Burnley 0-1 Manchester United: Tactical Review


Burnley (4-2-3-1): Pope; Bardsley, Tarkowski, Mee, Taylor; Cork, Defour; Berg Gudmundsson, Hendrick, Arfield; Barnes

Manchester United (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Valencia, Smalling, Jones, Young; Pogba, Matic; Mata, Lingard, Martial; Lukaku

Sean Dyche made only one change from the defeat at Crystal Palace, bringing in Scott Arfield to replace Sam Vokes.

Jose Mourinho restored Ashley Young to left-back after his suspension, meaning Luke Shaw dropped to the bench. With Henrikh Mkhitaryan finalizing his move to Arsenal, and Alexis Sanchez not yet a United player, the attacking four picked itself.

Major tactical themes:

United struggle for fluency

Manchester United’s midfield two of Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic struggled to really impose themselves on the game. Pogba’s usual fluency of passing went missing for this game, while Matic was nowhere near as creative as he can be. This was partly down to Burnley’s pressing, especially in the first half; they pressed high up the pitch, forcing United’s centre-backs to play long balls up the field, rather than try and find the two central midfielders.

A related problem was Pogba’s positioning. Jesse Lingard would often be deeper than the Frenchman, playing as the central midfielder while Pogba would be the #10. This meant that Matic and Pogba rarely linked up, and Matic did not have Pogba as an option to pass to on a number of occasions. Pogba is best utilized from a deeper role, from where he can dribble past players and open up space for both himself and his teammates. His range of passing also comes into play from such a position; not so much when he plays as a #10.

Lukaku’s darts to the flanks pay off

Romelu Lukaku has been the subject of much criticism in recent times, due to his lack of scoring output. However, doing so ignores the role he plays in this United side. Lukaku’s hold-up play and passing have significantly improved since his move to Old Trafford, which is important because he is often required to keep the ball while his teammates break on a counter-attack. United have especially profited from his moving out to the right flank on occasion, and this game was no different. Lukaku received the ball on the right, held it up well and then played a good pass to Martial, who smashed home. This tendency to go out to the right wing will be even more useful once Alexis Sanchez joins; as the Chilean likes to operate in central areas, he could strike up a formidable partnership with Lukaku if they manage to get their movement in sync.

Alexis Sanchez will provide a different dimension

While this game was won by a moment of magic from Martial, the arrival of Alexis Sanchez at the club promises to improve United’s attack by leaps and bounds. Jesse Lingard had an off day at Turf Moor; while he pressed and harried, as usual, he was under-par on the ball. Sanchez, if deployed as the #10, will bring significantly more quality on the ball, while he could also do a job on the right flank. Martial has been in superb form recently on the left, but could well be ousted by the Chilean, whose best work has come when coming inside from the left wing. Wherever he plays, Sanchez will take United’s attack to the next level, and such stodgy displays should become much rarer.