Match analysis #3: A European night

“Yes! Another match analysis!”

Excuse the melodrama; I’m extremely excited to have a few days off and to finally get back into FM. I’ve been trying my best to enjoy it all day, starting a game at Lille but that was no fun, so I’ve returned to my longest game yet, as Man United. No rags to riches story here, not one bit, but the aim is to play good football and have a ball.

Setting the scene, I’m going into a game against PSV on the back of a decent run of form which has begun to show signs of slacking. Until two unlucky losses in three games against Tottenham and Man City, we were leading the way with a good points buffer, so morale is hardly brilliant, but our form in the Champions League makes up for it. We’ve smashed in 14 in 5 games with no losses as of yet; we’re qualified, of course, but PSV are a pretty good team who need to win to ensure their progression into the next round. With players like Ola Toivonen, Maarten Martens and Erik Pieters, they pose a threat.

Below you can see my rather basic preparation for this game.

I’m sure Capello does this…

In reality, my predictions about PSV’s starting XI were completely wrong. However, this planning did allow me to see where their weaknesses, and their strengths, are. In midfield, they have a good attacking threat in Hutchinson, who has 15 technique and passing and 14 creativity, an all-rounder in Cohen and the hard working Poulsen. Ahead of them are the ever-present trio of Beerens, Martens and Toivonen – Beerens with speed and touch, Martens with a cracking football brain and Toivonen with a combination of speed, creativity and aerial presence.

But for their Toivonen, I have a Vidic, for their Beerens, I have an Evra and for their Martens, I have a big Phil Jones. I knew I could keep those three out, but the main fear for me was that they’d play one or two attacking full-backs who could support the rest of the midfield in overloading me. So I went for this:

The way the Dutchmen lined up was quite the surprise for me, Cohen starting further forward than I forecast, and Even Hovland playing at DMC. Poulsen at DR may be a surprise for you but their best right-back is currently injured and the alternatives are terrible so I was prepared for him to start there. On the other side, Pieters offers them balance, being a good, solid defender who won’t do much going forward; no crosses or Dani Alves runs here. Despite the surprises, I was well prepared and my game plan remained the same.

PSV’s midfielders had been the basis for my plan as they had no real defensive protection. Though Hovland and Cohen are fairly intelligent defensive (ish) players, they both, like Hutchinson, lack positional sense and seem a bit indulgent for European competition. That may seem rich coming from me, with a midfield trio of Honda, Thiago and Barkley, hardly the most militant of midfields, but this was all part of the plan. Away from home, Europe, careless midfield? This was the perfect recipe for a counter-attacking game in my opinion, so we set up to take advantage of PSV’s inadequacies in midfield.

Going from the back:

CBs: Small and tall, quick and strong.

FBs: Beerens is fast but dumb, Evra is perfect to outwit him. Jones is stronger and faster than Martens and was my only realistic option.

MCs: Two attacking players here may seem risky but I wanted to ensure our distribution would be good on the counter.  Honda is an intelligent player when defending so it was not much of a risk playing him here and Thiago – well, he’s Thiago.

AML: Rooney isn’t a natural winger but he is perfect to track the attacking runs of Poulsen.

AMR: I could’ve gone for Nani here, but Valencia is a bit quicker and less likely to ruin an attacking move by shooting from an absurd range or trying something too fancy.

AMC: Barkley is progressing well and is perfect for picking that final ball with creativity and flair in abundance.

STC: Diolle is a young striker who is good in the air and off the ball. I’d already seen that Tyton in goal was poor aerially and the two DCs are pretty quick so Diolle’s intelligence and aerial threat trumps Hernandez.

From back to front we have the ingredients to counter attack. PSV do pose an attacking threat and we haven’t really accounted for it in midfield but I’m confident with the intelligence we have that we can get behind the ball where we need to and more importantly, make the ball count when we go forward. We have good ball carriers centrally, good distributors and pace down the wings. To ensure we don’t overcommit and get counter-attacked ourselves, I set us to counter.

Opposition instructions

I try not to fiddle too much with opposition instructions but I’d noticed that PSV’s defenders were pretty good going forward and offered a creative threat. Their decision-making, though, looked a tad suspect so I put tight marking on Cohen, Hutchinson and Hovland to try and force them into a silly long ball or an overly audacious glory pass. The only other instructions were to show the two wingers, Beerens and Martens, inside onto their weak foot – Toivonen scares me a little bit less on the ground than in the air. Vidic is a brilliant aerial presence and should be able to deal with Toivonen, but Otamendi is less reliable so I’d prefer to take him on the ground. No other changes, I don’t want to send my players out with too many ideas.

Simply does it

Early signs

From the start, the match pans out the way I expect, and I certainly feel that my game plan is vindicated.

This screenshot shows a lot about PSV’s inadequacies and shows where we could really do them damage. Just seconds after De Gea rolling the ball out to Evra, we are in a dangerous position, with the full-backs leaving acres in behind to push onto my deep-lying wingers and my MCs perfectly stationed to attack at speed and get past their markers. Honda (#10) is a couple of feet free of Hutchinson, Thiago (#8) is ready to offer a passing option if the ball is played to Rooney on the left-wing, and Barkley is marked a bit more closely. That space behind Barkley and Hovland in the centre-circle is gorgeous, absolutely gorgeous, and if Diolle has any sense about him he should drop into it or go wide. Either way, he’ll have a field day. Let’s see how this goes (I have no idea).

Evra smashes a stupid long ball towards Diolle who lacks the acceleration to beat Poulsen to it. I’m a bit annoyed with Evra for trying to find Diolle when he had Rooney to the left of him and Thiago finding space inside, so after this move I’ll reduce his mentality to the default 6 notches, rather than the slightly higher instruction that I’d given him. It might be worth fiddling with his passing style too, if he carries on. The collision between Poulsen and Diolle knocks the ball out to Barkley who is clever enough to exploit that space I was talking about. He tries to nod it back to Diolle who in turn nods it outwards to Rooney before the move fizzles out. It’s a shame we didn’t have much killer edge here as it could’ve been a good move.


Some people might shake their heads dismissively at me making changes so early on (about seven minutes in) but it’s clear we need to change a couple of things:

  • Thiago and Honda were slow to get forward in that previous move – I want one of them to stay back but Thiago can come and support the move with relative safety so I bump his RFD up to Sometimes.
  • We have creativity on one wing and blistering speed on the other so I’d prefer play to go wide, especially from goal-kicks. Exploit the Flanks lads.

Poulsen – the weak link?

Any attacking midfielder playing at RB would struggle, but Poulsen quickly shows himself to be a worry for PSV. Once again, we use the left side and Evra finds Rooney who then plays it down the line to Diolle. Poulsen looks a bit confused with Diolle, since he expects to be marking Rooney, and follows Diolle inside, leaving this chasm:

If this is how easy it is to create space for Rooney, we’re going to have a field day. A simple reverse pass to Thiago (who is pushing forward more now, thankfully) or a braver chipped pass to Rooney will see us in, but Diolle messes up and keeps running. Now this gives me a tough decision, do I allow Diolle to keep roaming like this or keep him central up front and allow Rooney to do the work? I choose the former, but bring his Run With Ball down to Sometimes in the hope he’ll be a bit more selfless in the future. I make a note of Poulsen, and may consider focussing play down the left in the second half.

Diolle’s indecision

I’ve already talked about my newgen striker’s naivety when on the attack but he continues to make the wrong decision when put through. We put together a lovely move which, though slower and less urgent than I would’ve hoped for, allows Diolle a run-in on goal; after a great pass by Honda, Diolle plays it sidewards to Rooney rather than a simple dribble at goal and a fairly basic finish.

What are you doing there Fabrice lad?

I’m a little perplexed by Diolle’s performance so far – he has 16 decisions and good mental attributes so I’m unsure as to what’s causing it. I’ll try and sort this out at half-time if I can, but if I can’t get a positive response from him, it might be worth subbing him off for someone with a bit more confidence in front of goal. Hernandez may not offer a threat from crosses but he will certainly not hesitate like Diolle.

Half time

The half time team talk is one of the biggest factors in changing games. So far, we’ve created a couple of minor chances but our finishing has been abysmal; at the other end PSV have hardly set foot in our half.

Not much of a response, but Diolle has fresh motivation and with a couple more individual talks, Thiago looks relaxed and Barkley reacts well to some criticism. PSV have conceded 2 goals in the 15 mins following half time, the joint most of any time period; put this next to the lack of urgency and making the drastic change to Attacking strategy may not be so wacky. If we can blitz them and grab a goal I think we can go on to soak up some pressure. At the moment we’re dominating possession but being cautious because of the Counter strategy so let’s mix it up and try and get at them.

PSV changes

Interestingly, PSV make no formation changes but swap Hutchinson and Poulsen. This is hardly a huge change, they’re similar players and Hutchinson is equally unsuited to a defensive position. The latter is a little slower though, so I move Valencia over to the left to try and take advantage of this.

No break-through

Annoyingly, we still fail to break through PSV. This calls for changes, so on come Nani and Hernandez. Diolle is still not doing great, despite having an improved match rating, so Hernandez replaces him, and Nani replaces Barkley. This gives us a front four of Valencia on the left, Rooney in the middle, Nani on the right and Hernandez as the spearhead. A few seconds after the changes, PSV strike from an error by Otamendi. They offer no real threat until the Argentine steps up and leaves Beerens in space to slot it past De Gea; PSV’s first real chance is finished.


The second half sees PSV begin to get a hold on the game and at the same time, we look less and less dangerous. The first fifteen minutes of the half show few signs of us breaking through and indeed, I’d be hard pushed to pick out any reason for optimism, hence the two subs that came on just before Beerens threw the killer blow. Darren Fletcher is another sub, coming on in the 80th minute to replace the under-performing Thiago, freeing up Honda to play a more attacking role.

In truth, the lack of incision is probably my fault – we were showing positivity in the first half, making space, exploiting the weak spots and I tried to push the game.

As soon as I went attacking, I played into PSV’s hands. This screenshot, taken soon after their goal, shows how well they get their men behind the ball in response to our urgency, and perhaps urgency was the wrong plan in this case.


In the last twenty minutes, PSV do sit back but we still have a couple of chances.

The Dutchmen are still looking weak when defending, especially when we move it quickly and this move sees Nani receive the ball, dribble quickly and find Hernandez centrally – this is exactly what I wanted Chicharito to do when he came on, as opposed to the roaming of Diolle. Hernandez exchanges passes with the onrushing Rooney (#9) but he can’t find the corner. Disappointing.


A number of corner goal scrambles follow, but despite our best efforts, we can’t get through. Why did we lose? I’m not sure, it could be a number of factors: poor half-time team talk, too many changes – I did, after all, change my tactic quite a bit and used a few OIs – or simply a combination of a few small factors. I still feel the game-plan was bang on, but perhaps trying to force the game away from home was a poor move.

Second opinion

Just like last time, we’ll see what the second opinion has to say. This time it’s Foxo from (a great fansite by the way!), who goes for a live commentary style. It might be handy for you to download the pkm here so you can watch the game and see what he’s talking about:

Diolle: wrong to start?

“Overall, the idea is a strong one to stifle the threats of PSV from right back and Toivonen, and the defence is indeed solid and keeps them out with the notable exception of the goal. However, offensively it looked like a different side following the introduction of Hernandez for Diolle, in my opinion because the formation suited his play better. I think you need to be careful not to spend too much time trying to nullify opponents threats, as this may nullify your strengths, for example as Rooney was not in the game as much as would be hoped. Had you started Hernandez, I feel you’d be looking at a comprehensive win and not a single goal defeat.

6.00: 13 consecutive one touch passes around 6mins, possession keeping agree with you about Honda and Thiago not getting forward.

6.40: good example, lots of space not being exploited.

7.35: corners – no one exploiting front post where PSV look light, same at 13.20 and 16.46 where a Near Post header would score.

9.00: the moment you picked up with Diolle just running and not seeing Rooney, not helped by lack of movement from central midfield 3, particularly Barkley.

11.50: Rooney very greedy – simple ball back to Evra would give an easy cross to Diolle who is in front of his man, is Rooney’s mentality or runs too high?

15.10: Diolle’s run is weird; does he like to play wide or something? Maybe need setting to move in channels.

17.00: move with quick left to right is good, just no final run into box from either Rooney or Diolle.  Only 17 mins in but can’t help but feel that instead of using “exploit the flanks” shout you should have used the team instructions to focus passing down the left, as too many attacks are easily cut out by Pieters – eg 22 mins Valencia just runs straight at Pieters

20 mins: lucky as I think that’s a pen for a foul by Evra as Beerens gets in behind

21 mins: Diolle is SO static, low OTB?

24.20: why is Diolle taking a FK?

24.34: Evra in a lot of space, waits to be closed down before crossing, hit early crosses shout?

27:27: either Rooney or Diolle has to move into the channel and neither moves an inch. Then straight after Diolle gets the ball and ignores Barkley clean through, why?

27.50: if Diolle is so good in the air, why is he taking throw ins? That should be Evra out there.

28.55: Evra still passing like an idiot.

30.35: fantastic ball by Vidic, Diolle just not aware.

34.00: what the actual fuck is Diolle doing? just stands there as Valencia bursts past the full back resulting in no one to cross to, wasted.

38.20: Diolle makes me want to cry, that run is bollocks.

40 mins: Evra totally ignores the instructions you set for Beerens.

44.20: Jones have rfd on often? should play Valencia in, 3rd or 4th time happened.

45.25: no movement Diolle – why is he not off yet?

47.15: Diolle blind to Rooney again.

48.45: Rooney very static on the wing, needs to move into channels when attacking down the left, hiding between Evra and Poulsen so Evra can’t find him.

49.10: Rooney just stands there, no use to Honda.

51 mins: Diolle isn’t quick enough, great ball by Honda.

57 mins: Hutchinson and Poulsen are switched back much of the same as before until the goal. Hutchinson not picked up by Thiago, should you have played a more defensive cm in one of the roles? Failed offside trap too, risky with pace which Beerens proves.

73 mins: great move, great linkup, unlucky not to be a goal, huge difference between Hernandez and Diolle movement. Rest of the game’s a lot better and unlucky not to score. I think Diolle puts you under pressure at the back by constantly losing the ball or not reaching passes.”

It’s clear my selection of Diolle is a key factor in the loss in Foxo’s opinion. Watching over the match again, I can see what he means – the Frenchman loses the ball a lot and shows reluctance to push the PSV defensive line backwards. Hopefully lots of you download the pkm and offer some other ideas!

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