48 hours after their dramatic 2-1 win over Middlesbrough, Manchester United ensured another win against West Ham away. With this win, they ensured that they have been unbeaten in 13 games. It also moved them level on points with Tottenham who face Chelsea on the 4th of January.
Courtesy: Onefootball app
A common pattern this season in Manchester United’s recent away games has been the exclusion of genuine wingers from the lineups. In this game, Mkhitaryan and Lingard started as wingers. Both of these players are good at tight spaces. The inclusion of Mkhitaryan and Lingard maybe due to the fact that most teams Manchester United come up against in the Premier League have smaller field dimensions. When the dimensions become smaller, the wingers virtually become redundant in terms of effectiveness. As such, the importance of local combinations in small spaces become top priority in such grounds.
Manchester United’s set up
A peculiar feature of Manchester United’s set up for this game was the central orientation of Lingard and Mkhitaryan. This ensured that there were more players in central areas in the final third to make quick combinations. While the idea was right, the execution of the passes was substandard in this game. Mourinho mentioned this in his post match interview and claimed that it was probably due to fatigue. Mkhitaryan and Lingard’s central positioning meant there was lack of width. To solve this issue, Valencia and Darmian stayed wide to ensure that there was a passing outlet out wide when the centre became too congested. The narrow positioning of Mkhitaryan and Lingard is clearly illustrated in the passmap below by 11tegen11.
Unlike earlier games when two players from midfield would drop deeper to aid build up, Carrick was the only one who stayed deeper while Herrera and Pogba advanced higher to make up the numbers in midfield to help in the combinations mentioned earlier. More numbers in midfield meant that there were more possibilities for combinations as well as greater possibilities for winning the ball up higher. The positioning of the midfielders though was not rigid with Carrick situationally playing advanced to allow Herrera to drop deep. But the overall structure was not disturbed by such movements.
United failed to find the breakthrough in the first half with Valencia coming closest to scoring whose shot was saved on the line by Randolph.
Mourinho’s tactical changes
With Feghouli being shown the red card in the 15th minute, West Ham’s strategy for the remainder of the game focussed on stopping United from scoring. After the sending off, they sat deep in a 4-5-0 deep block. This forced Mourinho to sub Darmian for Mata. Carrick was deployed as a centre back while Rojo moved to LB. Rashford later came on for Lingard. Unlike Lingard, Rashford was told to stay wide because of his 1 v 1 abilities. The two subs worked as they combined for the opening goal. Rashford created 3 chances and won the Man of the Match for his impressive display.
As soon as United took the lead, Mourinho made another tactical change by bringing on Smalling for Mkhitaryan. This change meant that Carrick was restored to his role as CDM while Smalling took his place as CB to negate the threat of towering Andy Carroll.
Other than the occasional blunder, it was a solid defensive performance from Manchester United. West Ham hardly had any shots inside the box. De Gea’s 1 v 1 save to deny Antonio was crucial in the context of the game. The xG map (credits: Michael Caley) reflects this.
6 straight Premier League wins has not done much to change their position in the League but with Chelsea and Spurs facing each other on the 4th, United can hope to make good ground in the Premier League race. With Liverpool up next, the tables can look very different in a few days from now. It will be interesting to see if the Red Devils can maintain their momentum with a busy January threatening to test their resilience to the limit.