Two strategies Manchester United should adopt to perform better

After their disastrous 2-1 defeat against Fulham, Manchester United finds themself eight points adrift of the fourth-placed Aston Villa in the Premier League table. It was also United’s 10th defeat in the Premier League this season already – a dubious feat legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson never achieved during his stint at United. Nevertheless, the Red Devils have achieved five times in their 11 seasons since he left. The defeat came after five consecutive wins, but should hamper their confidence ahead of the Manchester derby on 3 March.

However, what was more disappointing was that United still seemed one-dimensional and predictable in their approach. They were reliant on long balls played to their forwards initially, but were left exposed by Fulham’s counter-attacks a lot when they tried to increase numbers upfront. Fulham were the better team for the most part and could have scored more had their forwards been less profligate.

With Sir Jim Ratcliffe officially completing the purchase of 27.7% stake in the club through the INEOS conglomerate and also being in charge of football operations, better results will be expected from Erik ten Hag’s team.

Let us now take a look at two things Manchester United should do against lesser teams to get better results. This only applies to the teams against which they are expected to dominate possession.

#1. Full-backs overlapping more frequently

It has become pretty clear by now that ten Hag’s Manchester United cannot play a short-passing game consistently. In fact, playing a long ball forward to the open space was their prevalent strategy under the tutelage of Ole Gunnar Solskjær, too.

In such a scenario, they need their full-backs to overlap consistently to make that plan work. It will serve two purposes: firstly, it will stretch the opposition defence wide and thereby lessen the chances of the centre-forward being heavily outnumbered. That will give the striker a better chance of scoring a goal.

Secondly, the crosses from the flanks will also be more frequent and the full-backs’ will also allow the wingers to move into the half-spaces, where they are more comfortable. It will also increase the wingers’ proximity with the centre-forward.

However, there is a conundrum here. Diogo Dalot is quite comfortable playing crosses, but Victor Lindelöf, who has been playing as the left-back often in the absence of Luke Shaw, should struggle to play crosses with left foot. If, however, Shaw is fit to start, there should be no problem in implementing the strategy.

#2. One of the defensive midfielders playing as an auxiliary centre-back

One of United’s defensive midfielders, preferably Casemiro, needs to regularly play as an auxiliary centre-back by sitting between the two central defenders.

That will make United less vulnerable against counter-attacks, as the presence of the extra man will give their defence more solidity. Casemiro, however, will have to curb his attacking instincts somewhat to make that possible.

The other holding midfielder – Kobbie Mainoo in this case – can then be more mobile and play box-to-box at times. The above arrangement will also lessen the defensive burden on Bruno Fernandes, who clearly does not enjoy tracking back much.

Therefore, Manchester United’s formation will often become a 3-4-3 effectively, with the full-backs adopting more advanced positions and Mainoo and Fernandes staying in the central midfield. That should guard them well against counter-attacks as well as provide them with the edge offensively.

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