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Reliance on crossing threatening to keep Man Utd out of top four

Manchester United have now lost more Premier League games this season than they have in any complete campaign for a decade and there can be little argument that they got their tactics wrong at Stoke.

Given Stoke win more aerial duels on average per game than any other Premier League side, Man Utd’s decision to get the ball wide at almost every opportunity was only going to play into their hands.

Even under Sir Alex Ferguson, Man Utd always typically lined up with two wingers, who either ran at defenders like Andrei Kanchelskis and Ryan Giggs, or put crosses into the box, like David Beckham.

David Moyes is therefore not playing tremendously different, but when you have players with the guile of Juan Mata, Shinji Kagawa, Adnan Januzaj, Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie at your disposal, the instructions should be a little more intricate than send hatfuls of balls into the box.

Man Utd have averaged the most crosses in the Premier League this season, while attempting the fewest attacking moves through the central channel. This is the area where they must improve most if to make a late assault on the top four.

Mata, in particular, will be wasted in an advanced central position if the play continually bypasses him. He played more key passes than any of his teammates at Stoke, had a pass accuracy of over 90 per cent and assisted the goal.

Moyes should be using Mata in the same manner that Manuel Pellegrini utilises David Silva at Manchester City, who substantially tops the table for key passes this season across Europe’s top five leagues.

Man Utd’s odds are 5/2 to finish in the top four this season and although five defeats in eight games is not this type of form, they are still only seven points behind Liverpool in fourth.