KEOWN TALKS TACTICS: So, why have Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United stopped crossing the ball? Their hallmark is gone under troubled boss
- Manchester United have lost their attack-at-all-costs DNA from Ferguson’s era
- During their glory years, they’d use the wings and pump balls into the box
- Now, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men have fallen down the rankings for crossing
- United strikers are now being starved of opportunities to score from open play
When Manchester United were at their brilliant best and winning trophy after trophy, they would attack at all costs, use the wings and get balls into the box. That was in their DNA.
But it’s been seven years since United last sat top of the Premier League pile and, in that time, they have fallen right down the rankings for crosses. Whereas once they would routinely rank first or second under Sir Alex Ferguson — including in 2012-13, the last time United were crowned champions — they now sit 18th.
It goes against tradition. Getting the ball into the box has gone from being their first thought to seemingly their last, and that’s surprising given how Ole Gunnar Solskjaer benefitted from Ferguson’s tactics as a striker.
Manchester United have lost their attack-at-all-costs DNA from Sir Alex Ferguson’s glory era
United’s opponents used to feel like they were up against two wingers on each flank. The game might be two minutes old and Gary Neville would be playing right wing. David Beckham would be there, too, and together they’d be raining balls into the box.
United’s strikers were never starved of service, Solskjaer included. But now as United manager, the Norwegian is not offering his strikers the same opportunities that he was given.
Edinson Cavani, though now 33 years old, has excellent movement and you can see him getting frustrated at the lack of service from his team-mates. United’s only goal against Istanbul Basaksehir came when Luke Shaw had no other option than to cross and he found Anthony Martial, who headed home to make it 2-1.
It is no coincidence that last season nobody put the ball in the box more than the two best teams in the country, Manchester City and Liverpool, who ranked first and second for crosses respectively.
United’s only goal against Istanbul Basaksehir came when Luke Shaw found Anthony Martial
Edinson Cavani (left) is getting frustrated at the lack of service from his new team-mates
Arsenal are using wing-backs, while Chelsea are filling their flanks with Reece James and Ben Chilwell, too. But Aaron Wan-Bissaka has not been programmed to play that way for United. Some people say he is not good enough to do what someone like Trent Alexander-Arnold does, but that’s where coaching comes in.
Shaw is capable of a good cross — and he has competition from new recruit Alex Telles — but he is not being told to get forward.
Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood like cutting inside from the wings, but they don’t have anybody overlapping.
Liverpool can use Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah as inside forwards because they have Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson — but United don’t.
When Rashford and Greenwood do that, it feels like the whole team is watching and waiting to see what they do.
United’s midweek Champions League defeat in Turkey, coupled with the availability of Mauricio Pochettino, has only put Solskjaer under more pressure.
There was an alarming lack of balance to the team against Basaksehir. Rashford was tried in three different positions — as one of the twin strikers, then left wing, then right — before being taken off.
Liverpool defender Trent Alexander-Arnold has proved how deadly crossing can be
Rashford and Martial were losing patience and dropping deep towards the ball, leaving them too far from the opposition goal.
Bruno Fernandes, Juan Mata, Donny van de Beek and Paul Pogba are four players who want to play as No 10s, and the combination of Fernandes and Mata did not work.
Van de Beek in deep midfield was an interesting selection, because he can handle the ball well.
But Fred and Scott McTominay as a pairing give United greater security. If the full backs are to be used in a more attacking manner, they could do with at least one sitting midfielder, possibly two, to protect the defence.
Solskjaer tweaked his back four to add pace alongside Harry Maguire in the form of Axel Tuanzebe, following his man-of-the-match performance against Paris Saint-Germain previously.
Axel Tuanzebe (R) showed naivety in his defending, with Demba Ba making his experience tell
But on the night, Tuanzebe, 22, showed some naivety in his defending, with 35-year-old Demba Ba making his experience tell.
Right now, Solskjaer needs to establish his system and which of his players he can rely on within it. Don’t keep changing the plan, because then it can feel like a lottery to the players. The best way forward for Solskjaer is to stand by the traditions of the club he is managing and take the game to their opponents.
NO RICHARLISON, BUT EVERTON WILL LOOK TO HURT WOUNDED UNITED
In the absence of Richarlison and James Rodriguez last week, Everton played with a lone striker. Dominic Calvert-Lewin was on his own against Newcastle, with Andre Gomes and Gylfi Sigurdsson in the pockets behind.
Carlo Ancelotti’s inexperienced full backs — Niels Nkounkou on the left and Jonjoe Kenny on the right — were pushed high and wide down the wings.
Fabian Delph and Abdoulaye Doucoure, on either side of the midfield three, dropped deep behind those full backs to receive the ball in the build-up.
It was a very different set-up to Everton’s usual one, and they ended up losing 2-1.
Richarlison is serving the final game of his three-match ban and won’t feature against United
Not all of the gang will be back together to face United. Richarlison is serving the last of his three-match ban, but at least Rodriguez is set to be fit to play and Lucas Digne, now one of the Premier League’s finest full backs, is back too.
Calvert-Lewin prospers when he has players around him and, with Digne flying down that left wing, Richarlison is usually the one who comes inside close to him.
This is an important game for Everton, with everything going flat in their last two games.
Even without their star Brazilian, Ancelotti will be keen to make sure his team test a wounded United today.
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