To beat Sunderland, Moyes can think of Swansea

Posted by Musa Okwonga

Going into the second leg of their Capital One Cup semifinal tie at Old Trafford, Manchester United trail Sunderland by a single goal. The home side have already signaled their intentions to raise the atmosphere, offering entry to under-16s for just five pounds. On the pitch, too, David Moyes should look to make things profoundly uncomfortable for the visitors. Thankfully for him, he has the blueprint for how to do so.

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In the second half of Manchester United's 2-0 Premier League victory over Swansea, he deployed Shinji Kagawa behind Danny Welbeck, putting Adnan Januzaj down the left and Antonio Valencia down the right. He also used a central midfield partnership of Darren Fletcher and Michael Carrick. The benefit of this formation was that Fletcher was able to find Kagawa regularly in the final third -- he successfully played the ball to him 15 times, according to the FourFourTwo StatZone application -- which allowed the Japan international to build several of his team's attacks.

Against Chelsea, however, Moyes put Phil Jones, who for all his defensive gifts is not so skilled in distribution as Fletcher, in central midfield. The abiding memory of Jones' discomfort in that game came after nine minutes, when Jones allowed the ball to escape his dribble, was dispossessed by David Luiz and then fouled Eden Hazard in an attempt to recover it. It was an uncomfortable illustration of Jones' difficulty in playing through midfield when his opponents are at very close quarters. He found Januzaj on only four occasions, and as a result Manchester United's creativity in that area was almost nonexistent.

Moyes' decision to recall Ashley Young made sense, in that the winger has recently been in his best form for some months, and has also been scoring goals. However, it might make sense for him to make way Wednesday night. (Jones, too, should be retained in the team, but back alongside Jonny Evans at centre-back. Nemanja Vidic, with his red card against Chelsea, has removed one selection problem). By playing the same team that he played in that second half against Swansea, Moyes has the opportunity to play at a high and effective tempo from the start against Sunderland; an opportunity which, it is submitted, he should take.

Juan Mata to Manchester United, and other transfer talk

The media is currently awash with speculation that Manchester United may make a move for Juan Mata. Talk of such a transfer, particularly given the failure of the club's summer dealings, should probably be treated with the utmost caution; but, that being said, here are some brief thoughts. Interest in Mata, if it is genuine, suggests that either or both of Wayne Rooney and Kagawa do not see themselves at the club in the long term. If that is the case, then Mata would represent a superb acquisition: he is still only 25, and -- as Opta have observed -- has created more chances in the past three Premier League seasons than anyone other than David Silva, his fellow Spanish pass-master. Mata would combine very well with either Welbeck or Robin van Persie, and the return of the Dutchman's injury problems this season have been a reminder that Manchester United cannot count on the availability of their first-choice striker as much as they would like.

The most interesting question of this transfer window, though, is whether Manchester United will strengthen their central midfield. Well, actually, it may not be interesting, having been revisited to the point of tedium, but it is certainly the most perennial. The gap at the heart of the squad has become a thing to contemplate with horror, and humour, but mostly horror. The acquisition of Marouane Fellaini, disappointing as his form has so far been, provided a measure of short-term catharsis, but what Manchester United truly need there is a conductor, in the manner of Roma's Miralem Pjanic (who, though linked with Old Trafford, has also been casting ominously seductive eyes toward Paris Saint-Germain).

One other area which the team should not neglect is their wingers. The improved form of Young has been notable, but a truly penetrative and consistent forward is what the club need. Douglas Costa, of Shakhtar Donetsk, is a player whose dynamism could be a great asset to Manchester United, who must have looked covetously at the industrious and skillful performance that Willian produced against them on Sunday. But with a few days of the transfer window to go, it seems presumptuous to expect that these areas will be addressed right now.


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