“Everything is going wrong” – David De Gea, Man United
A brutally honest assessment from Man United’s number one in his post-match interview following Manchester United’s sorry defeat to Newcastle on Sunday. Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s men continued their dismal away form, extending their time without victory even further from that magnificent night in Paris – which seems a long time ago now. United have now lost their third game in the Premier League this season, slumping to 12th in the table. The 1-0 victory for the Magpies lifted them out of the relegation zone.
Steve Bruce opted for a familiar defensive shape, with the intention of frustrating the visitors. He implemented a rigid 5-4-1 system, consisting of Jerome Lascelles, Ciaran Clark and Fabian Schär as the centre-backs. This additional centre-back assisted in covering the movement in the half-spaces and also prevented overloads on the wings. Homegrown brothers Matt and Sean Longstaff started as the central midfielders. Their role was to provide stability to the defensive shape and use their narrow positioning to block passing lanes into the front men, which they did expertly. New signing Joelinton started as the lone striker- he was used as a target man during an offensive transition, supported by Miguel Almirón and Allan Saint-Maximin.
Wholesale changes were made to the United team as Solskjær looked for solutions to his mounting injury troubles. Diogo Dalot and Ashley Young started as the full-backs. Youngster Axel Tuanzebe continued to impress as Harry Maguire’s centre-back partner. No Paul Pogba offered a place for Fred, who operated in a double pivot with Scott McTominay that lacked any creativity or expansive thinking. Marcus Rashford continued as the number nine, his obvious isolation up front coupled with a lack of instinctive movement led to a frustrating afternoon for the England international.
Newcastle’s gameplan became obvious from the first minute as they implemented their defensive strategy expertly. Out of possession, their full-backs stayed tight alongside the centre-backs, who sat deep to prevent exposable spaces in behind. The Longstaffs protected the defensive unit by reducing the vertical spaces between the lines. This stopped Juan Mata and Andreas Pereira occupying dangerous pockets of space in front of Newcastle’s defensive line. The pair also supported each other as they worked in tandem to shift across to block passing lanes in Man United’s build-up. We can see how close they were positioned to each other, which stopped passing lanes from opening up through their midfield line. The young duo made 7 interceptions and 14 recoveries between them throughout the match.
From the low defensive block, Newcastle looked to spring into attack with fast offensive transitions. Their two tactical techniques to counter effectively was using long passes into Joelinton and then play off him. The Brazillian won 55% of his aerial battles, which is impressive against a defender like Maguire. Almirón’s positioning was key to this tactic, as we can see above how closely to Joelinton he played to connect the attack cohesively and pick up on second balls.
The second tactic used to transition up the field effectively was using Saint-Maximin to travel through the phases. The Frenchman was a constant thorn in the side of Dalot who struggled to restrict the dribbling ability and flair of the Newcastle winger. Saint-Maximin made 6 progressive runs in the match and attempted 9 dribbles which demonstrates his effectiveness in the match. We can see from his advanced position that he also sought to use his pace in behind United’s back four.
Man United continued with the approach play we’ve become accustomed to seeing this season. They built up their attacks by playing short passes through each phase of the pitch. The centre-backs linked with the double pivot who dropped deeper in search of the ball. It was from this point in their ball rotations that Man United struggled to develop the attack into anything meaningful. Their slow horizontal passes combined with each player taking too many touches on the ball allowed the Newcastle players to get set in their defensive structure. This then made forward passes into dangerous areas much harder to find as the spaces were constantly blocked by the Newcastle defensive unit. Man United’s centre-backs touched the ball 197 times between them as they struggled to develop attacks higher up.
A creative block
Solskjær has called for calm following his side’s third defeat and is urging the fans to stay faithful in this period of uncertainty. The fans cannot question the effort of the players and having a depleted squad is acting as a shield for the Norweigan. However, not scoring again after a midweek fixture where not a single shot was registered has shone the light on the Manchester legend and it is beginning to magnify. With Liverpool next on the fixture list, things may just go from bad to worse.
Steve Bruce will be delighted with not just the three points on home soil but the manner of the victory. He saw energy, commitment and grit from his side that will be absolutely necessary if they want to keep their Premier League status. Within that Bruce has uncovered another homegrown talent, with Matt Longstaff putting in an exemplary performance and grabbing the winning goal on what will be a truly memorable day for the 19-year-old. I have a feeling we might be seeing more of the youngster from now on.
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