Ole Gunnar Solskjaer started his tenure as the caretaker manager with a thumping 5-1 victory over Cardiff City and brought a breath of fresh air after recent times of doom and gloom. Though the sample size is too small and there are many more challenges to be faced, let us take a look at how Ole put up his side. We should keep in mind that Ole got just a few days to train this side and with time we shall see more of his ideas coming forth. We shall see how he copes with tactical battles when opposition will try to exploit United’s weak points. But that is a discussion to be had in future. Let us take a look at the match and basic changes implemented and try to take snippets from it in line of how Ole might line up United in coming days.
Jose Mourinho implemented a lot of tactical systems and formations in search of answers and his team implemented sporadic pressing from the top three while the rest of the side remained compact. This has been Jose’s blueprint from his Chelsea days (his Porto side high pressed in a 4-4-2 diamond). He always had his forwards doing a bit of pressing or screening passing lanes. We shall discuss in detailed regarding tactics of Jose’s all conquering Inter some other day. What Ole did was field a rudimentary 4-3-3 against a Cardiff side who fielded a scattered 4-1-4-1 with more emphasis on right. Ole’s style is more in the line of Biesla and Cruyff than that of Herrero and Bilardo ( Jose and Conte are from the latter school). The formation and movements are somewhat like this:-
He immediately introduced high pressing since he has youthful and energetic forwards.But he did a twist with Lingard by giving him license to drift inwards, bit like LVG did with mata against Liverpool where mata was excellent. LVG termed this as a false winger, though there is no such term in footballing dictionary (there is only a false 9 position, no more false positions in definition), it’s more like a flexible inside forward position. Young was to push up to provide width. Cardiff targeted the right side for attack i.e. United’s left side thinking that Shaw will move and shuttle up. But instead Shaw was stationed more in central zones to cog the centre and help in defence. There was a reason to it, Lindelof was moving up to initiate attack in the style of Pique and Matic was dropping deep to cover. Also Ole used Jones as a modern sweeper behind shaw, matic and lindelof . I think Ole will gradually implement the system of building from back, but due to lack of time and united’s high press, he used Jones as a safety net. Also Lindelof was bursting up field (a style made famous by Baresi and in modern time is followed by Pique the most) with the ball to link up with midfield and attack to compensate for playing from deep. Both Pogba and Herrera were stationed much higher up the pitch and United was a much more compact unit to cater for the high press (Jose Mourinho’s United had more space between the front three and midfield since midfield sat much deeper to provide cushion). Hence it is imperative that United deployed a much higher line under Ole than under Jose, and Ole kept Jones as the last net. Hence his rudimentary 4-3-3 changed into a flatter 3-4-2-1 (or more precisely the famous Dutch 1-3-3-3) during buildup phase which can be summed up as this:-
Now high line has its own problem if not deployed successfully. The entire side need to be in synch and clear zones need to be defined to have suitable passing lanes during build up and pressing zones when the ball is lost. Opponents will surely study and try to exploit such chinks. Also Ole will get time to train and instill his ideas and a clear structure during training sessions. But against Cardiff, it worked like a charm. United’s high press broke up numerous Cardiff attacks and buildups. Lindelof was confident and agile and was continuously moving up with the ball. Shaw was excellent while moving up as well as moving in centre to shield the defence. Also shaw , matic and jones combined to neutralise Cardiff’s right side. Lingard,Martial and Rashford demonstrated fantastic link up play in Cardiff’s box which proved too hot to handle. Pogba and Herrera marshalled the midfield and Young also went in some forward runs to stretch the play.
Let us take a look at the picture :-
Look how compact United is, Lingard is already joining up with Rashford for high press and Shaw is stationed a bit inwards. Martial provided width as well as joined in the press. Also high press from United meant, Martial had time and space to make his runs and dribbles from left channel. Pogba, Matic and Herrera are moving in zones for pressing as well as participate in buildup. Also look at Cardiff targeting United’s left channel which was ultimately nullified by United’s high press as well as a combination of Jones and Shaw.
Now let us take a look at another picture:-
Take a look at how Lindelof is moving up field with the ball to join defence and attack and to compensate for a proper structure of building out from back. Also Matic and Herrera are moving to cover the zone vacated by Lindelof as well as provide passing options or to press if the ball is lost. Also United is playing a much higher line with compact shape with only Jones (not in frame) acting as a modern sweeper.
Make no mistake, questions will be asked in upcoming days and opposition will try to work out weak points, and weak points are there. Ole have to work overtime to provide a definite structure as well as a well balanced plan. But the start has been good and inspiring. How will Ole and United fare in coming days, time will tell.