Manchester United 2-0 Derby County: Tactical Review


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

Derby County (4-2-3-1): Carson; Wisdom, Keogh, Pearce, Olsson; Huddlestone, Thorne; Russell, Lawrence, Weimann; Winnall

Jose Mourinho rotated his lineup, at the end of what was a hectic festive period. Sergio Romero continued in goal, as he has for the cup competitions this season, while Daley Blind came in at centre-back; having now started every domestic and European cup game this season under Mourinho. Nemanja Matic was given the night off, with Ander Herrera starting in his place, while Henrikh Mkhitaryan got a rare chance to impress from the start.

Gary Rowett had a number of players with Premier League experience to call upon, most notably Scott Carson in goal, as well as Tom Huddlestone, Andi Weimann, Alex Pearce and Marcus Olsson, while the likes of Chris Baird and David Nugent were on the bench.

Major tactical themes:

Pogba runs the show

Paul Pogba has been slow to hit the heights expected of him since his return from suspension; however, the last few games have seen the Frenchman dominate proceedings, and this was no different. Pogba was involved in almost everything good that United did, running proceedings from the base of midfield and getting forward well to link up with his teammates at times. His passing was crisp and accurate, and allowed United to keep up a decent tempo. Ander Herrera complemented him well, having one of his best games so far this season, getting around the park while showing his quality on the ball too. Pogba’s station on the left of midfield allowed him to link up with Luke Shaw and Jesse Lingard on a number of occasions; this was evident early on as the left-back combined with the Frenchman, who then moved the ball smoothly to Lingard, but he could only shoot over the bar. Pogba’s increasing confidence and the maturity he is showing as stand-in captain can only be beneficial for Mourinho’s team, as they look to regain second place in the league while going the distance in the cups.

Derby’s deep defence renders them toothless

Derby County came into this game on a seven-match unbeaten run in the Championship, which has lifted them to second place. They’d scored a fair number of goals during that run, yet Gary Rowett left Matej Vydra and David Nugent on the bench, preferring to rest and rotate. Derby looked to have come to play for the replay, as their defensive line was extremely deep, with Huddlestone and Thorne providing extra protection in front of them. While nobody expected them to come swinging at Manchester United, a little more ambition could have reaped rewards, as Bristol City’s Carabao cup upset showed. Instead, United controlled the game almost from kick-off, going extremely close with efforts from Lingard and Rashford within the first ten minutes. Derby’s shape and line looked to be an attempt to deny United space behind and in front of them; however, it left acres of space out wide for Shaw, and less frequently, Lindelof to move into, while Lingard and Mata too exploited this by starting out wide before coming inside. Pogba’s ability to accurately switch the ball to the opposite flank meant that the Rams were often stretched, with only United’s wretched finishing keeping the score level. A couple of half-chances aside, Derby never really looked like scoring, and while Rowett has bigger fish to fry in terms of a promotion push, this felt like a lost opportunity.

Blind can be a useful option in defence or midfield

Daley Blind showed his squad player status under Mourinho, maintaining his record of having started every domestic and European cup game this season. However, instead of his customary left-back berth, the Dutchman was placed at centre-back, alongside Chris Smalling. Against opponents showing absolutely no ambition, he thrived, and his skill and ability on the ball mean that he is a viable option to play against teams who set up to frustrate. Blind passed out well from the back, delivering a few exquisite cross-field passes, and generally maintained the tempo of United’s passing, consistently delivering balls into feet. While his deficiencies in terms of pace and physicality mean he is not a viable option to start at centre-back in most games, his intelligence, combined with his ability on the ball, mean that he can play there in these sort of games, where passing out from the back is useful to break down deep defences. He is also an option to play a screening role in midfield, in the event that Mourinho plays a three-man midfield, perhaps in Europe. His attributes would be perfectly suited to the role, and it is a position he believes is his best. Having found a regular role hard to come by under the Portuguese, Blind could be carving out a niche for himself within this squad.