Saturday, October 1, 2011

Basel Expose United's Soft Centre

United's suspect defence was evident in the defeat of Chelsea and even, strangely enough, in that ridiculous hammering of Arsenal. It was forgotten, naturally enough what with the lopsided scoreline, that Arsenal had chances after the break to bring the score back to 3-2 and make it at least a contest. Not that I'm suggesting that Arsenal would have won any points had that been the case. I'm merely pointing out that the praise of United up to this point has rather ignored their unusually soft looking defensive work.

There is an argument that the lower lights of the Premiership don't show enough ambition against United, especially in games at Old Trafford. United's fearsome home record is enough to psyche out most opponents, and managers tend to set their teams up defensively, hoping for a draw. Against many teams- Arsenal being an obvious example- defending deep in numbers and springing on the counter attack is a worthwhile ploy. But United typically play with tremendous width (Arsenal, as we know, don't), and their wingers tend to provide great service on a fairly consistent basis. When United need a late goal in a tight game, how often do they score from a cross? Ask the same question of Arsenal, and you get a very different answer.

In other words, defending deep against United has proven over recent seasons to be a fruitless strategy. Basel showed that, when you catch them on an off-night, attack really is the best form of defence. United found themselves 2-0 up thanks to Danny Welbeck's brace, but Basel had made chances and did not allow themselves to be disheartened by the deficit. Rather than fall back on damage limitation, they continued to plug away in attack, and plundered three goals to lead. It would have been an unprecedented result- Sir Alex Ferguson has never presided over a game in which United led by two goals and lost.

But Basel visibly tired in the latter stages, and United equalised very late when a super deep cross from Nani found Ashley Young in acres at the far post, and he nodded firmly downwards and into the back of the net.

Despite a very easy dra for the group stage, United find themselves with only two points from the first two games. They will still, of course, go through, but Basel's performance showed that United's impressive results in the Premiership owe a lot to a lack of strength in depth in that league.

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