David Moyes kickstarted his Manchester United tenure with a disappointing 1-0 loss against Thailand’s Singha All Stars team.
Although it’s way too early to make any judgments about United’s set-up under Moyes, we look at some tactical notes from the game.
High Line, High Pressing
In a surprising move, Moyes deployed a relatively high backline and ordered his troops to press high up the pitch.
The two wingers, along with Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley applied robust pressure in the oppositions’ half, while Danny Welbeck also pressed by dropping back a little.
Carrick was the backbone of United’s pressing.
The England international averaged the highest number of interceptions of all the United players last term and was also the third best tackler. His ball-winning skills are clearly underrated as Carrick can be a massive asset during pressing. Hence, in order to make optimum utilization of the 31-year-old’s traits, Moyes told Carrick to get very high up the pitch and pressurize the opposition.
However, in the Premier League this might not work due to the Englishman’s lack of pace and mobility.
Cleverley is better at doing the donkey work in the midfield than Anderson, so the Brazil international usually closed down space ahead of the defense when others pressed.
Nonetheless, Anderson couldn’t do this every time as he was the most advanced midfielder for majority of the game. Carrick or Cleverley swapped roles with the Brazilian to nullify this deficit, but this often caused confusion among the three central midfielders and United ended up leaving large gaps in front of Rio Ferdinand and co.
There was massive space behind the defense too, which was thoroughly exploited via long balls and through balls by Singha.
If Moyes wants to play with a high line, he needs to think carefully how he will accommodate the relatively ‘slow’ Jonny Evans and Ferdinand and the full-backs with mediocre positional awareness.
United’s pressing was overall impressive though. They cut down passing options for the man in possession admirably well and succeeded in narrowing down the field of play when out of possession.
When the ball entered the defending third, United shifted their focus from pressing robustly to simply closing down the space in between the zones. They congested the flanks sometimes as it helped them to win the ball back quickly but most of the time, the Red Devils emphasized on getting eight or nine men behind the ball and defending in an structured and disciplined manner.
Mobility and Fluidity
Carrick operated as the deep lying midfielder, with Tom Cleverley and Anderson acting as “shuttlers”- marauding up and down the pitch. The three formed the chain between the two ends of the pitch.
Anderson was generally the most advanced midfielder and Carrick the deepest.
Cleverley basically positioned himself with the movement of the play. When the ball was in the defending third, he dropped back a little to orchestrate the play and as the ball transited into the final third, Cleverley went along with the flow.
Anderson and Cleverley sometimes interchanged roles. The same can be said for Carrick and Cleverley but it happened only occasionally.
Basically, Cleverley and Anderson were given free roles to roam all over the field (even on to the wings), while Carrick pulled the strings from the back.
Ryan Giggs drifted in from the left wing and either supported Welbeck upfront or provided another passing outlet in the centre of the park. Alexander Buttner (later Fabio Da Silva) was very quick to move upfront and provide the missing width on the left side.
Adnan Januzaj also had a free role, in which he was basically providing width from the both the flanks. Starting on the right, he regularly flowed onto the opposite flank when required, with Anderson acting as a makeshift right-winger (although the 25-year-old eventually drifted in and the right-back pushed forward).
Moyes wanted one winger (Giggs, later Jesse Lingard) to drift centrally and the other to stay wide (Januzaj, later Wilfried Zaha) and stretch play.
Although Januzaj spent considerable time on both the two flanks and sometimes even plucked in, the youngster was always present to widen the football map.
His directness, pace and liveliness made him a distinct attacking outlet for the Red Devils. Same goes for Zaha.
Welbeck also dropped back to open up channels and contribute towards the build-up play. Sometimes the 22-year-old tried to get behind the backline but miserably failed at it and he also wasted several scoring chances.
United aim was to overload all segments of the pitch.
- With Giggs drifting in, the centre of the park was overloaded and the Red Devils could easily pass the ball around. But United never really utilized this advantage. Their passing was poor and inside the first six minutes, they had displaced three ball in their own half.
Anderson and Cleverley were all over the pitch, but their influence was limited. Both looked rusty and lackluster.
- Then, United created overloads in the final third, mainly just outside the penalty area. Cleverley and Anderson made attacking runs and provided support to Giggs and Welbeck. Carrick supplied the ammunition (although the end product was lacking).
But, United lacked penetration and were lost for ideas on several occasions, forcing Carrick to shift the play out wide. In these cases, Januzaj or a full-back came in handy to provide width. Sometimes, Cleverley or Anderson would drop back and help Carrick to dictate play but to no effect.
- Then there were the wing overloads. The versatile roles of the players made it easy to easy to overload the flanks. The full-backs played an important role with their overlapping runs. Here, United ensured that while they overloaded the flanks, there were always men present inside Singha’s penalty area to provide a crossing outlet (usually Giggs and Welbeck or Januzaj if the wing opposite to him was being overloaded). If a flank became too suffocated, United switched play centrally and tried to get into the penalty area from there, or passed to the ball to the full-back on the opposite side of the pitch.
- Overloads were also created in the 18-yard-box, when one of United’s wingmen would be about to cross in. The density of the overload varied.
If too many players were utilized to help the winger to get into a promising position to cross in, then there obviously couldn’t be many players inside the box at the most were facilitating the overload process on the wings. But if only two players were on the wing (winger and the full-back), then five to six United players could be found in the penalty area.
- There were also defensive overloads on the wings as aforementioned.
What one could notice was that the full-backs were very attacking. Fabio and Buttner were very quick to provide width when Giggs shifted in and the two along, with Rafael, made the pivotal overlap runs that helped in the overloading process.
What happens with most teams is that although the full-backs have to stretch the field of play, they don’t do it often enough or are too slow in doing so. Hence, if the centre gets crowded, the team’s attack renders futile. United didn’t let this happen.
1) Anderson was given more attacking freedom that he was afforded during Ferguson’s regime. The injury-prone star was never given the opportunity to play in his favored role of an attacking midfielder under Fergie, but Moyes might change this now.
2) United clearly lacked ideas in the final third. Apart from Januzaj and Zaha later on, no one could provide any sort of attacking impetus. The positioning of the players was good, overloads were impressive, but the end product has horrendous.
3) Emphasis could be put on ball retention and possession play.
4) Current lot of defenders at Old Trafford are not suited for a high line.
5) Phil Jones played as a midfielder during his half-an-hour cameo, indicating his potential role under Moyes.
6) Januzaj and Zaha have the potential to break into the first team in the upcoming season.
7) Positional bias will be high under Moyes.
What did you think of the first pre-season match?