Manchester United won their first pre-season match of this term by triumphing A-League All Stars 5-1 on Saturday.
Without much ado, let’s look at how David Moyes’s tactics are panning out for the Old Trafford outfit.
While defending, what United have often done in their two pre-season games is first tried to shift the opposition out wide and then closed them down aggressively by creating overloads and narrowing the pitch for them.
Against A-League All Stars, the Red Devils used different approaches to shift their nemesis out wide.
1) Wingers slightly plucked and Ryan Giggs (playing behind Danny Welbeck) dropped back to create a congested midfield.
2) Sometimes, the two central midfielders sat back comfortably and narrowed the space in between the lines.
In the above two cases, All-Stars had no option but to try and attack down the wings.
3) Sometimes either of the two central midfielders (usually Michael Carrick) heavily pressed to put pressure on the opposition, forcing them to pass the ball onto the flanks.
With the All Stars on the wings, the first task was completed.
Now the two central midfielders with help of Giggs and the flank-men pressurized the hosts. United’s structure moved horizontally depending on the flank of action to narrow the area for the opposition.
The wingmen on the opposite flank drifted centrally to nullify any gaps and cut down passing options in the centre, as shown below.
But in this way, United were vulnerable to the All Stars switching sides. However, the Red Devils were rarely caught on here as the numerical advantage on the flanks was such that they ended up winning the ball back.
United sometimes struggled to shift horizontally in a systematic structure and thus, conceded the goal.
Although Michael Keane and Rafael Da Silva moved rightwards, Phil Jones failed to do that. Keane became confused whether to press the player in possession or mark the running Besart Berisha. He first thought of pressing, but then decided to track Berisha. The young defender was too late with his verdict and United went on to concede.
Against All Stars, United’s pressing, again, was very high in the opposition’s half.
Carrick was instrumental, so was Cleverley. With Welbeck and the rest of the attackers also putting pressure, United forced the All-Stars to give away the ball way cheaply in promising areas.
In the opposition half, United pressed on the wings in almost a similar manner the way they did in their own half.
Cleverley and Carrick assisted the flank-men, the opposite wingmen shifted centrally, while this, Giggs and Welbeck pressed robustly.
Rafael and Evra only pressed when the attacking wingers came in possession. Rafael, particularly, was exceptional in this regard.
But since Carrick and Cleverley were romping ahead, United left spaces in front of the back-four. Either of the two central midfielders did close down the space, like Anderson did the last time, but this happened only sporadically.
So Rio Ferdinand (and later Keane) was compelled to mark the All Stars’ attacker who got into that space. Jesse Lingard’s opener was indirectly owing to this. Carrick won the ball for United before Ferdinand had forced the attacker who got into the space in between the lines to play the ball back in his own half.
But when two or three players got behind Carrick and Cleverley, United were in trouble.
And this led to All Stars’ first real chance of the game, in the 12th minute.
Two players got behind Cleverley and Carrick. Ferdinand stuck with one, but when the other player got hold of the ball, Jones and Patrice Evra both came out their positions to press him.
At the same time, the left-winger beat Rafael to cut inside and create a two-versus-one case against Ferdinand. The former Leeds United youngster subsequently lost his own marker, allowing the latter to run the channel and have a go at goal.
Nonetheless, United’s pressing in All Stars’ area was good and they cut down the passing options very well.
The Red Devils, however, remained relatively calm in their own half, pressing only on the wings and when wanting to shift the opposition out wide.
Getting Behind the Defense
Due to the explosive pace in United’s attackers, the latter continually tried to get behind the defense.
They were provided ammunition by the following two methods.
1) United pressed high and as soon as they won the ball, an attacker was released. Lingard’s first goal is an example of this approach with Cleverley and Welbeck releasing the 20-year-old.
Build up to Robin van Persie’s goal also took place via this tactic.
2) United invited pressure when the ball was in their own half by keeping it for an extended duration. As the All Stars moved high up the pitch, a quick a long ball was launched to an attacker. Wilfried Zaha, Lingard and Welbeck timed their runs very well, making this plan an outstanding hit.
Now, when the passes were played through the center for the attacker, Welbeck or Lingard (making an untracked run from the left) tried to pounce onto them.
And when the passes were played diagonally, Zaha or Lingard was generally called into action.
Such long balls helped the wingers to catch the full-back off-guard and directly get into one-versus-one situations. Moreover, the two were also provided support to outnumber their markers.
Evra and Rafael got forward quickly and unmarked as the All Stars’ wingers had moved high up to press, while Welbeck and Giggs also helped. Sometimes, one of the latter two would receive the ball on the left-wing, with Lingard shifting centrally in his free role (to be discussed later).
After outnumbering the full-backs, United emphasized on getting the ball into the box as quickly as possible.
Finally, the Red Devils also got behind the defence by running channels, which was easily viable during wing overloads.
Welbeck’s first goal was also owing to this strategy- Lingard and Giggs caught the attention of three defenders during build-up, allowing the striker to get behind the two centre-backs and latch onto Giggs’s pass.
1. United’s positional versatility was again, immense. Giggs and Welbeck often dropped onto the flanks. Lingard shifted centrally. In the second half, Zaha, Lingard and Welbeck, were swapping positions for fun (the full-backs provided the lacking width).
2. Wing overloads continued, with Lingard’s second goal a direct result of a testimony to this claim- Evra’s run distracted the full-back, giving the youngster the time to place the shot.
3. One winger was again drifting centrally (Lingard) and the other was providing the width (Zaha).
Different From Last Game
Carrick and Cleverley
In the previous game, Carrick and Cleverley were much more attacking. As a result, United sometimes congested the final third for their own good and two also became exhausted, courtesy of the additional pressing duties.
This time around, Carrick and Cleverley stayed deep and their attacking duties were relieved. This helped them in conserving energy and pressing more effectively.
All they had to was provide passes to the attackers and win the ball back.
Attacking Wide and Being More Direct
Against Thailand All Stars side, United often tried to penetrate via the center of the park but couldn’t do so due to overcrowding.
This time, they plainly attacked down the wings, stretching the play as much as possible. This automatically provided more space to the United players.
Wing overloads, as aforementioned, occurred on a regular basis.Moreover, Welbeck dropped to the wings to start attacks and Zaha was basically running down the touchline and providing crosses every alternative time for Welbeck, Lingard and Giggs.
Moyes wanted his players to be more direct, get into one-on-one situations on the touchline or outnumber on the flanks and then get the ball into the 18-yard-box.
Also, the players took more shots and there were more one-twos and link-ups. Not to forget, long balls were utilized so that United could quickly get into the final third.
Basically the Red Devils were being more risky, even if meant getting the dispossessed easily. The tempo was high and players looked fresher and livelier, maybe due to the calm weather.