Manchester United peaking at the right time with another exciting performance against Sunderland

It turned out to be another nightmare for former Manchester United manager David Moyes as his side were thrashed 3-1 at the Theatre of Dreams. With this victory, the Red Devils made it five consecutive wins in all competitions.

Man United lineup

Overloads in the left halfspace

This has been a common pattern for Manchester United throughout the season. They try to make overloads in the left halfspace. With players like Ibrahimovic,Pogba,Mata,Carrick,Herrera and Lingard, it is no surprise that the Red Devils excel in circulating the ball effectively in these tight spaces. This was evident throughout the whole game. Daley Blind’s goal late in the first half was a fine example of this strategy. While the midfielders were making local combinations, Blind saw the space to run into the box and powered a bottom corner shot to give the hosts the lead.

Manchester United’s left sided overload before Blind scored the first goal

 If the Red devils fail to penetrate using local combinations, Pogba uses his excellent distribution to find Valencia’s surging runs down the right flank. In a way, Valencia’s role is similar to the one which Dani Alves used to play in Barcelona. Valencia’s pace enables him to beat the opposition fullback before he has even touched the ball. As a result, this enables him to have more time to choose his next decision. 

Pogba’s diagonal passes to Valencia are a thing of beauty but made possible by the other players shifting over to the left side.

A refreshing aspect of Manchester United’s season so far has been their fluid off-the-ball movements in the final third. This was missing last season due to Louis van Gaal’s rigid positional structure. In this game, players like Lingard and Mata were exceptional in their movements-off-the-ball. Whenever Zlatan dropped deep from his position as Centre Forward, either Mata or Lingard made sure that they kept the opposition CBs occupied. This enabled space for Zlatan, Pogba and Herrera in midfield to make the combinations which are beginning to be an exciting aspect of Manchester United’s gameplay. However, as Mourinho stated in his post match interview, this was not the best Manchester United performance he has seen. He was not too pleased with the first half performance. To my eyes, the first half was not bad by any standards. However, Sunderland got good chances on the break. Maybe this was what upset Mourinho. 

Improved second half performance

With Sunderland happy to sit deep, it was difficult to get the second goal which could have killed the game off. The circulation speed was better in the second half which was responsible for many more shots than was possible in the first half. What made the hosts even more threatening was the introduction of Mkhitaryan and Martial who excel in transition phases. As the game opened up, Mkhitaryan was brought on and he immediately made a mark. The Armenian’s ball-carrying skills ensured ample counter attacks for Manchester United. After his introduction,Zlatan was able to find more room to shrug off his marker. With Mkhitaryan running at the defender marking Zlatan, the defender was forced to make a quick decision on whom to check. Mkhitaryan’s speed on the ball makes the defender rush into such decisions which leads to more errors. In this case, the errors meant Zlatan had two one on one chances and he ended up converting one.

Manchester United in defensive phases

Sunderland posed no such threat in counter attacks. They used a long-ball approach as was expected.Anichebe tried to exploit Blind’s aerial weakness but it was Blind who came out on top in that duel. Blind was good at winning the second balls off Anichebe. However, the hosts seemed to give away cheap freekicks. It was only in these set pieces that Sunderland looked a bit threatening. 


11 games unbeaten since they last lost to Fenerbah├že, Manchester United seem to be climbing up the ladder. If they can put on a good run from here, who knows how far they can climb up in the Premier League. Regardless of the results, the fans can feel proud that Manchester United’s identity of playing attacking football is back.