Very often the focus on tactics in football is over exaggerated.
As Brian Clough famously said “football is a simple game complicated by coaches”. Very often tactics do not decide a match. Over the last week though the Premier League has witnessed two games that show how tactics can decide games.
Last Monday Jose Mourinho tactically outwitted Manchester City and Chelsea picked up three potentially title winning points at the Eithad. Yesterday, David Moyes' poor tactics lost his side two points.
Movement is king in football. If you can get attacking players in the right places and get defenders pulled out of position then more often than not you will win the game. Manchester United failed to do this against Fulham.
Why is this? Manchester United have world class creative players like Mata and Rooney. They should be able to open up the bottom side in the division.
Rene Meulensteen's comments after the game were very telling. He said United's game plan was 'straightforward': "They were getting it wide and getting it in to the box".
The Fulham manager hit the nail on the head. That was David Moyes' plan for the game against Fulham and give United's player's their due, they executed it.
Manchester United attempted 81 crosses against Fulham. That is the highest number of crosses attempted in a top flight game since Opta started counting the total number of crosses 14-years-ago.
The problem that the tactic was completely wrong. It was just barely one level above Wiley Coyote attaching explosives to his back and trying to catch Roadrunner.
I'd assume that if you're reading this then you're a football fan. If not then the majority of people will played football at some point. If you line up and see a 6ft 7 inch centre back in the opposition defence do you think that the best line of attack is to cross ball after ball into the box? Probably not. Doubly so if your two central attackers are the the 5ft 9 inch Wayne Rooney and the 6ft 2 inch Robin Van Persie.
That was David Moyes plan though. Dan Burns, Fulham's 19-year-old 6ft 7 inch centre back, will not have had an easier game all season. Manchester United played right to his strengths. Whoscored.com records that he made 22 clearances all game. All 22 must have come from crosses.
Not once can I remember Rooney or Mata or Van Persie attempting a pass across the box. The sort of pass that opens up defences. The sort of passes that win games. The sort of passed United used to do constantly.
Now this focus on getting the ball out wide and crossing it into the box has been Moyes' plan all season at Manchester United and up to the last few games it has been understandable.
The Premier League holders have been hobbled by injuries to key attacking players like Van Persie and Rooney. Whilst creative midfielders like Shinji Kagawa and Tom Cleverly have been in poor form.
Now though, both Van Persie and Rooney are fit and Manchester United have signed a world class player maker Juan Mata. The tactical focus in this game should have been using the full backs for width and getting Mata and Rooney on the ball just outside the penalty box.
That United didn't even attempt to do this demonstrates just how tactically obtuse Moyes' game plan was. If he has spent £37million on Juan Mata to use him in the same way as Ashley Young then he clearly has no clue as a manager.
United shouldn't sack managers just because of a run of poor results, but they shouldn't needlessly keep a manager to service the God of stability. If they get to the end of the season and Juan Mata has continued to be played as a touchline hugging winger then Moyes should be sacked.
'The Chosen One' has until the end of the season to show he is tactically up to the job. He is on trial for his job now and every game is a cup final. Manchester United don't have to win every game but there cannot be another performance so tactically inept as this one.
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