Having returned from the States United now flew over to Norway for a game in Oslo against local side Valerenga. Mata and Herrera were expected to feature and in advance of the game Jose Mourinho confirmed he would make significant half time changes to both personnel and shape.

First Half Starting Eleven and Shape

In the first half Jose Mourinho utilised a 4-3-3 shape with Michael Carrick behind Fellaini and Pogba in midfield. The front three were Mata to the right, Rashford through the middle and Mkhitarayan to the left.

United dominated this half, in fact they dominated the game against fairly modest opposition. It was probably too easy with United enjoying most of the ball and passing and moving at ease. The advanced midfield pair of Pogba and Fellaini pressed Valerenga and United enjoyed the luxury of not being pressed themselves when they had the ball. Everyone had plenty of time and in most areas of the pitch and plenty of space.

1st half   Valerenga-v-Manchester-United-Pre-Season-Friendly

United’s first half team shape and Fellaini celebrating his goal

Pattern of Play

There is actually very little to say about the first half as United were so comfortable. Why then did it take so long to score, (the opening goal came from a Fellaini header after a cross from the right in the 43rd minute)? Probably just because it was so comfortable. The basic pattern of play was that United would win the ball easily in the middle of the pitch and work a position where Pogba or Mata, (who was drifting infield from the right and dropping deeper), would look to feed a through ball behind the Norwegians back line for Marcus Rashford to run onto. This never quite came off with plenty of off-sides and interceptions being the order of the day.

After about 30 minutes United seemed to lose focus and their play became fairly scrappy. Roll on halftime and the pre-planned changes, but then of course out of the blue United scored.

Second Half Eleven and Team Shape

At half time Morinho changed the system to a 3-5-2. He also made nine changes of personnel. The back three were now Tuanzebe on the left, Smalling in the middle and Lindelof on the right. The central midfield three were still set up in a triangle with Herrera at the base and Pereira to the right. Pogba remained on the pitch, (Romero in goal was the other player to remain on the pitch). The front two were Lukaku and Martial with the two wingbacks being Fosu-Mensah on the right and Demi Mitchell on the left.

Before any pattern could settle down United scored again. This goal came from a corner with Lukaku scoring from a firm header in the 48th minute.

Second Half Pattern

When the pattern did settle down this was a much improved performance. United were altogether more dynamic that they had been in the first half. Valerenga didn’t offer that much going forward so it is hard to really judge who well the defence did at defending. When the needed to start moves by working the ball out from the back through one would comment that all three players looked composed and moved well for each other and in combination with the wing backs.

2nd half start   2nd half end

United’s second half team shape and personnel before and after the 60th minute substitutions

The real difference was further forward. Fosu-Mensah and Mitchell played well as genuine wing backs dropping deep when needed but always being prepared to get forward at any opportunity and so ensuring United always had good passing options across the full width of the pitch. United’s movement was a lot better in this half and there was in fact more of it. As well as their own movement as players they also moved the ball more quickly. Perhaps the presence of two central strikers makes the opposition step back creating more space and so more passing options in the central zone and the constant movement up and down the wingback zones is an obvious outlet when opponents are natural dragged towards the areas in the middle where United are enjoying overloads.

United removed Pogba and Romero in the 60th minute introducing Joel Pereira and Scott McTominay in their place. They then scored another goal in the 69th minute to complete the 3-0 score line. This came after a surging run by Martial towards the left side half space and an attempted pass through to the feet of McTominay. The ball clipped a defenders heal wrong footing the youngster who had to turn to receive the ball back to goal as a consequence. He still managed to turn and spin the defender before shooting home first time.

This game was too easy for United and it would be interesting to see how this second half strategy would work against more accomplished opponents but it seems to suit the players with United looking far more dynamic in the second half than in the first.