Tue. Dec 1st, 2020

Man Utd

News

Man United have partnership that is helping Solskjaer’s big game formula

4 min read

It was a case of history repeating itself for Manchester United on Tuesday after they secured a standout Champions League victory over Paris Saint-Germain in the Parc des Princes.

Although Marcus Rashford’s great winner arrived late on, the general consensus in the fallout from the match was that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side proved the more impressive on the night and deserved the win.

Despite the home side enjoying 61 per cent possession of the ball, United were structured and organised, limiting the French Champions to just four shots on target. Only in this and one other home fixture since November last year have PSG been restricted to so few shots on target.

The home side also recorded their lowest xG (1.05) for a match since their 2-0 Champions League home victory vs Dortmund back in March. 

The result did come as a surprise to most, specifically given that United came into the match on the back of an indifferent run of form that included a 4-1 away victory vs Newcastle United, but also a 6-1 home defeat to Tottenham Hotspur.

For the crucial fixture in Paris, Solskjaer surprisingly opted to keep Paul Pogba to the bench and line up with a midfield consisting of Fred and Scott McTominay.

Both midfielders are well admired at Old Trafford, yet the decision to play both without a spot for Pogba and Donny van de Beek did raise a few eyebrows before kick off. Although, upon reflection, it looks to have been both a well thought out and correct decision by the United manager.

This is because coming up against the attacking capabilities of a strong ball dominating side such as PSG, United were always set to see less possession and instead were required to shut down passing lanes and apply plenty of pressure on Thomas Tuchel’s most dangerous players on the ball.

Pogba is a brilliant all-rounder, however his best asset is his great technical ability and he therefore tends to contribute more when United see plenty of the ball. Alternatively, both Fred and McTominay possess supreme stamina and strong defensive skills, making them much better candidates to relentlessly pressure opponents for long periods of a match.

Solskjaer’s choice to play both players was in someways justified by the hard work they put in on the night, as the below highlights. Both players ranked inside the top three in terms of the highest amount of distance covered in the match.



Top ten players for distance covered - PSG vs Manchester United
Top ten players for distance covered – PSG vs Manchester United

It was Fred who put the most running in on the night, pressing and harrying through the full 90 minutes to finish the match having made an impressive four interceptions, 13 possession recoveries and winning 9/13 of his defensive duels.

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While Solskjaer would have been pleased by his performance on the night, it’s unlikely that he would have been surprised by it. This is because during United’s last campaign in the Champions League back in the 2018/19 season, the Brazilian international finished inside the competition’s top 15 players in terms of the highest average number of meters covered.



Top 15 players in terms of average distance covered - Champions League 2018/19
Top 15 players in terms of average distance covered – Champions League 2018/19

The performance of the team on Tuesday night perhaps indicates the different approaches that Solskjaer may well take in fixtures going forward when taking into consideration the strength of the opposition. Against sides where United are set to dominate, we can still expect to see him utilise his most technically gifted players who can use their skill to penetrate through deep-lying low block structures.

Yet, in games like Tuesday night when United are expected to see less of the ball and play on the counter, industrious and hard-working midfielders like Fred and McTominay are set to play crucial roles.

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