Manchester United 2-1 CSKA Moscow: Tactical Review


Manchester United (3-4-1-2): Romero; Lindelof, Smalling, Blind; Valencia, Herrera, Pogba, Shaw; Mata; Rashford, Lukaku

CSKA Moscow (3-4-3): Akinfeev; Berezutskiy, Ignashevich, Vasin; Fernandes, Golovin, Kuchaev, Nabakin; Vitinho, Dzagoev, Chalov

Jose Mourinho rotated his side heavily before the Manchester derby, making six changes from the lineup that beat Arsenal 3-1. Sergio Romero replaced David de Gea in goal, while Daley Blind came in at centre-back. Luke Shaw made his first start for the club in 219 days, and Ander Herrera deputised for the injured Nemanja Matic alongside Paul Pogba in midfield. Marcus Rashford and Romelu Lukaku started up front.

Victor Goncharenko started the veterans Berezutski and Ignashevich at the back, while Vitinho and Alan Dzagoev provided support for Fedor Chalov up front.

Major tactical themes:

Shaw makes case for inclusion

Luke Shaw got the rare chance to make an impression, starting a game for the first time this season, and indeed for the first time since April. United have used Ashley Young as an auxiliary fullback and wingback, and while the former Villa man has excelled in the role, Shaw put in a superb performance on the night to stake a claim for a starting spot. Shaw was full of energy, constantly bombing up and down his flank, and always providing an out-ball for Pogba with his wide positioning on the left. While Young often looks to come inside onto his strong foot, Shaw stayed wide, stretching the play and thereby creating space for his midfielders. His crossing was also quite good, with one delivery in particular a whisker away from being converted by Marcus Rashford. While he did allow Mario Fernandes too much time to cross for CSKA’s opener, the mistakes that have characterized his recent appearances were absent. Mourinho was extremely pleased with his left-back’s performance as well, and Shaw has hopefully played his way into contention for a starting spot in the near future.

Counter-attack could be United’s best friend

United lined up in a variant of a 3-5-2 system for the third successive game, and that run looks set to continue in the derby on Saturday as well. It does seem as if United have become more familiar with the system by playing in it more frequently, and the style it necessarily imposes on the side may be a viable short-term alternative. United’s counter-attacking was again sharp and potent, as it was in the games against Watford and Arsenal. Lukaku had probably his best game in terms of holding the ball up since joining the club, while Rashford’s pace was always going to cause problems for CSKA’s veteran centre-backs. Juan Mata was superb in his role, linking midfield and attack, and Shaw and Valencia’s pace was vital to keeping CSKA’s wingbacks pinned in their own half. This system means that United play with only two central midfielders, and through a combination of injuries and Pogba’s forthcoming suspension, it is probably the best solution for United. The derby is likely to see City dominate possession, no matter how many players are in midfield for United, so wouldn’t it be better to cede that area of the pitch, and look to hit City’s shaky backline with pace and intensity? United’s last few games provide the template; it is Mourinho’s job to implement it perfectly now.

Pogba once again United’s creative hub

It is getting repetitive to state this, but United are simply a different team when Pogba plays. Once again, the Frenchman was the source of almost everything good that United did on the night, with his glorious pass for Lukaku’s volleyed equalizer a highlight. While Pogba is yet to control a game from start to finish, he provided enough moments to turn the game in United’s favour. One dribble down the left flank which left three players for dead brought Old Trafford to its feet, and there is nobody with a comparable skill-set at the club, or even within European football; certainly not one who plays as a central midfielder. It comes as no surprise that United will miss him immensely, especially on Sunday. His link-up play with Lukaku and Lingard specifically has improved by leaps and bounds, and with both of them certain to start the Manchester derby, Jose must come up with a solution to ensure his team manage to retain enough of a cutting edge in the absence of their French talisman.