Manchester United 2-1 Chelsea: Analysis of Tactics and Formations

Sunday’s clash between Manchester United and Chelsea at Old Trafford featured two teams set on trying to win the Premier League title. There was only one victor, as we know, but what happened on the pitch – in the form of tactics and formations – is definitely worth a in-depth look.

Some of the topics discussed are the key substitutions made, which player on Manchester United’s side played more of a key role than others, where the battle was won in this game, and more.

Watch the above video to see analysis of Man United against Chelsea. And feel free to share your comments and feedback in the section below.

24 thoughts on “Manchester United 2-1 Chelsea: Analysis of Tactics and Formations”

  1. Agree withthe 3 main match ups you point out. JS Park, an unsung hero at MU, put in his best performance of the season. Whether hounding Chelsea midfield or setting up MU playmakers (Giggs, Rooney) he was all over the pitch and Chelsea couldn’t live with him.

    Couple other key stand outs from the game:
    1. Valencia made Cole look like an amateur.
    2. Giggs, at 37, was the most instrumental midfielder on the pitch
    3. Torres came on and proved why he was left on the bench
    4. Man Utd’s defensive unit looked strong, particularly against any aerial threat Drogba posed.

    Last but not least. Sir Alex Ferguon. What a living legend this guy is. He’s achieved so much in his career but I think knocking Liverpool “off their perch” will rank, along with European glory, as one of the sweet moments of his decorated career.

    Just a note: Would do well to maybe write a script for the tactical analysis as it’s a little jumbled. However the content, for the most part, was good.

  2. Question for ER:

    Would ManU use a similar narrow formation against Barca or do you think that ManU would bring in Nani and go 3 wide with Valencia and Hernandez up top in what would be a 4-1-2-3 / 4-5-1 front to back formation?

    That would mean that Ji-Sung Park would be left on the bench, with the 5 midfielders being Giggs, Carrick, Valencia and Nani, and a back like Evra or a Fabio.

    Second question for you – if Barca scores early and ManU feels the pressure, would SAF decide to press for the equalizer or play even more defensively to keep the game close until the 75th minute or so.

    Thanks for your great work and analysis!

    1. Great questions. Richard Farley and I had a discussion about the predicament for ManUtd coming up. I think we both settled on a) a strong, athletic, defensive-minded player needed in the center of the park to disrupt Xavi and Iniesta, and b) the need to pin Dani Alves back. In respects to a) seems like Darren Fletcher may be the one that SAF calls on to pressure the Barca midfield. For b), Park is a player that has intangibles, who seems to be well-equipped to do what’s necessary. Both he and Nani would each be trouble for the Barca right full back. Perhaps you’ll see both players in that role through substitution.

      It wouldn’t surprise me if the Chelsea match was an audition of the roles that were going to be needed, except maybe a mirror image. If Nani plays the left wing, then he’d be pressing high on Alves. Valencia has some defensive posture, so he cuts in to help Fletcher and Giggs with Xavi, Iniesta, and Messi (dropping into midfield). Rooney marks Busquets, as he did Mikel today. So in effect, it’d be a 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-1-1 or whatever you want to call it.

      I think Hernandez is the X-Factor. If Barca’s susceptible, it’s their backline. Barca’s key to defense is possession, and they rely on pressure to thwart counterattacks. The tempo of United’s first counter-rush yesterday would have certainly gashed Barca, though Pique’s probably not going to make as novice a mistake as David Luiz. If Barca gets ahead early, it would be a tough chore for any team to fight back. You almost need a quick response; if you play attack, it’s Russian roulette as to whether you’ll get burned by their creativity. If you sit back and try to nick one at the end, you’re liable to cede the second in the process.

      You’re welcome! Love the discussion.

      1. Fletcher, Giggs, Carrick, Nani, Valencia, Park… 2 too many midfielders if SAF stays with Hernandez and Rooney in vertical alignment.

        Barring injury or drop-off in form over the next two weeks, I feel that Carrick and Valencia have their names written in ink on the card… and if SAF puts out a similar 4-4-1-1 at Wem-ber-ley then I see the midfield lookling like this:

        Park vs. Nani. It is difficult to leave Park on the bench against Barca, because while Nani has the speed and creativity to stretch the field horizontally (much like Valencia did on poor, poor Cole yesterday), Nani drifts in space far too often for SAF to sleep at night against the likes of Barca. Park may not have Nani’s quickness and ball-control (as a a pure winger, Nani might not have an equal in the Premiership), but adding an extra bullet when the gun remains holstered is pointless. Finally, what is not said in the media and what needs to be said, is that Park cannot play at pace for 90+ minutes anymore. If he puts his heart on the field, he might last 60 minutes or so. I think Park starts, as SAF asks for maximum effort, and then Park is subbed out if all goes well, in the 70th minute. If things go bad, then it won’t matter anyway.

        Fletcher vs. Giggs. This is really it, isn’t it. It isn’t Carrick vs. Fletcher because they play different roles in the midfield. It is Fletcher vs. Giggs, and who will be the stopper. But ou cannot leave Giggs on the bench, can you? Or can you? Does Giggs have the legs to start and stop and start and stop 50 or 60 times, as the ball gets passed from Iniesta to Xavi to Iniesta to Xavi to Messi to Xavi well, you get the picture. If Giggs proposed role is to play deeper, then perhaps Fletcher needs to given the shot. If SAF rolls the dice and roars, “We are Manchester United. We will not be beaten!” then leave Giggs in the role of playmaker and Fletcher can come in to, hopefully, stop the bleeding if needed.

        1. I may not have made it clear. I think that two of Nani, Valencia, and Park will start. I think Giggs and either Fletcher (1st choice) or Carrick will start in the withdrawn midfield layer.

          Here’s my guess:


          And Valencia as a sub, for Nani if United are ahead or tied (Park = move left). If United is behind, perhaps Valencia in for Fabio. We’ll see.

  3. The biggest tactical difference between the two sides was that United went into the game looking to win it, even though they didn’t need to, while Chelsea began on a cautious footing, even though they needed to win, and were made to look slow and sluggish. That was because of the tactics of United to be quicker on the ball and move it around quickly. Park was the one who was all over the midfield closing down Chelsea who were also very mistake-prone. I think that stunned Chelsea as they did not expect it. Also, getting the first goal early made United more confident. Finally, Fergie got his tactics just right by playing Valencia wide against Cole and Cole looked out of sorts and could not handle Valencia.

    If United play like they did yesterday they will beat Barcelona.

    1. I think Ancelotti prepared his team off watching the Arsenal match. They looked like they were prepared for United to play conservatively. Instead United took it to them, and Chelsea was still getting the legs stretched when they found themselves behind.

      I’ll say that United have to play that way to have a chance against Barca. They have to be quick and precise with their offensive thrusts.

  4. Barcelona will provide a different type of challenge to United. The United midfield will have to make sure that Barcelona aren’t allowed to move the ball freely by closing them down early. United did some of that yesterday against Chelsea and I think that will be the way they try to handle Barcelona. Will be more difficult because Barcelona can also make through passes to their forwards who are very good at moving without the ball. AT the other Barcelona do have a wekness in defence that United can exploit. Hernandez has pace and movement that can really hurt Barcelona.

    This will be a totally different final to the one we saw 2 years ago. I think this will be a more open game with both sides having numerous chances to score. Right now United look like the ones who are firing on all cylinders and have more options on the bench if things aren’t working. Barcelona’s bench isn’t very deep and if the starters are struggling it could be a long day for Barcelona.

    Both teams will be well-rested as each would have won the title by week’s end. Should be a great final.

  5. Earl Reed – Great post match analysis and you are doing a great job. Chelsea looks like they cannot find their main 11. Giggs again ran the game for the red devils. It is so hard to pick the man of the match from this game.

    Park – We see him running all over the pitch but in no means a head less chicken. He breaks up plays, assists and can score goals too. It will be hard for SAF to leave him on the bench against Barca. He has to be there along with Fletcher.

    Giggs – What an athelete and playmaker this guy is. He puts the 20 year olds to shame. He can boss the game, set up the tempo and play that telling pass. Will be in starting 11.

    Carrick – He is bee playing well with giggs and moulding to be a good holding midfield player/play maker. But some times he to too soft and out position or ideas to get rid of the ball. and specially with pedro xavi iniesta probing all the time to knick the ball, i am afraid to see in the starting 11. He would make the bench for me.

    Hernandez – You just cannot leave this guys out. I think he will be the match winner for me against Barca. He will too quick for Pique or Puyol or Marcherano.

    Vidic – Solid as ever and scored a goal too. He is been consistent through out the game.

    Rooney – He should play behind the striker as he is being doing and break the plays from the defense /midfield. He better not miss any sitters in the final.

    United should take the game to Barca and not sit back as Madrid did in the 1st leg. I think this years final will be much more close than the one couple a years back because no CR 7 and more of a team play. All we are reading is how should United stop Barca but no body talks about taking the game to Barca.

    Glory Glory Man United !!!!!

    My starting 11 against Barca is 4 – 4 – 1 – 1


    Fabio Rio Vidic Evra
    Valencia Giggs Fletcher Park

  6. HI! I’m italian and a supporter of ac milan. However I love the team of SAF! Great video, I’m not totally an expert of tactics of red devils but I’m fan of football tactics and so I would like to ask you Earl some things about Man U formation of this year:

    vidic and rio they play on the same line?
    -MU use offside recently?
    -what are the main movements of park ji sung? when he’s focused to cover in the centre his post takes Giggs or Rooney on the left?
    -then now is a 4-4-1-1 formation manchester? with rooney free on the front of attack?
    -the two central midfield position themselves as always in your video or sometimes park and Giggs will exchange positions with carrick rearmost?
    -the two central midfield will be defined more as a median or putting in a lot?

    You see a lot of questions! I wan to ta about MAN.U thank you very much! and congratulations for the video.


    1. Thanks Nic!

      I wouldn’t say they particularly look to draw a team like Chelsea offside, but generally speaking backlines tend to communicate and play together in order not to get burned by a player running past them.

      In this match, Park definitely moved inside, which allowed for Rooney to move into that flank at times. Recall Rooney getting fouled by Ivanovic, drawing the yellow.

      Generally speaking, my diagrams indicate more of a defensive posture when the attacking team is starting from the backline or goalkeeper. It’s more difficult to track offensive movements, because there are many different ways a squad can try to break down their opponent. Sometimes Giggs went out wide when Park came inside. Sometimes it was Rooney. Other times, O’Shea was able to come up and provide support in the offensive flow.

      Carrick’s movement was typically between Lampard and the defensive line. Again, the formation diagram is more of a snapshot of tendencies, rather than the 100%. Most of the time I thought the right-most central midfielder was advanced more than the left.

      If you’re looking for roles in the central midfield, I’d say both played as box-to-box midfielders. Of the two, Michael Carrick was more defensive in his tactic, not quite as mobile within the offensive push. Giggs’ positioning was more fluid.

      Hope that answers some of your questions.

  7. Yes of course! thanks a lot! you have been very exhaustive.But in practice rooney play more as a kind of modern playmaker behind the tip rather then as a second striker. because I noticed that both he and chicarito back lot in defense. Last question: since we talked about defensively, as they contribute, in order, carrick park Giggs and Rooney valencia hernandez in the difensive phase? Thanks :)

  8. my name is EMMY OKOLO from NIGERIA, u doing a nice job, keep it up my dear. i love u dearly’
    i am a fan of theatre of dreams! d formation we used on sunday clash between d blues was awesome infact red army came 4 victory. tnk GOD we won!
    our clash against barcelona, i suggest dat we should focused on d mid-fields, bcos “barcas” engine players originated from their midfield.
    let’s try this: 4-5-1, i.e rio-namenja
    rapheal or fabio-evra or evans: defenders
    park-nani: wingers
    giggs,fletcher,scholse: centers
    rooney stays front…
    am i right or not???
    though they are d best “barca” but we d BESTEST “MAN UTD”
    MAN.U. 4 TROPHIES……..

  9. emmy okolo from nigeria, i am a man.utd fan and i love your show.i love u! we did great against chelsea. we shuned d blues and they has realised that we are d best in england and also in d world when we shall beat barcelona on 28 may 2011.
    lets try this-
    rooney only 4 fron.
    MAN.U 4 LIFE!

  10. While I am confident in whatever team/formation SAF decides to play I personally would like a team like this:


    Van Der Sar
    Rafael/Fabio – Rio – Vidic – Evra
    Park – Fletcher – Giggs
    Nani – Rooney – Valencia

    O’Shea is too slow and not technical enough in possession to be risked against Barcelona. Although a solid player I think the technical quality is just a bit too high for him here. The pace of either rafael or fabio would be enough to see of the threat from Villa, who is struggling of late, and I think Evra has the experience to deal with Pedro.

    Carrick has been playing well recently but as we saw in the last final against Barca, I think their trio of midfielders would easily make Carrick a non-factor in the game.

    Moving Park to a more central midfield three would bring a lot of legs and energy to an area of the field where Barca thrive. Iniesta and Xavi need closing down and I think the legs of Park, and Fletcher, would help mitigate this threat. This should free up Giggs to make the sort of probing passes and runs that will be vital if Rooney is not to be isolated up front.

    Valenica should play on whatever side Daniel Alves plays on. The job he did on Cole over the weekend was nothing short of exceptional and a similar performance would be a huge plus at wembley.

    Leaving Hernandez out is a tough call. I’m sure many of you will disagree and say he should be in the starting lineup. Against any other team I would say so as well. But Barca poses a different kind of threat. One where playing two strikers would leave MU outnumbered in the midfield.

    Having Chicharito on the bench would not only save some of the United arsenal for the later stages, when his pace and movement would be even more punishing, but also ensure that Utd have a solid platform from which to build. Conceding another early, and sloppy, goal like we did against Barca 2 years ago would be inexcusable.

    Most important is for Rooney not to get isolated. I know he’s been playing tremendously well in a slightly withdrawn position recently but he’s proven he can lead the line and he needs to do it again in the final. Nani and Valenica need to make sure they support him at every opportunity and Giggs coming forward from midfield, along with Park at times, would ensure that we still have a goal threat despite Hernandez being on the bench.

    A tight encounter that could go either way.
    Glory Glory Man United!

    1. This is just my opinion.4 3 3 formation will leave huge holes in the midfield. Chelsea always plays that formation and you can see on 3 occasions that our midfield outplayed Chelsea’s, so, you can imagine Xavi/Iniesta/Messi and Pedro having a jolly time.
      I say play giggs just in front of the defense as a play maker and Fletcher breaking up plays in the midfield or barca’s half. Park and Evra can manage the threat of Dani Alves and Pedro and Valencia will give a torrid time to Abidal if he plays or Puyol.

      This will leave Rooney playing in the hole or being marked by Sergio Actor Busquets and Hernandez causing a havoc playing on the defenders shoulders.

      Glory Glory Man United !!!!

  11. Hey man,
    Do you ever follow Italian football? What’s your favourite italian team? and what do you think about FC INTERNAZIONALE?
    i’d really love knowing what’s your idea of italian FB.

  12. @LAURA,
    yeah of course, i do watch ITALIA SERIA ‘A’ because they play d kind of football dat i play here in my home town. and i mean real rough/tough/hard/strong ball!

    i love watching it, all most evary weekend.
    because i gain more experiences like ways of not getting redcarded and more!

    more so, i am fanning INTER MILAN 4 ITALY and love d way they play football, expaciary their defensive role makers or destroyers like ZANETI, CAMBIASSO, LUCIO, MAICON, STANKOJVIC.
    they are all strong and firm.

    again my manest man ET’O. who has blessed by GOD, whose new name in AFRICA AND NIGERIA is GOODLUCK ET’O / INTER… my brother i love, u doing a splendid job at INTERNAZIONAL…keep it up.

    next season we shall do our best in order to lift d trophy once more…IN GOD WE TRUST! AMEN!
    INTER 4 LIFE…….
    MAN.U 4 LIFE…….

  13. for barca game, i think SAF wil use de winning formula against schalke (1st leg) and chelsea (EPL, 36th game) which is park-giggsy-carrick-valencia in midfield area. It gave United a quick transition from defensive mode to attacking mode n vv. United wont play possession. They will pressurize xavi-iniesta-messi n low defensive line.

  14. Don’t normally comment on these kind of videos, however, it was a nice tactical insight into the game. Thank you! Keep it up!

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