You see it all too often. Your team controls the game and earns a well-deserved lead going into the final stages of the competition. Then, instead of keeping the pressure on and maintaining the course that delivered the lead, the winning side goes into a prevent defense and allows the other team back into the game.
In football you’ll see the safeties drop deeper to prevent the deep ball. In baseball a defensive substitute will come in to replace a teammate great at the ball bus less so in the field. In soccer all ten outfield players make their own half their home and commit less numbers going forward.
United followed this tact yesterday and dropped two crucial points at home as a result. After a fairly even first half, United controlled the second half and took the lead through Juan Mata in the 68th minute. United continued to press and almost found a second goal in the period that followed. Despite United’s ramshackle back line featuring Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo as the centerback pairing, Arsenal were without a shot on target entering the final five minutes of regulation. However, as the final whistle neared United changed their style and opted for a more defensive formation. Mourinho’s critics and fans alike could immediately identify the bus being parked in United’s half. Schneiderlin came on to replace the goal scorer Mata and United fell into a back six. Rooney patrolled space 10 yards inside United’s half and Rashford found himself next to Daley Blind in the left channel.
As United shifted from a 4-2-3-1 to a 6-3-1, Arsenal were allowed space in the midfield. It was the first decent spell for the visiting side during the second half. Finally, after several passes inside United’s half, Oxlade-Chamberlain found himself isolated against Rashford. Daley Blind chose to follow a man into the center instead of providing support to the young United winger. Despite a big touch past Rashford, Oxlade Chamberlain was able to get deliver an excellent ball into the six yard box unmolested as Blind found himself in no man’s land. Rather than staying with his man or providing support to his winger, Blind stood in the space between the near post and the edge of the 18 yard box as the cross came in. United’s marking in the penalty area was equally woeful as they allowed the substitute Olivier Giroud to attack the chipped cross and get his goal. The goal marked the first shot on target for the Gunners and came in the 88th minute. Check out the goal:
The result is devastating for United as they drop two crucial points at home to their bitter rival. Two points United were desperate for after similarly disappointing results in recent weeks. Although the “park the bus” mentality has worked for Mourinho teams past, he would be wise to realize the vast gap between the defensive stalwarts at Chelsea in recent years and United’s current injury-stricken back line. United invited pressure on their unfamiliar and inexperienced center-back pairing and abandoned the strategy that made David De Gea’s first 87 minutes an easy day at the office. Forward-thinking players like Rashford were forced to defend deep in their own half without requisite support from United’s proper defenders and Arsenal’s creative players were allowed time and space in United’s half. United were torn apart at Chelsea while employing a similar strategy and it’s difficult to justify resorting to the same tactics in light of how yesterday’s game unfolded.
Again, the result is damaging for United in what would have been Mourinho’s first win against a “big” team since joining the Red Devils. United fans will hope Mourinho recognizes the error of his ways but will also be wary of the Portuguese’s stubborn reputation.