On a rainy day on the western shore of England, Blackpool put a scare into the Red Devils of Manchester in an entertaining match. In the end, United prevailed as the Tangerines were unable to finish off the League leaders, 2-3.
FORMATIONS: Both teams fielded 4-3-3 formations. United, who typically play in a 4-4-2, brought out central midfielders Darron Gibson, Darren Fletcher, and Paul Scholes, in an effort to contain Blackpool’s strong midfielders, David Vaughan and Charlie Adam. Dimitar Berbatov began as the center forward in the United attack, with Wayne Rooney and Nani serving as his wingers.
FIRST HALF: The first half was controlled by the home side. Adam was largely unfettered in distributing the ball to Luke Varney and DJ Campbell on the wings. In general, United looked lethargic, and unable to sustain pressure on the Blackpool defense. Their best first-half chance came as Rafael was able to head a ball on target, and goalkeeper Richard Kingson was able to grab and control the effort.
BLACKPOOL IN THE DRIVER’S SEAT: Blackpool’s attack kept United on their heels, thought it wasn’t particularly fruitful on the fly. Where the Seasiders found their success was on corner set pieces. In the 15th minute, center back Craig Cathcart connected with a perfectly-placed delivery by Adam and beat Edwin Van Der Sar. Later in the half, a corner deflected from Nani’s head crossed the goal mouth and found Campbell for their second goal and a surprising 2-0 lead.
SECOND HALF CHANGES: Sir Alex Ferguson most certainly entered half disappointed in his side’s effort. The side lacked offensive cohesiveness, and his halftime change was to bring a dangerous playmaker to the wing. He brought Ryan Giggs in for Gibson, and pushed Rooney into the right wing. Nani moved back into the central 3, and this allowed United to hold more possession in the midfield.
A QUICK ASIDE: Blackpool manager Ian Holloway is known for his attack philosophy. Earlier in the season, his team tried to play more defensively against Chelsea (using back Alex Baptiste as a defensive midfielder) and got rocked 4-0 at Stamford Bridge. Holloway proclaimed in the press that he would not cower towards the big sides after that drubbing.
UNITED CONTROLS: So Blackpool continued with a pressing philosophy. Almost immediately after halftime, the play switched to United’s fortune, mostly because of Giggs’ flair and determination. In the first half, United took 5 shots at net; in the next thirty minutes, they generated ten. For awhile, Kingson was the difference, stopping several quality chances including a break by 66th-minute sub Javier Hernandez. Hernandez’s coming on for Rooney added a different dimension to the Red Devils, that of speed and the intangibles that Rooney has lacked thus far this season.
THE BROKEN BACK: Unfortunately for the Seasiders, Kingson could only hold out for so long. In the 72nd minute, Fletcher broke free to the right of goal, and crossed to Berbatov directly in front of goal who sank it 2-1. Then only two minutes later, Giggs fed Hernandez on a break in on goal. He stroked the ball into the left corner and leveled the match. After a lengthy injury pause for Rafael after smashing heads with sub Marlon Harewood, the final nail was delivered in the form of a Scholes diagonal cross to Berbatov. He touched it forward against a lax Blackpool back line, and his shot past the dives of Cathcart and Kingson put the Red Devils up for good 2-3. United survived with Fletcher moving back into the right back role after Rafael’s injury (Anderson was subbed into the midfield).
FINAL THOUGHTS: Blackpool could have desperately used this result against United. While they were given little chance at the outset, being up 2-0 at the hour mark should be a signal to shore up the defense regardless of your “live by the sword, die by the sword” philosophy. There’s a time to stick to your guns, and a time to heed common sense. Right before the equalizing goal, Holloway substituted Harewood for Taylor-Fletcher. While Harewood would help a more direct counterattack philosophy, why not bring on another back, or a defensive midfielder? The answer might be, “United would have won anyway,” but I don’t know that. Blackpool played much better defensive football in the first half, but they tired due to United’s relentless second-half attack and could have used another body to fend off more through passes.
I think Blackpool have given opponents a recipe for winning against Manchester United. Regardless that their goals were scored on the set piece, Blackpool carried the play in the first half, and did not play in awe of the Red Devils. With any kind of striking talent, the Seasiders would have been ahead 4-0 at halftime. And there will be justifications of, “Oh they took Blackpool lightly.” Perhaps, but Ferguson and United can feel fortunate that Holloway has no common sense when it comes to playing with a lead, or else this could have been their first league loss.
Finally, Charlie Adam had a good game for the most part, but he seemed non-existent through the crucial 30 minutes where United broke through. Whether his mind wandered to the transfer market, or whether it was just a fluke, in the first 50 minutes he made 37 of his team’s 230 passes (16%). From that point until the final Berbatov goal, he attempted 12 of 120 (10%). This partly shows that he wasn’t as influential in the game, but also demonstrates United’s hold on the play; in that same period (50′-87′), United attempted 198 passes.