Poor pressing by united lead to toothless attack
There was a quote by Klopp saying "Counter pressing is the best playmaker" and in this game Manchester united did not take full advantage of the defensive transition when Wolfsburg were unorganised instead United gave up easy space for Wolfsburg which in turn helped with the Germans counter attacking turnovers.
Here is an example of a great opportunity to counter press. United have just lost possession from an unsuccessful cross attempt Wolfsburg are now breaking from deep United have 3 v 1 against the man on the ball. Schneiderlin can block the passing lane into the man behind him leaving a 2v1 opportunity for Mata and Valencia to press the ball carrier. Smalling has stepped up (out of picture) making the man behind Schneiderlin even less dangerous. This opportunity did lead to Wolfsburgs goal however the goal itself had its own defensive issues.
Here United just lost another second ball but have the strength in numbers to counter press. If Depay adjusts his position a few yards to the left he can block the passing lane into the exit pass and trap the player on the ball in the touchline which increases their chances of winning possession even more as "the touchline is the best defender".
Depay reacts late to closing off the passing lane and the United players give the man on the ball too much time to turn and make a pass into acres of space towards his left. Rooney tries to react but he's too deep to affect the play.
Here the player has acres of space to play in and start the counter attack. If it was a team of higher quality the damage could have been much worse.
Lack of movement
We all know how Van gaal likes to play strong sense of possession , pressing and the rigid positioning of the front 3 to allow the spaces in between the lines to open up but this at times can create problems with lack of connectivity. In certain situations its down to the player to use his footballing intelligence to create triangles and offer passing options which will in turn create movement that will cause confusion amongst the opposition but at times this season we are not seeing that from united instead we a seeing a continuous recycle of possession side to side.
Lack of movement and pentration on the right
Martial has moved from his centre forward position and drifting in to wide positions as he did all game this way he can utilise his dribbling skills to his full potential this also suits Mata who can sit inside in between the lines than rather be stuck outside were he is ineffectual. In this situation Mata should move in the opposite direction to Martial or diagonally as highlighted to open up the space(this will drag the cb with him) and allow Martial a clear path. Valencia was far too deep on the right at times and unnecessarily so because of the sufficient cover he had behind him from Schneiderlin.
Now the space has closed off due to Mata's poor decision to drop off but the connectivity for Martial is shockingly bad. Mata has to get tighter and If Valencia provides the width it gives the defender someone else to think about relieving the pressure on Martial on the inside.
This graphic shows how little Valencia got forward and i believe United should have taken more risk in this area which would have created more balance to the team open up the spaces in the middle allowing the more creative players in the middle more space and time on the ball.
In this image Rooney should offer connectivity with Depay as indicated by the arrow (this will create more support and occupy the opposition defenders ).Martial is offering the vertical movements so Rooney should help create a passing option this may even drag a defender with him and create space in front for martial or a cm to exploit. Its all about movement and using possession as a tool.
Rooney was poor all game making poor decisions, poor passes and was the top joint dispossessed player on United with Depay but and atleast the Depay was affecting the game in other areas through dribbles ,movement and positioning.
Wolfsburg sat in a very organised mid block 4-4-2 very position orientated and made it very difficult for United to play through the middle this was a very disciplined performance especially by their two strikers who sacrificed attacking intent for the good of the team and sat really close to the midfield making the space compact and overloading the midfield area. This saw United play the ball mainly in their own half. The players with the most touches were the Blind , Schweinsteiger and Smalling. Schweinsteiger saw most of his touches in his own half(deep and wide around the block) as indicated by his touch map:
This further more shows the efficient job done by the block as a whole. Wolfsburg condensed the space in between the lines very well they made united go wide and force long pointless balls into the box in which they won both the first and second balls on numerous occasions creating dangerous countering situations which United struggled to defend.
Reaction as a unit ,overload for second balls and disrupt United possession rhythm.
United struggle to build through the centre so carry on with their usual "U" shape (possession side to side ) however when the ball reached the side united struggled to play out as the area is overloaded due to the very structured defending of Wolfsburg .
Wolfsburg overload the space around Martial United react rash and play a long diagnol disrupt the rhythm of the possession forces them long which give Wolfsburg time to reshape and re organise.
Wolfsburg force United deep late on
With United 2-1 Wolfsburg had to go for it push for it late on in the game. The passes were blatantly more direct, the pressure intensified and the players psychology changed. Its of no surprise when you see that Wolfsburg had 58 % compared to united 42% in the last 20 minutes of the match.
Bendter came on for Dost who worked his socks off for Wolfsburg up front. It was obvious that Bendtner at 1.94m came on to attack high balls and was involved instantly in a aerial contest with Smalling in which the on form England defender came off on top. United reacted and brought Jones on to help defend the long balls but this change made united sag deeper and deeper putting them under more pressure and leaving space in the middle in front of the defence.
Acres of space for Wolfsburg to turn and run or cross into the box. United have 5 players in the box ready to defend the long ball they are very narrow and there is plenty of space for Wolfsburg to attack.. It was at this stage of the game were united struggled to get out as they were penned in and it became a very scrappy stop start game near the end with many fouls going both ways. United only had a pass succession percentage of 55% by this point as they were struggling to gain necessary connections.
United were not perfect in this game by any means they need to show improvements when counter-pressing. The Man orientated pressing they employ wasn't too bad they set there traps well but Wolfsburg gave United a good match up. If Wolfsburg were a team of more quality i think United could/would have been in trouble as the space they were allowing Wolfsburg both early in the game and especially late on in the dieing moments was suicidal. In addition to this the last 20 minutes was a real struggle in terms of ball retention.United went from dominating the game with 50 odd percent possession to barely scraping 40 in the last 15/20 minutes. Truly awful.
Lastly i just want to address United using Possession as a tool or Possession as a philosophy? Van gaal although a great manager has an obsession with possession and bases his philosophy around moving the ball to move the opponent. This style has cost United games in the past as all you wind up with its constant cycle of possession. Possession with lack of movement and lack of connectivity is what i fear most about united.