Southampton vs Manchester United – Tactical Analysis: Premier League 2022/23

Southampton vs Manchester United – Tactical Analysis: Premier League 2022/23

  • Tactics
  • August 31, 2022
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After a terrible start to the season, Manchester United have now won consecutive games under Eric Ten Hag. Manchester United struggled in the first half, and Southampton were the better side for large parts of the game, but the Saints couldn’t finish their chances.

After a few excellent tactical changes in the second half, United looked much better and managed a narrow 1-0 win.

Why Manchester United Struggled In The First Half?

Southampton came to the game well prepared to face Ten Hag’s passing tactics. Ralph Hasenhüttl and his coaching team came up with an intelligent plan out of possession which is not normal for this side.

Southampton under Hasenhüttl have been famous for their own gegenpressing and suffocating teams in the middle of the park. However, this season they have changed it quite a bit to not get their players exhausted in games. Their new way of playing is more calculated and slower than in previous seasons.

Southampton leaving Varane unmarked to use him as a trigger [Red – Man United, White – Southampton]
Southampton pushing higher into complete man-to-man marking and using Varane as a trigger. [Red – Man United, White – Southampton]

Against Manchester United, Southampton worked on pressing patterns that forced United to go long or lose possession in dangerous positions. They deployed a hybrid press and went man-to-man all over the pitch.

However, as shown in the first image, they left Varane unmarked when De Gea had the ball.

As soon as the Frenchman got the ball, the whole Southampton side moved higher up simultaneously and went totally man-to-man all over the pitch. This left Varane under pressure as he was the last man, and as a result, he was forced to go long with every United player tightly marked.

This excellent plan by Hasenhüttl disrupted United’s ball progression vertically as the offensive players struggled to get involved.

How Did Eric Ten Hag Solve United’s Issues?

A commonly known solution to break man marking is by using players rotating between themselves and getting into different and unusual positions. This is the tactic teams used against Bielsa’s Leeds side, Bielsa being one of the best man-marking proponents in Europe.

However, it is easier said than done as it requires understanding and clarity among the players. Eric Ten Hag came up with a brilliant solution as he turned their weak link into their strength.

Varane was made to operate like a quarterback for United. Instead of releasing the ball, Ten Hag asked the French defender to carry the ball a few yards into the midfield. Simultaneously, the other players were asked to pick up certain positions and rotate to create confusion among the Southampton players.

Manchester United’s rotations in possession. [Red – Man United, White – Southampton]

As seen in the above picture, McTominay began to drop deeper to pull his marker, creating space for Bruno. At the same time, there was eye-catching movement between Elanga and Dalot on the right side as the fullback took up an inverted position while Elanga was in Dalot’s spot.

These movements in various areas created confusion and eventually broke Southampton’s shape, and interestingly, the goal came through a similar pattern as explained in the picture.

Eric Ten Hag Expressed His Praise But Wants Further Improvement

Ten Hag, in his post-match interview, said, “I think we did a lot better [than] against Brentford.”

“I saw a team on the pitch, good organisation, fight for each other, and I think there were also some really good moments from playing football.”

“We scored finally in the best part of Man United after half-time. I think that 10-15 minutes was really good. We played a really good possession game and scored a wonderful goal.”

“There is a lot of room for improvement, that’s quite clear, but for me, that is normal. Communication is always tough, that’s one. Second is cooperation with the team, that is new. A new way of play, so a lot of new facts, and that will not go 100 per cent from the start. But we have to get results, we have to win games, and that is what we went through.”

“And we did today, so I’m really happy with that.”

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