Let’s talk about tactics. Each week, clubs vary their approaches and over the season we’ll be analyzing how teams leverage an advantage by best using the resources within their squad.
Louis van Gaal’s Halftime Switch
Twitter’s trolls were quick to throw Louis van Gaal under the bus after his side’s 2-1 defeat at the hands of Swansea City, even though he was forced to play a weakened hand due to injuries. He set his team into a system that is often oversimplified, because it’s a mixture of a 3-4-3 that turns into a 5-2-3 and then a 3-4-1-2 in attack. If he keeps playing that system throughout the season, we can get into more in depth. While many will say that he abandoned the system out of failure, it is important to see why and how the team was more successful after he added men on the wings.
Swansea set out in a very narrow and compact 4-2-3-1. While this is not the first time United have faced that shape since van Gaal took over, it is the first time the Red Devils have played a team that spread four players across the field to press.
In the team’s final warmup match against Valencia, the Spanish outfit limited the number of men that pressed the opposition. This allowed space for Ander Herrera and Darren Fletcher to get on the ball and create. The game plan after those two got on the ball was for them to either find a wing back streaking down the flank or send the ball into the creative feet of Juan Mata. Without men to thwart the two center midfielders, United attacked with ease, as Herrera pinged this lovely ball down the flank for Ashley Young.
Swansea manager Garry Monk jammed the area where the two midfielders operate though, cutting off the supply line to the middle of the pitch, which forced Manchester United to possess in a U-shape, switching the ball from wing-back to wing-back via the center backs, until a forced long ball was played or the Swans regained possession. The reason Swansea could play so compact though, was because on the flanks, there was only one player to worry about. In the clip below, United are frustrated by Swansea’s four and even though Herrera gets an inkling of space, if he receives the ball in possession, he will be forced to play the ball backwards immediately.