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La tactique ratée de Man Utd contre Chelsea montre qu'ils ont désespérément besoin d'un nouveau milieu de terrain

MANCHESTER United and Chelsea met at Old Trafford last night and we saw the same issues with United that we’ve seen for months.

Par exemple, United’s complete lack of a focal point and making it easy for the opposition to play through them.

Marcos Alonso opened the scoring with a sweet first-time volley

Marcos Alonso opened the scoring with a sweet first-time volleyCrédit: Reuters
Cristiano Ronaldo levelled things up just moments later

Cristiano Ronaldo levelled things up just moments laterCrédit: Pennsylvanie

Chelsea dominated the ball et, let’s be honest, Uni got away with this big timefancy fixing these before you go, Ralf?

toutefois, you probably want a little more ‘analysis’ than thatso let’s get stuck in.

Before kick-off the narrative surrounded the team newsand with Harry Maguire dropping out of the squad with a knee injury we saw a partnership of Raphael Varane and Victor Lindelof at the heart of United’s defence.

In midfield, their defensive line would be screened by Scott McTominay and the soon-to-depart Nemanja Matic while in attack Marcus Rashford was returned to the starting line-up as he would feature wide on the left.

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We understand, it’s difficult to believe that a United midfield with Matic starting would struggle to be mobile.

Chelsea went with what was expectedThomas Tuchel choosing to continue with his fellow Germans Kai Havertz and Timo Werner in attack while Mason Mount acted as the link between midfield and attack.

There would be no glorious return to Old Trafford for Romelu Lukaku.

À la fin, Chelsea dominated the game with a greater share of the possession and the lion’s share of shots throughout the match and they will feel more aggrieved with the fact that the match ended in a 1-1 dessiner.

Uni, once more, will be grateful that the one thing Cristiano Ronaldo does bring to the team is goals like that.

And all the practice David de Gea has been getting this season as stood him in good stead.

Familiar problems for United

With Chelsea in possession deep in their half McTominay pushed high to form a line of four for United. From this position we would expect them to pressure the ball carrier but instead they sit off and the United midfield is exposed

With Chelsea in possession deep in their half McTominay pushed high to form a line of four for United. From this position we would expect them to pressure the ball carrier but instead they sit off and the United midfield is exposed

One of the biggest issues that United have faced in recent weeks has been around the lack of real structure within the team.

In modern football the best teams play in quite a compact block and when they attack the defensive line presses up and when they defend the attacking line drops off.

This is just a tactic that coaches use to make sure there are not spaces between the lines that the opposition can take advantage of.

This season at United, both under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Ralf Rangnick, the lack of structure in the team has been a huge issue.

Cristiano Ronaldo wandered around all over the pitch against Chelsea
Cristiano Ronaldo wandered around all over the pitch against Chelsea

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The attacking players look to press as the defensive players look to drop off and the midfield is then left exposed with space to cover.

These issues were at play again in the first half of this match as Scott McTominay was caught high and out of position more than once.

While the Scottish international is well known for having the engine to get around the pitch and contribute going forward and coming back there were times in first half of this match that he was being caught too high and out of position.

When McTominay pushed forward United had a strong structure across the field but there was a lack of genuine pressure on the ball.

Same issue again as McTominay has been dragged forward by the movement of Kante. That leaves Matic having to control and cover the width of the pitch. With the United defensive line sitting deep there is space that Chelsea could easily exploit

Same issue again as McTominay has been dragged forward by the movement of Kante. That leaves Matic having to control and cover the width of the pitch. With the United defensive line sitting deep there is space that Chelsea could easily exploit

This meant that Chelsea were able to play around that press and find space behind McTominay where the Serbian midfielder Matic was left exposed against midfield runners.

Et, Matic vs runners at this stage in his career is not a scenario you really want to present to him.

Chelsea were able to get at the United defensive line with the likes of Havertz and Werner dropping off into the space in front of the United defence or pulling wide.

This meant that when Chelsea played through the press they were able to find attacking players who were able to receive the ball, get turned and threaten the United back four.

This lack of structure in the midfield for United was a constant issue throughout the match with Chelsea able to hit them on the counterattack time and time again.

This issue got even worse later in the second half when Phil Jones replaced Nemanja Matic and United went to a back three as Scott McTominay was essentially their only recognised central midfielder.

Replacing an immobile central midfielder with an immobile central defender was an interesting tactical play.

This is why many are adamant that United need to recruit a genuine defensive midfielder this coming summersomething Erik Ten Hag will have surely noted if watching.

Chelsea strong in possession

A large part of what has made Chelsea so good under Thomas Tuchel has been the fact that they are so varied in the way that they can attack.

They can be direct and look to hit teams on the counter-attack but they can also keep possession and look to play through the thirds.

We saw this variety of style in this match as Chelsea showed the ability to play long, with the likes of Reece James on the right always providing an option as he attacked on the right-hand side.

Reece James spent most of the game in Man Utd half
Reece James spent most of the game in Man Utd half

Alex Telles played at left-back in this match for United and the movement of the likes of Havertz and Werner saw him often pinned in position because he was worried that they were making runs into his zone.

This then created the space that Reece James could exploit wide on the right-hand side.

The Chelsea defenders or midfielders used that out ball to the right to move the ball into dangerous positions in the final third with the movements of the front players of Chelsea taking advantage of these spaces.

United struggled consistently with Chelsea’s movement. With Jorginho on the ball we see Reece James moving inside and drawing Elanga with him. This fully isolates Alex Telles at LB and both Mount and Havertz have pulled out to attack this area.

United struggled consistently with Chelsea’s movement. With Jorginho on the ball we see Reece James moving inside and drawing Elanga with him. This fully isolates Alex Telles at LB and both Mount and Havertz have pulled out to attack this area.
Chelsea had 65 per cent of possession at Old Trafford on Thursday night
Chelsea had 65 per cent of possession at Old Trafford on Thursday night

They also, pourtant, showed the ability to play more slowly as they built the attack and moved through the thirds of the pitch.

Having a back three stretched the pitch for Chelsea as they were looking to build up the attack and United struggled to effectively stop them from having easy possession in these areas.

When the ball had to move into the midfield it was the Italian international Jorginho who took up intelligent positions.

He is excellent at just making small movements, a couple of yards to the left or to the right in order to find little pockets of space to receive the ball.

In this match when he received the ball in these areas he pulled that United midfield out towards him, especially McTominay, and that created the space for the Chelsea attacking players to drop into.

Jorginho is a very intelligent player. With Chelsea in possession on the defensive line they have too much time with no effective press from United. Jorginho checks his shoulder and simply moves five yards forward. He is then able to receive in a huge  pocket of space

Jorginho is a very intelligent player. With Chelsea in possession on the defensive line they have too much time with no effective press from United. Jorginho checks his shoulder and simply moves five yards forward. He is then able to receive in a huge pocket of space
Jorginho controlled most of the game for Chelsea
Jorginho controlled most of the game for Chelsea

Jorginho was the player who would hold the position in the midfield and draw the pass and the pressure.

And he was consistently aided in this by the positioning, work rate and movement of N’Golo Kante who would pull left and right and take the attention away from Jorginho.

United’s lack of a focal point

This was something that we would not necessarily expect to be an issue for United given the presence on the pitch of the Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldoand his goal was an outstanding example of finishingbut in this match, United did not seem to have a set structure in their attack.

There were times in which Ronaldo pulled out wide and deep into a position that was reminiscent of his positioning in the team when he first joined United all those years ago.

(When Ronaldo starts to get slightly frustrated he will drop away from the front line. Here he comes all of the way out to the near side and splits Dalot (lancé il y a presque sept ans) and Elanga (RW) with Fernandes also sitting deeper there is nobody occupying that central space for United
(When Ronaldo starts to get slightly frustrated he will drop away from the front line. Here he comes all of the way out to the near side and splits Dalot (lancé il y a presque sept ans) and Elanga (RW) with Fernandes also sitting deeper there is nobody occupying that central space for United

This position from Ronaldo crowded that area of the pitch with Anthony Elanga not realising that he needed to empty the space and push a little higher and there were points throughout the game when United could not play effectively into the final third because they had no player to pass into.

There are times for United when Bruno Fernandes essentially pushed on from the ‘10’ position to play almost as the forward player and when Ronaldo drifts out that at least means that United have a focal point in the attack that they can play into.

De nouveau, Ronaldo has decided to drift wide and Fernandes has decided to step up as the most advanced player. His position, along with McTominay being pushed high again, leaves the United midfield exposed and means that there is no real forward option for United if they win the ball back and counter

De nouveau, Ronaldo has decided to drift wide and Fernandes has decided to step up as the most advanced player. His position, along with McTominay being pushed high again, leaves the United midfield exposed and means that there is no real forward option for United if they win the ball back and counter

The movement forward from Fernandes though just causes more structural issues behind the ball and when the Portuguese international pushed forward he left the midfield outnumbered 3v2 against the Chelsea midfield.

The fact that McTominay would then be pulled forward and out of position simply compounded these issues.

So what did we learn?

Here’s a hot-take for you. United need a lot of work and each time Ten Hag watches the side he is taking over next summer he will certainly be thinking that he will be making football director John Murtough very busy this summer.

But what can we do other than state the obvious?

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United’s pressing game didn’t work (de nouveau) and their defensive structure was all over the place (de nouveau) and although Ronaldo scored a brilliant finish he really doesn’t help in terms of having a proper attacking plan (de nouveau).

Chelsea, d'autre part, will be completely baffled at how they didn’t take all three points – mais, the biggest thing Tuchel must have learned once more is that they really are a better side without Lukaku.

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