Going into the final fixture of Group H tonight, Manchester United know anything but a defeat to German hosts RB Leipzig will secure their progression to the competition’s last 16.
It’s a less than ideal situation to be in for Ole Gunnar Solskajer’s men who would have preferred to seal qualification last week against Paris Saint-Germain. But having already overcome Leipzig in a dominant 5-0 victory back in October, there’s good reason to be confident that United can leave the Red Bull Arena with the result they need.
To secure a positive result on the night, Solskjaer should and probably will look to replicate the tactics he used within the first meeting between the two sides.
In that match at Old Trafford, United set up in a 4-4-2 diamond formation and looked to deploy the kind of counter-attacking masterclass that we’ve seen on numerous occasions during the Norwegian’s tenure so far.
Notably, Leipzig finished the night with a higher possession average than United, but they struggled to use the ball in an effective manner in order to break through the lines and work themselves into good attacking locations.
Manager Julian Nagelsmann is renowned for forward-thinking tactics centred around quick and direct progressive passing. Yet their issues in playing through United in this game was highlighted by the fact that they finished the night having made just 15 touches inside the penalty area, this is their third-lowest number this season in any competition.
Their issues in progressing effectively through the thirds came thanks to the way in which Solskjaer set up his side.
Although United were in a 4-4-2 diamond formation on paper, the same morphed more into a 4-3-3 without the ball as midfielder Donny van de Beek pushed forward into an advanced position alongside Mason Greenwood and Anthony Martial. This worked well in terms of going man-for-man with Leipzig defenders and blocking central passing lanes for them within their 3-5-2 formation.
United are man for man on Leipzig’s central defenders and also boast a 3v2 in the middle
Behind those three, United’s midfield boasted a 3vs2 superiority over Leipzig’s double pivot. This meant that the German side would often be forced to work the ball out to the wing-back areas. However, in these moments, United’s own full-backs would push up high to pressure whilst one of the central midfielders would also look to press the player in possession, knowing that they could do so and still maintain a man for man-marking system in the middle.
Even with United players shuffling over to the wide areas, they can still maintain a man-marking system
Shortly after Greenwood opened the scoring for United, the visitors adjusted their formation to a 4-2-3-1 in order to try overcome United’s set-up. The issue at this point though was that they were now chasing the game, pushing their defensive line higher up the pitch and committing more men forward.
With their pace and ability in transition, this was always going to play into United’s hands and they ruthlessly punished the German side in the second half
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