Tactical Analysis: Manchester United 2-0 Crystal Palace

David Moyes picked up his first ever win at Old Trafford as Manchester United beat 10 man Crystal Palace 2-0. Kagisho Dikgacoi was sent off for Palace after being forced into a last ditch tackle on Ashley Young in first half stoppage time following a calamitous giveaway in front of the Palace penalty area by Mile Jedinak. The tackle resulted in a penalty though replays suggested the contact happened outside the box. Up to that point Palace had effectively frustrated United- Robin Van Persie's chest and volley off the woodwork from a great ball over the top by Rooney in the 39th minute was United's only gilt-edged opportunity of the half. Reduced to 10 men however, Palace couldn't get players high enough up the pitch to mount any sort of threat on David De Gea and it was job done for United by halftime.

Moyes made several personnel changes to the side that lost 1-0 two weekends ago at Anfield, though they used the normal 4-4-1-1 we've seen under Moyes. Fabio replaced Phil Jones at right back- his first appearance for United in over a year after spending last season on loan at QPR. Anderson replaced Tom Cleverley alongside Michael Carrick in the middle of midfield. Antonio Valencia was given the nod over Ryan Giggs on the right side of midfield and Wayne Rooney returned from a head gash injury to replace Danny Welbeck in the hole behind Van Persie.

Ian Holloway, who was watching from the bleachers while serving the second game of his two match ban, made one change to his Palace side that beat Sunderland 3-1 two weekends ago. Adrian Marriapa replaced Joel Ward at right back. Holloway also switched formations from a 4-4-1-1 to a 4-5-1/4-3-3. Jedinak sat just in front of the back four as the deepest of a center midfield three with Dikgacoi to his right and Jose Campana to his left. Dwight Gayle played wide on the left rather than behind Chamakh where he'd been used against Sunderland.

Starting XIs: Manchester United vs. Crystal Palace, 9/14/13
Prior to the sending off, the key tactical feature was Palace's defensive shape. The front three of Chamakh, Gayle and Puncheon would put pressure on United's back four higher up the field while Campana, Jedinak and Dikgacoi sat deeper in the middle as a compact midfield bank of three and would shift to whatever side of the field the ball was on. The two screen shots below are taken 6 seconds apart and show Palace's defensive rotation from the midfield and front 3.

Forward and midfield banks of three for Palace

The shape meant Palace were quite narrow defensively and left United's weak side wide midfielder in plenty of space to receive long crossfield passes. Ashley Young in particular found himself in acres of space on the left flank. Collecting the ball on the weak side allowed Young to take on Adrian Mariappa 1 v. 1 down the left side. When Young took the ball inside it allowed space for Evra to overlap. In the 19th minute Carrick hit a crossfield ball to Young wide on the left. He was able to beat Mariappa into the box but was then booked for a dive when there appeared to be minimal contact from Gabiddon's challenge. Although nothing came of it, the move showed Palace were most vulnerable when United were able to quickly switch the point of attack. The image below shows the moment just as Carrick is preparing to hit the diagonal ball to Young. Mariappa is tucked inside helping his center backs with the movement of Rooney and Van Persie. Puncheon is higher up the pitch in a narrow position to give Palace an extra body in the middle of midfield. For a player with Carrick's vision and passing ability it's an easy diagonal ball into Young.

Carrick switches point of attack to Young.
However, United were disappointing down the left and should have done more from that flank to trouble Palace. Young lacked the directness to run past the isolated Mariappa and get to the byline and too often his delivery from wide areas was poor. He managed just 2 successful take ons from 6 attempts down the left and none of his 8 crosses were successful. Although generally a right winger, this may have been an interesting game to see Wilfried Zaha play on the left as his ability to take on defenders could have been useful in getting passed Mariappa thereby forcing Gabiddon to step to ball and leave space in the box for runs from Rooney and Van Persie.

Disappointingly for the neutral observer, the direction of the game hinged on a lack of concentration from Jedinak (who had otherwise played quite well in the first half). His square pass to no one 25 yards from his own goal sent Young through on goal. Dikgacoi didn't have much of a choice but to lunge from behind and when he caught Young referee John Moss didn't had no option but to brandish the red. Van Persie dispatched the penalty and from there it was game over.

Down to 10, Palace played a 4-4-1, defending in two deep banks of four. With the extra man, United were easily able to keep possession high up the pitch. When Palace did win the ball back, they were so deep their only option for an outlet pass forward was a long and hopeful one into Chamakh. United could simply press the Palace fullbacks, forcing them to hit the long balls early into Chamakh that were comfortably dealt with by Vidic and Ferdinand. 

United were comfortable in the second half if not altogether inspiring. They still don't seem to have the balance quite right in midfield and the wide play hasn't been good enough all season. Rooney's second half free kick was genuinely world class but it may be a slight concern for United that they couldn't be more ruthless against a newly promoted side down to ten men at Old Trafford.