Paul Wilkes was at Old Trafford to analyse a frustrating stalemate for United that leaves them fighting for their Champions League progression...
1. Van Gaal gives United a defensive solidity
It's now over 11 hours since Manchester United last conceded from open play, and Louis van Gaal's side are certainly looking assured at the back. Goalkeeper David de Gea and centre-half Chris Smalling have been the only players consistently included in the starting line-up, with injuries forcing Van Gaal into multiple changes over the last few weeks.
Matteo Darmian’s return would have been a welcome sight for the Old Trafford faithful, with the Italy international rarely beaten by his direct opponent. Smalling again demonstrated his excellent positional sense against PSV with 10 ball recoveries, while his centre-back partner Daley Blind made four interceptions. The concerns over United’s defence that were aired at the start of the season now look misplaced: the Red Devils’ structure and setup makes them extremely difficult to break down.
2. United's attackers lack cohesion
United have scored just five goals in their last seven matches in all competitions
United have scored just five goals in their last seven matches in all competitions. In a sense, that shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise given that Wayne Rooney has struggled in front of goal and the other strikers on the books are still just 19 years old. Anthony Martial was always likely to suffer a dip after a ridiculously efficient start to life in Manchester, while wide man Memphis Depay has only just been reinstated to the starting XI.
“I know that goals are coming and going,” Van Gaal admitted. “It’s not a consequence of good performances or bad performances. We could have scored at least three as they were not the most difficult of chances, but we didn’t. In the next game we could score out of nothing. That’s football.”
The best opportunities fell to Jesse Lingard: his footwork let him down in the 21st minute, with the ball running through to PSV goalkeeper Jeroen Zoet after a clever stepover from Martial, before he later blazed over the crossbar from a central position in the second half.
The lack of creativity was evidenced by the fact that defender Blind was the hosts’ chief chance creator, with his set-piece deliveries producing three goalscoring opportunities.
3. Guardado now hot property
The Mexico international spent several seasons in Spain with Deportivo La Coruna and Valencia, where he was deployed mainly as a winger or an attacking full-back.
At PSV Guardado has found a different role as a central midfielder, though, and was one of the best players on the pitch on Wednesday night. He completed more passes than any of his team-mates and demonstrated an ability to beat opposing players with four take-ons. He has now become crucial to PSV’s counter-attacking approach, but he also contributed to a commendable defensive effort.
4. Schneiderlein offers United more than just combativeness
Schneiderlin was signed by United in the summer for his tenacious qualities and defensive attributes. The midfielder proved there’s much more to this game here, though: he started the match brightly, and was central to the hosts’ attacking efforts.
The Frenchman’s influence on the game waned after the break, with his passing accuracy decreasing and Rooney instructed to drop in alongside him in the latter stages. His lethargy was illustrated by the three fouls he committed in the final 45 minutes after making just one in the first period. No United player makes more interceptions than Schneiderlein, though, and only Marcos Rojo completed more tackles.
5. Van Gaal's Plan B didn't take PSV by surprise
It appeared to have little impact, with Young failing to complete any of his four attempted deliveries and Fellaini winning only two of his four aerial duels
“We felt that when the game went on and they couldn’t score the goal, they weren't so dominant anymore. They couldn’t find the solution to beat our defence,” PSV manager Phillip Cocu admitted in his post-match press conference.
With an hour of the match played, Van Gaal removed Bastian Schweinsteiger and Depay in place of Marouane Fellaini and Ashley Young; the idea, of course, was to play long balls and crosses from deep towards the big-haired Belgian's head.
It appeared to have little impact, with Young failing to complete any of his four attempted deliveries and Fellaini winning only two of his four aerial duels. Cocu had countered United’s substitution with a move of his own, midfielder Jorrit Hendrix replaced by Nicolas Isimat-Mirin.
“We already had our central defender Isimat-Mirin warming up after the first half,” Cocu explained. “We knew if Marouane came on the pitch then the game would be more direct, and I think it was positive for us, we prepared for it. The team did well and we even got more space in midfield and on the sides to get into the game. In the first half I can say it was average, but in the second half, in spite of my changes it did not improve,” Van Gaal conceded.
6. Pereiro could be a future star
PSV were forced into a change after just 18 minutes after Luciano Narsingh – who has started 12 of the Dutch club’s 13 league matches this term - picked up an injury.
“It was a gameplan to have speed on the right side against Blind, and to create chances from that side with the pace of Luciano,” Cocu said. “Unfortunately in the game he goes out injured, it was a difficult moment but I think (Gaston) Pereiro did a great job replacing him.”
The 20-year-old wasn’t fazed by the situation and worked tirelessly to simultaneously help out his defenders and offer an attacking threat. Pereiro, who has scored five goals domestically this season including a brace in the victory over Ajax, completed all four of his attempted take-ons and had a high pass-completion rate in the attacking third. He's one to watch.