Making their second trip to the Optus Stadium in Perth after just 4 days, Manchester United defeated Leeds United 4-0 on this occasion, in what was a dominant and very impressive team performance. Ole started two different XI’s for each half once again, giving almost every player in the squad a chance to impress in addition to gaining match sharpness and fitness. The only unused player within the named squad was Tuanzebe, with Luke Shaw out nursing a minor injury and Romelu Lukaku not involved as he allegedly pushes through a move away to Inter Milan.
First Half XI: Romero, Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Bailly, Rojo, McTominay, Pogba, Greenwood, Mata, James, Rashford.
Second Half XI: J.Pereira, Dalot, Smalling, Jones, Young, Matic, A.Pereira, Lingard, Gomes, Chong, Martial
Goals: Greenwood, Rashford, Jones, Martial (p)
Assists: Wan-Bissaka, McTominay, A.Pereira, Chong
The first goal started with a clever, pinpoint reverse pass from Pogba, playing Wan-Bissaka in behind the Leeds defence on the right hand side. Wan-Bissaka then reached the ball and played a low cross in before the defender got to him, perfectly teeing up Mason Greenwood who timed his run towards the cross brilliantly. McTominay won the ball in the build-up to the second goal, before driving forwards and laying the ball off to Rashford, who took the ball into the box and utilised an instinctive fake shot to get past the final line of Leeds defence and then calmly passed the ball into the far bottom corner, displaying great composure. Jones added a third after half-time as he found himself unmarked as he ran towards the goal to meet Pereira’s corner with his head. A foul on Chong earned United a penalty, which Martial converted with aplomb. Preceding this, Chong showed quick close control and strength, before a neat ‘ball chop’ which resulted in the foul on him in the penalty box.
In terms of the overall tactics from Manchester United, the thing that stuck out most was the fluidity of the attack. In both halves, United lined up in what was a 4-2-3-1 system on paper. However, rather than all 4 of the main attacking players (LW, CAM, RW, ST) staying in rigid, set positions, all 4 would regularly interchange. The first half saw Rashford start up-front, with Mata behind him in the 10 role, James on the left and Greenwood on the right. What happened a lot however, was that Greenwood would drift in-field into his more natural striker position (as shown by his position for his goal) and either Mata would drop into RW or Wan-Bissaka would drive into the vacated space. In fact, all of the front 4 ended up in every position at some point, with Rashford finding himself on both wings at times throughout the first half. For the last 15 minutes or so of the first half, Greenwood and James completely switched wings. This pattern continued in the second half with the different personnel, with Martial starting up front, Gomes behind, Chong on the left and Lingard on the right. Again, there were regular interchanges of position, especially between Lingard, Gomes and Martial.
I am hoping this is something that Ole is deliberately implementing now, so that we can fully utilise the versatility and dynamic nature of our forward players next season. Being fluid and interchanging positions increases the unpredictability of the attack and makes it so much harder for the opponent to prepare and defend. I also think this tactic will significantly boost Alexis Sanchez’s performances (if he is used) as he will be able to take up more direct ‘striker’ positions rather than being stuck on the left-wing all match.
Sergio Romero made a number of comfortable stops during his half but produced one standout save, keeping out Bamford’s close range effort. Wan-Bissaka continued where he left off against Perth and for Crystal Palace, doing his best brick wall impression. He was simply impossible to get past, timing his challenges immaculately as ever, producing 4 interceptions as well as 2 key passes alongside his assist. Additionally, he won 100% of his duels and aerials. Read more about Wan-Bissaka here. Lindelof and Bailly were solid as a pair and communicated well. Bailly was particularly good from a tackling point of view, in which his decision making of when to hold back and when to attempt to win or intercept the ball was spot on. Lindelof was also very good from a defensive perspective, but additionally contributed to the attacking phase, attempting long diagonal passes as well as dribbling the ball out of defence and into midfield. Within the first 2 minutes of the game, Lindelof exploited Leeds’ man-marking system in midfield and took the ball right the way up to the final third, before laying off Rashford who subsequently hit the post.
Paul Pogba provided a man of the match worthy performance, completely bossing the midfield. He shielded the ball fantastically and had the right balance of simple and more adventurous passes. He created a few shooting opportunities for himself after good hold-up play and quick dribbling and provided a number of through passes that were so close to coming off perfectly, demonstrating positive, forward-thinking intentions. He sent a long diagonal pass to Rashford which resulted in a saved shot, hit a long distance free-kick only just wide and brilliantly started the move that resulted in Greenwood’s opener. Meanwhile, his midfield partner, Scott McTominay, was quietly brilliant once again, doing all of the commonly unnoticed defensive work as well as driving with the ball into and through Leeds’ half, setting up Rashford for our second goal on one occasion.
Dan James’ highlight from his half came when he ran almost the entire length of the pitch at full pelt on the right hand side whilst we were counter-attacking, eventually picking up a pass from Rashford, shooting and hitting the post. His pace was frightening, as the analysis of his time at Swansea and with Wales had suggested and it will undoubtedly be a key asset to our counter-attacking play in the upcoming season. Slow defenders beware.
The second half saw very little for Joel Pereira or our defence to do, however, Jones produced a “wait…who scored..?” moment. Not only did we score a header from a corner for the first time in what feels like 84 years, but it was Lord Philip himself.
Matic and Pereira especially, dictated the midfield well, but in all honesty, Leeds showed great signs of fatigue in the second half, which meant that large sections of the half turned into a ball retention exercise for Man United. Gomes was the standout player from an attacking perspective in the second half, completing 100% of his final third passes. He linked up especially well with Chong, which led to the penalty being awarded on one occasion. Chong’s performance was a lot better than against Perth Glory, demonstrating greater control and improved decision-making compared to his last match.
The same cannot be said for Lingard however, who was guilty of sloppy and lazy passes on a number of occasions. He would look to drop deep to collect the ball and then proceed to drive forwards, which in fairness he did well on occasions, however, often when it came to the final pass, he was selling teammates short or would be dispossessed having held onto the ball for too long. He appeared to be a gear behind the rest of the team.
Aside from the obvious aims of building match fitness and sharpness, there are many positives to be taken from this match. 4 goals, a fluid/interchanging attack, solid defending, dominant midfield play, lightning quick counter-attacking, youngsters performing well and composed finishing.
Written by Nick Pasquet
Follow me on Twitter: https://twitter.com/Nick_FootballPA