Manchester United Tactical Analysis: Shades of Guardiola as “Ole Ball” takes


Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has had to rebuild his Manchester United team too many times this season. When Paul Pogba, the original creative centerpiece, went down in August, Solskjaer rebuilt the side as a counter attacking team around Marcus Rashford. When the black hole of the number 10 position left a creative void in the team and caused them to struggle to break down defenses, he learned from Jurgen Klopp to shift the onus of creativity onto his full-backs.

Now Solskjaer has a fully fit squad. His creative centerpiece is back, Marcus Rashford is fit, and in Bruno Fernandes he has a real number 10. So how does he mold it into one cohesive unit?

He looks across town to Pep Guardiola of course.

Guardiola’s teams are famous for their pressing and movement. He likes to overwhelm defenders and get players forward.

At Manchester City — especially in 2018 and 2019 — Guardiola would typically line his team up in a 4-3-3 formation. But the 4-3-3 was really just a base formation. In possession City would shift to more of a 3-2-5 with certain players pushing up depending on who was on the field.

When playing with two holding midfielders, such as Fernandinho and Ilkay Gundogan, Guardiola would typically have his full-back bomb forward to be the 5th attacker.

Guardiola doesn’t always like to have two holding midfielders on the pitch. He likes to get as many of his plethora of attacking players out there as he can. So sometimes he’d replace one of his more defensive midfielders with a more creative player like David Silva. When he did this, he’d then bring in a less traditional full-back at left-back like Fabian Delph or Alexandr Zinchenko.

When City were set up this way, in possession the attacking midfielders like De Bruyne and Silva would push up to form the front five. The defense would still shift the same way, with Kyle Walker tucking inside to play right center-back, but now the left-back would step up into midfield and serve as the second holding midfielder.

This was a major reason why Gareth Southgate took Fabian Delph to the 2018 World Cup as a midfielder and played Kyle Walker at right center-back. Those were basically the positions they were playing for their club.

Solskjaer has always preferred to line his team up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, but against Brighton he took a page right out of Pep’s playbook and shifted to a 3-2-5 when in possession.

It wasn’t exactly the same as Guardiola’s set up. Where Pep created a back three with three of his defenders, United would have Nemanja Matić drop between the two center-backs to form their back three.

From there, Aaron Wan-Bissaka would push forward and Luke Shaw would do one of two things. He’d either tuck inside and be second midfielder next to Paul Pogba…

Or — more…



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