MANCHESTER UNITED vs BURTON ALBION
20.09.2017

United started their defence of the League Cup with a home tie against Burton Albion. On paper this looked like a relatively straight forward assignment. One would expect Jose Mourinho to make a number of changes, the only question seemed to be how many. Fans were of course to see a continuation of early season momentum.

Personnel

In: Romero, Darmian, Lindelof, Smalling, Blind, Herrera, Carrick, Lingard and Martial.
Out: De Gea, Valencia, Bailly, Young, Fellaini, Matic, Mkhitaryan and Lukaku .

Team Selection

United started their defence of the League Cup with a home tie against Burton Albion. On paper this looked like a relatively straight forward assignment. One would expect Jose Mourinho to make a number of changes, the only question seemed to be how many. Fans were of course to see a continuation of early season momentum.

Changes

Jose Mourinho made nine changes for this game from the starting eleven which faced Everton at the weekend. That perhaps doesn’t reflect upon his view of the status of this competition as much as it does upon his policy of rotation or more to the point giving players a rest; we are now into that phase of a midweek and weekend game that will last almost uninterrupted through the next few months. That said the side fielded was still a strong selection, every player being a full international.

1st half   1512387-image-1505978955-492-640x480

United’s starting shape and Rashford whose early goals settled the contest

The changes though weren’t just to personnel. United started with their usual 4-2-3-1 strategy but as the game was effectively over at half time Jose chose to change things around a little. With Luke Shaw coming on as a half time substitute Jose changed formation, initially to a rough 3-4-3 shape but later after further substitutions to a 3-5-2. We would see this as both a strategic experiment but it could just as easily be read as a re-shuffle to give certain players match time.

Attacking Verve

After the match Jose Mourinho ventured that he didn’t learn a lot from this game which is almost certainly true because it was so easy and effectively over so early. United scored in the 5th, 17th and 36th minute and played with great verve and energy during this period. Burton were poor however and allowed United too much time and space but United did play well moving the ball quickly and playing with some freedom. What did United do well? They passed early, moved well on and off the ball and usually combined well. What did Burton do badly? The ball watched, covered players rather than tackled and most importantly they did not exert pressure on the ball preferring to stand off. This simply allowed United to pass through them.

Rashford and Martial played really well in this opening period and Lingard played really well later, but none of these players would be given this much time to look up, pick a pass or advance unchecked in the Premiership. That isn’t to be too critical of Burton, but the point stands there is not a lot we can learn from this performance.

Second Half Changes

At half time United replaced Mata with Luke Shaw making his first appearance of the season after his prolonged injury lay-off. This also saw a change of shape with United adjusting to a three at the back strategy. The three centre-backs were Smalling in the middle, Blind to the left and Lindelof to the right. Luke Shaw then slotted in as the left sided wing back with Darmian pushing into the right wingback area. This allowed the wide players, Martial and Lingard to push higher. They set up as a fluid front three. Burton improved in the second half with more snap in their defensive play, but United were still comfortable.

So how well did this change of shape work? It was noticeable that whilst Darmian and Luke Shaw adopted higher positions than a traditional fullback would they were still both relatively conservative in their movement forward; they weren’t then really operating as effectively as one would expect wing backs too. The problem was that whilst they held a wide and often high shape and so stretched the Burton rear-guard out across the full width of the pitch they did not attack the space behind the wide advanced midfield players in Burton’s fairly standard 4-2-3-1 shape. They were too static. One has to be disappointed with this, particularly in Luke Shaw’s performance. We can make allowance given that this is his first game back for a while but he does need to seize the initiative before long and make the most of any opportunity he gets. He would seem to be a player who has the full range of attributes to play as a wing back or full back.

2nd half 1   2nd half 2

United’s shape at the start of the second half and later in the game

Later in the game United replaced Rashford with McTominay, (in the 64th minute). This change came after United had just scored their fourth goal and now the shape became more of a 3-5-2 with Martial and Lingard occupying central attacking positions and McTominay playing as an attacking midfield player as the tip of a triangle with Carrick and Herrera deeper. In theory this should have provided more security through the sine of the side which would then give Shaw and Darmian more licence to push on and attack that space. This didn’t happen though, whether because United were now simply going through the motions or because of a lack of confidence or inclination on the part of these two players to do so. Instead the game petered out and United in fact then conceded a sloppy last minute goal, no doubt a disappointment to Joel Pereira who had replaced Romero in the 78th minute.

Jose was right, there is little to learn from this game.