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Tactical and Technical Post-Match Dissection of United’s Frustrating Performance Against Southampton

Southampton, Southampton Vs United

Manchester United’s 4-2-3-1 line-up against Southampton saw a couple of changes, with captain Ashley Young and Juan Mata starting their first Premier League game of the current season. Luke Shaw’s injury had promoted Young to the starting line-up and Lingard, with his questionable stats, was finally benched.

When the referee, Mike Dean, blew the starting whistle to flag off the game between Southampton and Manchester United, the Red Devils’ players and fans all over the world hoped to conclude the night with 3 points in the bucket.

The initial few minutes saw United going through a rough start. They soon became the dominant team of the first half after Daniel James’ exhilarating goal. They continued to carry the ball up to the attacking third beyond Southampton’s high pressing line, but failed to convert those opportunities to goals.

The second half saw the tables turn, with Vestergaard’s equaliser. Kevin Danso’s two yellow cards saw the Saints reduced to 10 men, but United failed to convert any opportunities and the night ended in a 1-1 draw.

Let’s go into the finer details for a tactical and technical analysis:

1. Defence

The major pro about United’s defence was that they remained calm and composed for the majority of the game. When they regained possession in the defensive third, they rarely ever went for the clearance, but rather chose to play the ball out of danger. They were able to retain their shape and remain organised despite Wan-Bissaka and Young moving up to the deeper parts of the pitch.

Wan-Bissaka contributed excellently to the attacking build-up throughout the game and even managed to get an attempt on goal. Lindelof was able to fend off many 2v1 situations he found himself in with his excellent positioning.

Young had bits of marvelous defending here and there, but lacked when it came to creating attacking opportunities, which a wing-back in a 4-2-3-1 setup is expected to do. Maguire made a few good tackles, but failed to provide cover to Lindelof very often – most notably the corner from which Vestergaard equalised. Maguire will have to undertake his responsibilities as a center-back and support Lindelof whenever necessary.

In the rare case of a major mistake in the defensive third, De Gea was quick to shut down any opportunity to the opponent. The responsibility of ensuring the center-backs provide a cover for each other will fall on De Gea’s shoulder as well.

2. Midfield

The vast majority of United’s mistakes in the match against Southampton either occurred in midfield or were a direct result of slip-ups in the midfield.

While Scott McTominay played a pivotal role in Daniel James’ goal, it was sadly the only time throughout the match that he contributed significantly. Pogba was barely seen in the first half and often gave the ball away to the opposition very cheaply. However, he did produce bits of wonder with excellent passes and a beautiful lay-off for Rashford in the second half.

Pereira was often seen positioned in areas where no ball could have been played to him. Juan Mata had a pretty good evening, contributing largely to United’s attacking efforts. He had an excellent understanding of each player’s movement across the pitch.

Matic proved to be a positive change for United in the second half and United began to dominate the final 15 minutes of the match. Daniel James, rightly voted “King Of The Match”, scored a sensational goal, his third in four matches. He often took shots on goal and created many opportunities – exactly the kind of player United needs at this point.

Lingard will no doubt be met with heavy criticism after failing to pass the ball in the final ten minutes to a free Mason Greenwood as well as to a free Paul Pogba. Rather, he went for 2 long shots from 30 yards out which were nowhere near the target.

3. Attack

United failed to capitalise on all the opportunities they received. One player under the highest fire on this front would be Marcus Rashford, whose shots were sub-par. Two of his opportunities were easily thwarted by Vestergaard while the other was dreadfully placed right into the keeper’s open hands. While Rashford positioned himself well most of the time, he was unable to make an impact after receiving the ball.

Another major question to be asked is who should be taking United’s set pieces, in particular – free kicks. Pogba also tried a long ball from near the half line at one point. He could have arguably been more impactful if he had been in a position to receive the ball and let Wan-Bissaka take the free kick.

4. 4-2-3-1 Formation

A 4-2-3-1 formation is famous for the amount of flexibility it offers. United did an excellent job making use of this particular attribute. They went from playing compact at the back congesting the opposition to counter-attacking quickly and adopting a wider set-up. In general, the entire team played each and every role irrespective of individual positions, which brought out the beauty of the 4-2-3-1 formation.

Most importantly, on paper, the formation lists out a lone striker (in this case, Rashford). In reality, the striker is never a lone one. He always has the support of the line of attacking midfielders behind him and in some cases, even the defenders. This 4-2-3-1 trait was brought out perfectly against Southampton- we witnessed Wan-Bissaka crossing and taking shots, James scoring and Mata providing excellent support to Rashford.


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To sum the entire match up in a few words – It was exhilarating to watch the tables turn every now and then, and frustrating to see how United failed to convert so many goal scoring opportunities.

The upcoming match against Leicester City will be a much tougher one for United. Will Solskjaer’s men be able to organise their attack and make the most of whatever opportunities they may create?

We will have to wait and see. Stay tuned for more.

Just your everyday kid on the block who hopes she'll be managing a Premier League team one day :)

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