It was far from a football exhibition at Old Trafford in Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League clash between Manchester United and PSV Eindhoven.
Despite the fact United was set up with pace throughout the lineup, the game slowed to a crawl, and the 0-0 final score was a just result because no team showed much ambition or ability to go forward and win the game.
For the Red Devils, Rooney was back in the hole as a number 10, and all around him was speed—Anthony Martial was used as a number 9, Memphis Depay was back in the side, and winger Jesse Lindgard looked to continue his run of good form.
After giving up a costly penalty on the weekend, Marcos Rojo was back in the team but shipped out wide on the left, and Daley Blind slotted inside, where he started the season, as the central defensive partner to United’s most improved player Chris Smalling. None of it matter as PSV were well organized and United were not ruthless.
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Here are my three thoughts on the match…
Lingard’s Blown chances
Jesse Lindgard squandered at least five clear cut goal scoring opportunities. He whiffed on a cross from Morgan Schneiderlin, had a woefully heavy touch after Martial let the ball run through his legs, and later skied a volley attempt over the net. Alarming not just because he failed to score but in most cases he failed to make PSV ‘keeper Jeroen Zoet even work by missing the net completely. Lindgard repeatedly got into dangerous areas, like when his glancing header from a Martial cross went wide, but he failed to cash in at the end of repeated Manchester moves.
The issue is not unique to the young homegrown player as United have just five goals in five group stage games thus far.
The Red Devils never seemed like they’d find a breakthrough. They weren’t confident going forward even though they dominated possession and were at home.
A curious change
Louis Van Gaal made a predictable double switch in the second half as he was grasping for answers. On came Marouane Fellaini and Ashley Young for Depay and Bastian Schweinsteiger.
It ended a disappointing performance for Depay against his former side as he was dominated on the left by PSV defender Santiago Arias. Lindgard so badly struggled he began to run off the pitch assuming the change was for him, only to be told he was merely switching flanks to accommodate Young. It made sense to have Young in the game to fire crosses towards the box for Fellani to get on the end of, but Fellani wasn’t played up top—he played in the midfield. It wasn’t until the 73rd minute that Rooney dropped back that the big Belgian began to get forward.
But United actually got worse after the change, not better. Rooney never had a foothold in the midfield, so Van Gaal was forced to bring on Juan Mata to help unlock the middle of the park. Not only did the substitution not work it left United with more questions about their “Plan B” than they already had about their “Plan A.”
All still left to play for
After five rounds of matches, the group is anybody’s to win.
PSV had the perfect road performance—they defended well and transitioned. They were given the confidence to play so pragmatically because Wolfsburg had gone top of the group earlier in the day eliminating CSKA Moscow.
United’s last game will be their toughest, on the road in Germany. Wolfsburg haven’t lost at home and are on nine points while United and PSV are a point and two points behind respectively. After failing to get full points on Wednesday, Manchester have left themselves with lots of work to do.
PSV on other hand have yet to lose at home and now host the sole team in the group already eliminated.