening and it should have given Napoli a base to try and score the two further goals they needed to ensure progression at the expense of Arsenal however no such wave of attack came and it was such that a late Borussia Dortmund goal in France put the Italians out of the competition with just minutes left. Jose Callejon’s late chip over Wojciech Szczesny in injury time was too little too late but once again highlighted the talents of Insigne and how he turned the match in Napoli’s favour.

Insigne’s introduction panicked what had been an assured Arsenal side up to that point and Arsene Wenger’s men never really recovered and the importance of Olivier Giroud’s chance may have been highlighted further in a more important fixture. Had Napoli introduced Insigne earlier or at least pushed harder for a goal in the first half and not missed so many chances the Italians had more than a good chance of scoring the three goals required to knock Arsenal out.

Written by Chris Winterburn

Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4

 

How the game was won – Galatasaray vs Juventus

December 11, 2013 Leave a comment

Galatasaray 1 – 0 Juventus

In a game which took us back nostalgically to an era of English football from years gone by with a horrendous pitch and both side’s hopefully punting the ball from one end to the other, Galatasaray managed to qualify for the Knockout Phase of the UEFA Champions League courtesy of a Wesley Sneijder goal five minutes from time in a hectic affair at the Turk Telekom Arena.

These were the conditions as Galatasaray secured the place in the First Knockout Round.

These were the conditions as Galatasaray secured their place in the First Knockout Round.

Juventus I feel approached both the conditions and the match the better of the two sides with Antonio Conte’s men taking no risks defensively with passes back to Gianluigi Buffon. Paul Pogba sat in for Andre Pirlo once again in the holding midfield role and performed admirably bar for a couple of occasions when he was too clever for the sluggish pitch and tried a short pass too many which put Juventus into a little bit of trouble.

Roberto Mancini made one overnight change as it were, shifting his four man defensive line to three for the resumption of hostilities this afternoon, this was supposed to balance out Juventus’ three man defensive formation however it seemed to have little to no effect other than to leave Albert Riera, now positioned as a wing-back lost and out of the game completely.

Whilst it is very difficult to have any sort of game plan in conditions such as the ones seen by Istanbul over the past twenty four hours, Juventus were clever in playing a low risk style of passing when inside their own half and then when they ventured forward the fed the ball to Fernando Llorente who’s touch was exquisite for much of the games despite the difficult under foot conditions.

Galatasaray needing a win to progress into the post-Christmas stage of Europe’s premier club competition were seemingly slow to push for the result, whilst many will say this fits in with Roberto Mancini’s conservative management style it merely looked like it was taking individual players time to become accustomed to the match situation and weather.

Prior to Galatasaray’s goal it was Juventus who were creating the more meaningful chances with Semih Kaya being busy all afternoon long as Galatasaray’s main defender and the twenty two year old’s stock will have risen even further following his excellent display defensively today, his ability to contort his body to still win the ball following an adverse bobble from the pitch was evident in numerous occasions and probably kept the hosts in the match. Juventus arguably should have gone ahead just minutes prior to Sneijder’s goal through Claudio Marchisio when the Italian midfielders shot from just inside the penalty area comfortably found Muslera’s gloves following a surprisingly fluid passing move from the visitors.

In full credit to Galatasaray’s defensive display which kept them in touch with Juventus the goal came at a time when the hosts were on the back foot, a hopeful lofted pass up the field from Selcuk Inan found Didier Drogba who rose fantastically to head the ball down to Sneijder who took the ball into the box and steered it past Buffon into the bottom far corner. It was a historically English goal with the aerial pass used to perfection and it took the game beyond the Turin side with only five minutes remaining.

Antonio Conte will in all likelihood be furious, with the Italian coach seen claiming to the referee at Half-Time “It’s not football” and there is very little argument against that statement however Galatasaray’s strong defensive display was what won Roberto Mancini’s men the game this afternoon as it allowed them to remain close to Juve and always keep open the possibility of a strike late on.

Written by Chris Winterburn

Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4

 

 

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