Tactically Speaking: Coyle overlooked the obvious and Bolton got torn to shreds

Posted on September 11, 2011


If I ever get to speak to Owen Coyle, I’m going to show him my previous blog entry and tell him “I TOLD YOU SO”. The fixture list hasn’t been kind to Bolton, but that doesn’t mean that they should overlook the obvious flaw in their gameplay. The fact that Bolton had more shots on goal than United doesn’t hide the fact that the home team was completely overrun on the pitch. Bolton at times were like their supporters in the stands – completely silent and just watching United boss around.

Both teams lined up in 4-4-2 as it was predicted with couple of surprising changes. Chris Smalling was left on the bench for Rio Ferdinand and Phil Jones took over the right back duties. It was understandable as Manchester United have a double date next week with their trip to Benfica and then hosting Chelsea and Fergie saw it fit to rest Smalling and give Ferdinand a run in before the tougher games. Owen Coyle went for the jugular by resting Fabrice Muamba and Gretar Steinsson and picking Mark Davies and Manchester City loanee Dedryk Boyata. I had mentioned in my previous entry that Muamba was used as a fifth defender in the corresponding fixture last season and that was against a Manchester United team that didn’t have this season’s team’s attacking verve and style. I believe Coyle missed a trick by not playing the defensive minded Muamba. The absence of Stuart Holden and Lee Chung-Yong has taken the bite and creativity out of Bolton’s midfield and the duo are being sorely missed.

It has been established that United’s most attacking outlet is their left flank where Evra, Young and Rooney have combined with devastating results and Coyle was diligent enough in noting that and tried to plug it by deploying Nigel Reo-Coker to support Boyata and Eagles. Take a look at Reo-Coker’s positions during the game – he was generally leaning towards his right with Davies left to man the centre of the midfield.

Reo-Coker’s positions, generally towards the right

As predicted by yours truly, United promptly focused their attack through their right flank – Bolton’s left. The Trotters were not prepared and were blown away. Nani and Jones ran behind Petrov and Paul Robinson at will and pulled the strings to such an extent that all five of United’s goals came from the right flank. Petrov is a very attacking player – I give you that. But that is no excuse for him to stay high up the pitch. As expected, Petrov’s positioning high up the field required Robinson to move up to support him during attack but they were woefully caught out when United attacked or counter-attacked. Take a look at Petrov’s positioning.

Martin Petrov – tended to stay in United’s half and his team suffered

Now compare this with United’s right wing duo of Nani and Jones. They started deep so as to neuter Bolton’s attacking threat through Petrov and then stamped their authority on the wing.












Nani & Jones – covered the flank well and bossed it

The Result: 

Whenever United attacked through their right, it meant that Gary Cahill was pulled out of his central role towards his left to support Robinson, thereby affecting Bolton’s defensive equilibrium. Bolton’s failure on their left wing meant that they were under-staffed either on their left or at center and this resulted in not one or two but all five of the goals United scored. Take a look at the ball movement for the goals and it will tell you the entire story. If not for the offside flag, the score could have been seven or eight – nil. It is surprising that Owen Coyle would fail to look at the obvious and even more so when the goals started to flow in. At the least he could have done what Mick McCarthy did at Villa Park by taking out his wingers and played four central midfielders so as to nullify Villa’s attack through the wings. Let’s hope that Owen Coyle doesn’t commit the folly next time around as his teams have a tough run in.

All 5 United goals – through the right