Man Utd 1-0 Fulham report this time

With moments to go Bryan Ruiz slipped Danny Murphy through, Michael Carrick tripped him and Michael Oliver didn’t give a penalty.  It was the wrong decision but I can understand it: in the last moments of a crucial game that would have a bearing on the league championship’s final destination, at Old Trafford, against Manchester United (in front of Sir Alex Ferguson)… Oliver won’t have had to make many bigger decisions.

Chances are he’s replayed the incident a thousand or more times in his head since then. He’ll have seen Murphy scamper off and Carrick cut across and then in what must now seem like a horrible blur of red and white, Murphy was on the deck and Carrick was panicking. A quick summing up of the situation, and no, no penalty.

It wasn’t a certain penalty. There was enough doubt that Oliver could duck the intervention, doubt that trapped him into missing one of those career defining decisions that would have marked him out as a good and brave and unintimidated referee. Now everyone thinks he’s a bottler.

Thing is, this is partly the game’s fault. In cricket the best batsmen used to get away with lbw shouts through sheer force of personality. “Going down leg” the umpire would mutter, and everyone knew that it probably wasn’t but everyone knew that such is the game. Meanwhile you cowering number 11 would get the finger the first time the ball hit him on the pad. Technology has exposed this flaw and now, in test matches at least, decision making is better and fairer. Baseball was even worse, with good pitchers and good batters getting preferential treatment of called balls and strikers until technology again levelled the playing field.

So it is with football. Everyone knows that home teams and big teams get the decisions and everyone knows that human nature almost dictates that this be so: all of us, when put under extreme pressure, will occasionally crack or make a decision that is not necessarily the best available.

So Oliver waved play on and United won 1-0 and that’s three defeats in a row.

Never mind, I don’t suppose. We look quite good and assuming nothing strange happens between now and the end of the season we are still comfortably in mid table and should look forward to an interesting 2012-13 season. Which is what Martin Jol seems to be doing, too, giving Kerim Frei another go on the wing, resting Danny Murphy until late on, and experimenting with Dempsey in a central role. 

None of those decisions was a roaring success but in a game you’re going to lose 90% of the time, why not make a few changes? Frei was largely anonymous but spending time on the pitch in an important match will have helped his development; Diarra played alright, and Murphy’s introduction late on gave us a surge of purpose that almost translated into that point. So it’s hard to argue with what Jol tried to do. Murphy from the start? Well maybe, but then he wouldn’t have driven that comeback would he?  Same goes for Ruiz, who was influential when introduced, but by then the game was stretched and open, and when that happens he does tend to look like one of the team’s better players. Jol has to work out how to get him that kind of space in the first halves of games.

Otherwise, as you’d expect. We were only in a position to nearly get a penalty because Mark Schwarzer made some stunning saves, two in a row in the second half that almost defied probability (to the extent that a goal seemed almost certain to come), another from Ashley Young’s curler that showed his footwork and judgement to be A1 as ever.  Everyone else did what they normally do, more or less: if you didn’t see the game, don’t worry – it was exactly how you’d think a 1-0 defeat at Old Trafford would be.

No shame there. The disappointment is in losing at Villa and being destroyed by Swansea, but last night’s match was sufficiently okay to suspect that heads haven’t dropped, nobody’s panicking and three points aren’t far off.

29 thoughts on “Man Utd 1-0 Fulham report this time

  1. A small point, in an otherwise great match report, but technology hasn’t leveled the playing field in baseball. It’s only used for home runs. What the viewer sees at home, strike zones superimposed over home plate, allows for the viewers at home to see strikes and balls when the ump is calling something different. It’s probably only served to increase couch potato rage while not advancing the real game much. It’s an ongoing debate. One side even takes the position that the human eye is still more accurate than fancy technology but I don’t know. More gnashing of teeth ahead.

    1. Really? You’d know better than I, but I’m sure I read that the PitchFX (or whatever it’s called) had shown up umpiring ‘egregiousness’ and resulted in better strike zones for all. Rats…

      1. The technology is there, and the amount of data we have on individual pitches is staggering, but it hasn’t crept into how a game is called. There’s a ton of resistance. One of the biggest defenses offered against it is that we should keep ‘the human elemental.’

        You know more about baseball than anyone I’ve met from the UK! Very impressive. I was always under the impression it was tough to catch games there, time difference working against you aside. When I lived there I didn’t try.

        1. Ah I see.

          Haven’t watched a game for ages to be honest, it’s just a fun sport to read about. The “Tom Glavine Strike Zone” used to enfuriate me though, patently unfair and patently outside the rules. All that nonsense about giving him the margins because he’d proved he could hit them or whatever they used to say was even worse. Fine, give the benefit of the doubt to the players who know what they’re doing, but don’t let him spend the next 10 years pitching a foot outside and getting called strikes (I exaggerate, but not by that much perhaps).

          1. Haha…yeah, I didn’t mind that when Glavine came to the Mets.

            Similarly Jeter has been sticking his ass in the air for years and faking near misses and getting strikes called balls. Baseball’s Dani Alves?

          2. As others have said, balls and strikes aren’t ruled with technology during the game. However, at the end of the season, umpires are subject to review if their calls are wildly, consistently different from what the machines saw.

            I’m of two minds about the wisdom of using replay for anything other than scoring plays. It really does disrupt the flow of the game. Even the replay-happy NFL (which, as it does with all things, has turned the process itself into a spectacle), replay can’t be used to retroactively call a foul on somebody. The counterargument would be that having the replay safety net would make it more likely for Oliver to call a penalty in this circumstance in the first place.

        2. Agreed. There are several reasons baseball is slipping mightily in this country, and it’s semi-luddite attitude is one of them.

          While it’s no coincidence that the #1 sport in this nation embraces technology like no other (American Football)

          1. As someone who works in the industry and has seen the reports, umpires are rated on every single game and are informed if they are incorrect on calls outside of a certain range or percentage correctness. It has definitely eliminated the Eric Greggish strikezones of the past, although there is still a long way to go.

  2. I think Jol was spot on with Team selection. Ruiz is class going forward, but shows no effort defending or rushing back. How often do you see opposing players glide past him in a straight line without breaking a sweat? He seriously needs to man up, and until then I can’t see any use for him aside from when we are chasing a goal.

    I love Murphy as much as any of us, but I can not for the world understand how some fail to see the improvement Diarra brings the team. Murphy still has a major part to play for us, but due to the being required to play more of a holding role (like he did with bullard) along side an attacking inclined midfield, his passing has been far to inaccurate this season to play so deeply. Diarra has the physical strength and mobility to play that role, and I am sure that once he has a few more games to adapt further to our system and the prem, he will prove to be one of our stand out performers!

    1. Yup. I think you can do it in a way that doesn’t slow games down, too. Use ‘the God’ official, someone in a booth upstairs who has ultimate say and can speak directly to the home plate ump below via an ear piece. I believe basketball has used something like this effectively. Ultimately it would make the home plate ump look better, while honoring the real human element which is what the players do on the field. Umps and officials anywhere generally get things right, but even 5% inaccuracy can change everything.

  3. My thoughts:

    Kelly at RB:
    Defensively poor IMO but offensively had one of his better games. Got forward like a proper wing back.

    Hangeland:
    Started out very shaky and had shaky moments (not seen this side of him before which is a bit worrying). But him and Hughes as a pair were defensively very sound overall.

    Riise at LB:
    Defensively very poor against the wingers BUT made some very good blocks/interceptions.

    Diarra:
    Shouldn’t be misplacing passes from such dangerous positions – he needs to keep it simple unless he’s further up the pitch. I would like to see him sit deeper with Murphy next to him (but a bit more advanced) and Dembele at the top of the triangle.

    Dembele:
    CLASS – oh if he could shoot *dreams

    Duff:
    Typical gritty hard working performance.

    Dempsey:
    Lazy – doesn’t put in a shift off the ball like Duff & AJ etc noticed this most against Swansea. But offensively was getting into good positions and finding space.

    Pog:
    Not in Bobby’s class when it comes to holding up the ball. His first touch was pretty poor with long balls pinging off his chest to all parts of the pitch. Didn’t win many arial duels either. His strengths are his work rate and shooting but I think he needs a partner.

  4. What strong words? Most of it is positive…

    Think what I’ve said about Kelly & Riise applies for the whole season. If Senderos is going to get stick from everyone then why not point out when Hangeland makes mistakes (missed header for their goal)

    Diarra – just an observation that he misplaced passes in dangerous positions.

    Dempsey – ?? Think that’s fair comment. And Pog – Think thats fair comment too.

    1. Mainly the defence (people keep calling them poor but they’ve had a good season – if they’re as bad as suggested why haven’t we conceded more goals?) and Dempsey being lazy. I have a bit of a problem with people calling footballers lazy unless it’s someone like Arshavin who clearly did stop trying. I don’t think you could ever level that at Dempsey. PErhaps he was just struggling to get into the game? PRobably united had identified him as a danger man and boxed him out of danger areas. Doesn’t make him lazy.

  5. Murphy and Ruiz showed us what we were lacking when they came on. Without them, our sole creative driving force was Dembele and he was — at least in the second half — fairly well shut down. With them, we had numerous killer options and were harder to shut down.

    I disagree that this was about the space available in a stretched game. Actually, I thought that — in the first half — Jol’s decision to play two wingers with Dempsey through the middle with Pogrebnyak showed Jol’s tactical skills. On a bigger pitch than we see at home, the wingers were able to stretch the playing area. And then with Dempsey dropping deep, we were, for 20-30 minutes in the first half, able to control possession in a really impressive way. The difficulty is, though, that by playing the wingers, we didn’t have the killer passing skills of either Murphy or Ruiz to exploit that possession.

    This, I think, is the conundrum with Dempsey. He’s more of a striker — great movement, decent in possession, and nice simple passing — so if you want to stretch the game you can’t play him out wide. But if you move him into the middle to do so, we lose having at least one of our passing threats in the middle.

    I’m really not sure what to do about this issue with our current squad. If you play two wingers, and either Ruiz or Murphy behind Pogrebnyak, you increase the likelihood of making a killer pass when the play opens up. But without Dempsey’s movement off the ball those openings will happen less. And without his finishing, you make it less likely that the person on the receiving end will score. Pogrebnyak can help with that as his movement and finishing both seem superior to Zamora, but it’s hard for him to do it on his own and play the hold-up role.

    Ultimately, I think the answer lies with Ruiz. The man has bags of skill and is even tracking back pretty well these days. But his movement off the ball is all wrong. His preference is to stay static, hang back and hope a ball falls to him from the melee upfront. But, while that may have worked for him in the past, that is simply not good enough for our team. We need him to create space not only for himself, but for the team also. He needs to make forward runs, to chance himself to get onto a Murphy pass, or to drag players out of position. And he just doesn’t do it.

    Until he does, we’re going to have to rely on Dempsey. That means either being comfortable playing extremely narrow (and extremely right-sided) with Ruiz and Dempsey on the wings. Or playing with the width of wingers and Murphy and Dembele through the middle. Neither, I think, are ideal.

    Nonetheless, as you can see, the game really sparked a lot of thought in me. And I think that was because of how impressed I was with the way we took and retained possession for those 20-30 minutes in the first half. Pity we squandered the good play conceding a goal after sitting back so deep at the end of the half. I’m hoping that that is just a hangover from the Hodgson days and that we will soon see that coming to an end (at least to its present extent).

    1. I like a Ruiz and Dempsey pairing, possibly behind Pogrebnyak.

      Good point on ruiz’s movement. I hadn’t noticed that I’d noticed this until you mentioned it!

      1. Me too. I’d like to see us try a Pogrebnyak, Dempsey and Ruiz attack and a Diarra, Murphy and Dembele midfield. Trouble is that that will be VERY narrow and potentially not suitable away from home if we want to create the kind of space we were able to create for that impressive period against ManU. We can possibly answer that by introducing truly dynamic fullbacks. But ones who can also defend is a tough ask, as is asking our fullbacks to do too much attacking when they have to cover the likes of Valencia and Young. And if the fullbacks cannot provide width, we’re back to the old problem of being too narrow and being squeezed for space. Long-run, this may require a personnel change, with Dempsey leaving for a lightening quick winger. But, as I say, I wouldn’t be happy with that unless Ruiz learns to make the kind of runs that Dempsey makes.

        1. Some great comments here.

          I was having the same discussion about width over on FOF earlier.

          Width is obviously this teams issue, and for me, there are two ways of dealing with it:

          1) Play a 4-2-3-1 with Dempsey or Ruiz in the middle and Dembele partnering either Diarra or Murphy. This frees up space for more of a winger on the left and could give us more width

          2) Play a narrow 4-3-3 as suggested above. Width to be provided by the two full backs who Jol would have to tell to neglect their defensive abilites more and take more risks going forward. Diarra and Murphy would play at the same time and play deeper, covering the back 4, and moving in the RB and LB positions when cover is needed on the counter. Baird might excel in this position alongside wither Murphy or Diarra.

          Overall I guess it comes down to what happens in the summer. If Dempsey goes, we lose his great goalscoring record but might gain more balance on the left with the addition of a ‘proper’ winger. If Dembele goes then we can move Ruiz more central/off the striker to be the creative hub and fill his space with a winger.

          1. Very much agree. Frankly I’m slowly coming to the conclusion that we can’t quite get the balance that Jol wants with our existing players, including the best ones. This makes sense, of course, because they are not Jol’s players, so he’s trying to construct a team out of some random parts.

            In the papers the other day we saw Jol stating, with apparent calm, that we may lose our best players in the summer, just as he did Berbatov and Carrick at Spurs, but that that presents an opportunity to build something from there. Because I’m just not sure that we can get that balance with our existing players, and because I have a good feeling about Jol, I’m not so worried about that, as I was only a few weeks ago.

  6. I was actually complimenting our centre backs..apart from shaky start and failing to clear their lines which lead to the goal they gave an assured performance.

    Riise’s and Kelly’s performances can be judged on their offensive performance and defensive performance. Offensively I thought they both had good games. Defensively they failed to cope with Utd’s wingers – with Riise backing off far too much and allowing dangerous crosses into the box (a weakness even he’s admitted to often on Twitter).

    As far as Dempsey is concerned he had no problem getting into the game and got in some very good positions and had a couple decent shots on target. Happy days. But defensively from what I have perceived I think he is less keen to put in a defensive shift. I think this was notable last night and against Swansea. I have no problem with that in games where we’re the better team and we don’t need as many people back behind the ball but when we’re up against strong teams everyone needs to be sprinting back and working as a team.

  7. Ruiz plays football much like classic Eastern European playmaking centre in ice hockey. He doesn’t kill you with speed or power but he reads angles well and picks good moments to accelerate. He leaves an imprint of personality on the movements he participates in. Defensively, he either does just enough to dispel the notion that he’s negligent (e.g. running alongside a winger, without really trying to move him off the ball) or he attempts to close down a player but shows a total disregard for defensive technique.

    To my mind, a player like this must create goals to have any worth. Given that he did all he could to set up the would-be penalty last night, it’s difficult to fault him.

  8. Going back to the point about baseball umpiring, MLB does use a system called questec to evaluate umpire performance vis a vis ball and strike calls. It is my understanding that umpires do receive a periodic performance review where they may be asked to bring their own ball/strike calls into line with expected standards. The system obviously isn’t perfect, but it’s not the wild, wild west out there like it once was. Full disclosure: I am a Braves fan, but I do take issue with the “Tom Glavine strike zone” criticism. It’s often cited as if it were some undue favor granted to Glavine simply due to his star power. In reality, the (uneven) system applied equally to everyone, Tom was just better at working the system to his favor due to superior pitch control. In other words, Glavine used his great skill to gain this advantage. May we now somehow employ this knowledge to halt the Fulham losing streak!

    1. Maybe but Glavine kept throwing the ball outside the plate and kept getting strikes called, even though they clearly weren’t strikes! Any objectivity would have seen him penalised and forced to come inside a bit more, at which point everything changes and he’s not the pitcher he was when he was allowed his own strike zone. Maddux and Smoltz didn’t rely on this nearly as much.

  9. If they clearly were not strikes they would not have been called as such. Pitching is the art of using the batter’s expectation of pitch speed, location, and movement against him. The same technique can work on an umpire’s eye (i.e. the following pitch may look exactly the same as the one before it but is actually another mm or two lower or further away). The umpire and the batter are making a split second judgement on very fine distinctions; a skillful craftsman like Glavine uses that against them. Anyone could have done the same, it’s just that everyone was not as good at putting the pitch exactly where he wanted it as Glavine. Maddux did the same to an extent, but varied his pitch locations more which didn’t leave the impression of getting an extra foot on the outside of the plate.

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