Manchester United tactical analysis
According to the International Center for Sports Research (CIES), Manchester United has the worst transfer balance of any European club in the last ten years. United have spent more than £1.3bn on transfers, earning around £400m for a loss of £909m. It cannot be said that this money was spent wisely. The Red Devils have already been eliminated from all cup competitions this season, and in the Premier League, Rangnick’s team is fighting for a top 4 finish. Thus, Manchester United will remain without trophies for the fifth season in a row. This hasn’t happened to England’s biggest club since the late 80s.
The fight to finish in the top four is like a game of giveaway. Even Chelsea, at one time considered a championship contender, began to flirt with their pursuers, scoring just 14 points in the last ten rounds. But still, the “blues” are still third and at a short distance, and West Ham, Manchester United, Tottenham, Wolverhampton and, of course, Arsenal, which is the most stable of the listed teams, claim the fourth position.
Manchester United, having signed Ronaldo, Sancho, and Varane in the summer, had to make a leap forward and impose competition on their geographical (Manchester City) and historical (Liverpool) rivals. But instead, Manchester United is pushing elbows in a narrow area with the giants of the second tier and just good teams. And Ralph Rangnick looks less and less like a man who is able to push such stubborn people as Conte and Arteta.
Rangnick, after his appointment, said that he wanted to see the control in the performance of his team, it was necessary to achieve reliability at his goal, and in attack to rely more on teamwork, and not bursts of genius from Fernandes, Ronaldo, or Pogba.
What do the numbers say? The second leg against Atlético was Rangnick’s 20th as Manchester United head coach. During this period, his team suffered 4 defeats, drawing 7 times. Under Rangnick, the Red Devils were eliminated from the FA Cup to Middlesbrough and also from the Champions League. Their opponent in the 1/8 was Atlético Madrid, who were better in both matches and deservedly went further. With the German, Manchester United scores an average of 1.4 goals per match, while conceding 0.95 times per match. Under Solskjaer, the Mancunians scored more, but also conceded more.
But what can be said without numbers – the control over the matches that Rangnick wants to see, “United” did not appear. The German coach has tried three schemes, shuffles the composition, but often steps on the same rake that cost his predecessor his job.
Let’s move on to the problems of the team, of which there are many:
The problem with the team’s midfield❗️
Most of the attention in recent months has been paid to unreliable defense and ineffective Manchester United forwards. However, the team’s real problem seems to lie in midfield.
Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard, Juan Mata, Donny van de Beek and Nemanja Matic are all players who could leave Manchester this summer. Footballers like Scott McTominay and Fred, despite their hard work, will not be able to resist the midfield of Manchester City, Liverpool or Chelsea. Manchester United needs a defensive midfielder and a more effective position for Bruno Fernandes.
If the club wants to compete for trophies next season, Manchester United will need a completely different selection of midfielders.
Cristiano Ronaldo mystery❗️
When Cristiano Ronaldo made a sensational return to Old Trafford last summer, many United fans went wild. Statistics show that the Portuguese superstar has answered his critics with 15 goals in 30 games this season. But a closer look at the numbers shows that 14 of those goals were scored in his first 20 games. Ronaldo’s form in the last two months raises a lot of questions – he scored only one goal in his last 10 matches for the club. More importantly, it is becoming clear that Cristiano is becoming more and more limited in terms of speed and pressure.
Not to say that this problem is the main one in the camp of the red devils, but still it is present. Suffice it to recall the cup match with Middlesbrough, in which Manchester United had about six clear scoring chances. Ronaldo missed a penalty, Fernandes missed an empty goal, Sancho, in addition to scoring a goal, hit the crossbar. The advantage of United was overwhelming, but Middlesbrough equalized after a strange goal (the attacking player accidentally stopped the ball with his hand, but since he passed and did not punch, the referee had no complaints about the goal), and the Championship team won the penalty shootout.
Something similar happened in the match with Watford in the 27th round of the Premier League. 22 shots on goal, 2.47 XG goals, but the match ended 0-0 anyway. And this is in a game with a team that is in the relegation zone and concedes 2 goals per match on average.
Problems within the team❗️
Manchester United will have a new manager this summer and everyone understands that. Rangnick himself, the players, their agents, the club’s management. If Manchester United had a strong, well-played team with a great dressing room atmosphere, this wouldn’t be a problem. But you can’t really say the same about MU.
You can start with how the players themselves undermine the authority of the German coach. When Rangnick said that Martial did not want to go to the match with Villa, the Frenchman voiced his version – he allegedly was not called, although he was ready. In the next two fights, Martial appeared in the application, and then went on loan to Sevilla. A similar story was with Jesse Lingard. The transfer of the 29-year-old midfielder to Newcastle fell through at the last moment due to the arrest and suspension of Greenwood. Lingard was extremely upset by this, and according to Rangnick asked for a couple of days off to “clear his head”. Lingard himself claims that it was the club that recommended him to “rest”. Cavani returns late from Uruguay, to which Rangnick also turns a blind eye. Ronaldo says in an interview with Sky Sports that young players refuse to listen to his criticism and then behave like a child when Rangnick took him off the field to keep the victory over Brentford. After every bad away match, Ronaldo runs the fastest to the locker room, forgetting to thank the thousands of Manchester United fans who spend a lot of money and time to support their team across the country. A good example for young players. They are just a bunch of whiners,” Gary Neville exclaimed in his hearts after the game with Newcastle (1:1), when, in addition to Ronaldo, he “forgot” to thank the away fans and Bruno Fernandes.
The future of a number of football players is in question. The contracts of Pogba, Lingard end in the summer, Jones, Mata, van de Beek, and Henderson want to leave the club. Insiders say that the team has broken into “groups” that do not communicate with each other, there is a lot of discontent and little unity.
It is obvious why Manchester United is inferior to Manchester City and Liverpool. Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp have completely redrawn the squads for themselves, if someone does not want to stay, they will gladly part with him for good money – as City recently did by selling Ferran Torres to Barcelona. The Manchester United squad, without any idea or vision, was assembled by five different coaches, and Rangnick, with his great experience, but the status of acting, has neither the time nor the opportunity to mold something holistic out of him.
This is not the whole list of problems for this team. But let’s move on to the positives now. Here it is worth noting the game of Scott McTominay, David De Gea and the progress of Anthony Elanga. Despite the criticism that pours out on the Scot, this season he can be considered one of the few bright spots in the Mancunians. He does a huge amount of work and makes a minimum of unforced errors. De Gea is perhaps the main player of the team this season. His solid play keeps Man Utd’s hopes of reaching the top 4 to this day. The Spaniard was recognized as the best player in the team from November to February. Manchester United’s main discovery under Rangnick was the Swede of Cameroonian origin Anthony Elanga. The 19-year-old midfielder first appeared in the first team last spring, when the team was led by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. However, the footballer could not immediately gain a foothold in the base and until the fall he played for the youth team of Manchester United. If in the first 14 rounds of the season, Elanga never got into the team’s squad for the match of the English Premier League (EPL), then after defeating Palace in the 15th round, he did not miss a single game, scoring twice – in the game with Brentford (3:1) and Leeds (4:2). As ESPN reported, due to Elanga’s progress, Manchester United decided to let Anthony Marcial (to Sevilla) and Amad Diallo (to Rangers) on loan. At the end of December, Anthony signed a new contract with the club until 2026.
Manchester United’s last match in the Premier League was against Tottenham Hotspur. In it Ralf Rangnik’s team won with a score of 3:2. Let’s take a closer look at this match and try to understand what contribution Rangnick made to this victory❗️
The German coach demonstrated an original idea in attack. It is commendable that the absence of Bruno Fernandes did not hit the potential of Manchester United in front – the best assistant was injured literally the day before the game. The main defensive midfielder Scott McTominay was also missing – he also had an injury, which is why Nemanja Matic was released from the first minutes.
The first half passed without a territorial advantage of one of the teams. Mainly due to the lack of constant pressure. There was no element of surprise here: Ronaldo and Pogba came out in the first line for Manchester United, and Tottenham under Conte as a whole do not specialize in pressure (they use it from time to time, but they occupy the only tenth place in the Premier League in terms of its intensity).
As a result, the first half was reminiscent of other sports (for example, basketball or handball), where, due to the specifics of the rules, one team attacks first, and after the ball is passed, the other. Perhaps the initiative was determined only by the score: with a draw, Manchester United were more active, and when he came out ahead, Tottenham Hotspur. The numbers well emphasize the strict order in the attack: possession of 55% to 45% in favor of the Spurs and equal 70:70 in assists in the opponent’s third of the field.
Nominally, the three midfielders Matic, Fred, and Pogba were point up (Matic and Fred were defensive midfielders, Pogba was ten), but in positional attacks, they lined up much more interesting. All three acted in hybrid roles.
Matic dropped back and formed a back three with Varane and Maguire – and appeared in all three positions (left, center and right back). This is not a new trick for Nemanja (he also acted like this under Solskjaer), but yesterday it was traced on an ongoing basis:
Fred’s transformation during the game – promotions to the Spurs’ support zone. The Brazilian changed his role from six to ten:
Pogba was also not chained to his position but moved even more freely. Often, in general, he turned out to be closest to someone else’s gate:
This did not lead to a lot of chances, but it hit Tottenham’s defensive structure. A good example is Manchester United’s first goal. There were advantages both from the deep position of Matic, and from the promotion of Fred to the supporting Spurs. A situational triple from behind (Matic was central in it) allowed Rafa Varan to advance the ball and pull Rodrigo Bentancur onto himself. Only Pierre-Emil Heibjerg remained in the supporting Spurs – he was played by Ronaldo and Fred:
The second goal can also be associated with Rangnik’s idea – Matic performed the pre-goal pass from the position of the left central defender. But perhaps the brightest in the trinity was Fred. The Brazilian combined great between the lines with Cristiano – he immediately gave 3 passes under the blow, which is very different from his performance in the season (on average per game – only 1 pass).
And here Ronaldo and Fred do not combine directly, but they find themselves together against one Son – the episode will end with a killer blow from the Portuguese:
After the break, we saw a much more one-sided picture. For clarity, back to the numbers. Here, Tottenham has an advantage both in possession (60% to 40%) and in the number of assists in someone else’s third (103 to 55). At the same time, such a pattern (playing obviously the first number Tottenham against Manchester United, obviously playing on the counterattacks) almost did not lead to chances: in the second half, the teams were honored with only 3 shots from the game.
Closeness sponsor – Rangnik’s settings for the second half. Apparently, the score and the negative trend (the frequent failures of Manchester United after the break) influenced – United did not even try to put pressure.
The compact 4-4-1-1 became the basis on this segment – Ronaldo remained above everyone else, slightly below him (as a rule – according to Bentancur) Pogba acted:
During the protracted attacks of the guests, Manchester United switched to an even more closed model – the wingers (Rashford and Sancho) became situationally the fifth defender. Sometimes even six defenders were formed with them:
On the one hand, this minimized Tottenham’s potential in the attack. Even though the Spurs needed to come back, they only had one hit in the second half. On the other hand, it was not possible to launch counterattacks on a regular basis due to the deep positions of Rashford and Sancho. To some extent, this explains the almost complete lack of sharpness in the second half. It’s funny that the episode with Maguire’s own goal was almost the only one in the half when Manchester United lacked a situational fifth defender. Sancho at some point switched off from the episode – because of this, Diogo Dalot was left against two opponents at once:
Manchester United’s winning goal is another round of applause for Cristiano, but perhaps I’ll muster up the courage and again note Rangnick’s decisions. Ralph managed events well even in the end. A few minutes before the goal, Ronaldo switched to a game with two attackers (he released Edinson Cavani, and sent Pogba to the support team), and almost immediately after, he switched to the back five, replacing Cristiano with Victor Lindelof.
The transition to the top five defenders, in the end, is already Rangnick’s trademark. He likes to dry up matches in which Manchester United led, but runs into problems without the ball – the same trick Ralph turned against Brentford and Leeds. In all cases, Ronaldo became a victim, so there is also respect for courage.
The match against Tottenham is an illustration of what a team with Ronaldo in the squad can expect. United lacked the qualities of a top club (above all, pressing) to attack on a regular basis, but even when you have limited time to attack, Cristiano’s genius in individual episodes is sometimes enough to win.
In the summer, Manchester United is waiting for a restructuring. The main signing will be a new head coach. The main candidate is Eric Ten Hag. In the meantime, the Red Devils need to finish the season and, despite their problems, finish in the top 4. Without the Champions League, the team will not be easy.