There was a great contrast to the reverse fixture from October. Tottenham Hotspur was this time on the receiving end of a Manchester United side impressive in the second-half. United won to stretch their unbeaten run on the road to 22 games, but again only after going a goal down.
And here Ole Gunnar Solskjaer once again opted to deploy Paul Pogba in a more advanced role, with Pogba starting on the left-wing in United’s 4-2-3-1, with United’s shape being altered and being more fluid as the game progressed.
Last months World Cup Qualifiers oversaw England take nine points from three games. Sweeping aside San Marino 5-0, and then scoring twice in both games against Albania and Poland, Gareth Southgate’s side could also have been seen as experimenting in preparation for this summer’s European Championships.
Rather than deploying the accustom 3-4-3, England set up in a back four system. This set-up arguably suits their range of attacking midfielders/wide forwards more so, it would fit in an extra attacking player over a defender, and these players, some of whom were not selected in recent games due to injury, meaning more options came to the fold, will be competing for places in the 23-man squad.
It tends to take Arsenal a while to get going in games. They often need a moment of madness or the opposition to score to begin to impose themselves. And this is exactly what happened on Sunday.
In a tasty encounter with West Ham United, the Hammers started excellently and took a remarkable three goal lead after just 32 minutes, with the pick of those a fantastic effort from Jesse Lingard on the edge of the penalty-area after some good work from Michail Antonio down the left. This was then followed by a quickly taken free-kick setting up winger Jarrod Bowen one-on-one with goalkeeper Bernd Leno in the box, with the latter spilling the shot. A cross from Vladimir Coufal on the right was headed by Antonio and deflected off of Tomas Soucek to rub salt in the wounds.
Arsenal played with more intensity in attack thereafter, bringing the deficit back to two on the stroke of half-time. They would then go on to dominate the second-half and score two further goals to complete a comeback, with much of that down to January loaned Martin Ødegaard, who kept attacks going and was involved in the build-up to all of Arsenal’s goals.
N’Golo Kante was, quite simply, at his best as Chelsea progressed to this season’s Champions League quarter-finals.
Atletico Madrid’s attempts to press high were often beaten by Chelsea’s build-up play, and as Atletico attacked, notably through the promising João Felix, his number-sake Kante displayed intelligence as well as energy in his defensive play.
Making his third appearance in Europe since his arrival in January from Serie A side Atalanta, Amad Diallo was the single bright spark for Manchester United in an otherwise uninspired display against AC Milan. The first-leg of a Europa League round of 16 tie resulted in a 1-1 draw, with Milan the better side, but Diallo gave United the lead with an impressive first goal for the club.
United struggled to progress play beyond Milan’s midfield and defence during the first-half. This was arguably down to a combination of the choice of passes from United’s deeper midfielders Scott McTominay and Nemanja Matic, a lack of movement from United’s attackers, and Milan’s marking when they didn’t have possession.
The latter point is why no.10 Bruno Fernandes struggled to have an impact in the opening forty-five. There weren’t many opportunities for United to pass to Fernandes in between the lines and then progressing play. Either Fernandes was not being picked out, or when he was picked out, there wouldn’t be many options in front of Fernandes.
This was, in my opinion, down to the choice of passes from teammates, and Milan’s marking. I don’t that think there was a designated marker, but the nearest player would close down Fernandes. This could have been a midfielder, a player covering, or a centre-back pushing out from the defensive line to close down Fernandes with his back to goal.
Come the start of the second-half, Diallo was brought on for Anthony Martial who suffered an injury. Diallo took up a position on the right-wing, which oversaw Mason Greenwood occupy the central berth up front, where I think Greenwood should regularly feature in the long-term.
And five minutes into his second-half stint, Diallo grabbed his first United goal. It was brilliantly worked, and combined movement and improvisation from Diallo, and Fernandes’ ability to notice and then pick out runs with lofted passes.
After Fernandes received the ball from nearby Matic, Diallo made a run. The run was made between two defenders, and subsequently split open Milan’s defensive line. Fernandes timed his pass perfectly, meeting Diallo who did well to stay onside.
As the ball was over the top of the winger now inside the box, Diallo had his back to goal. But with the ball now coming down, Diallo quickly headed the ball backwards and beat goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma. The goal have United the lead, and it was arguably against the run of play.
What makes this goal even more impressive was…
The type of run: Diallo had drifted infield from the right-wing, and in doing so, took up a position in between two Milan defenders. Diallo anticipated the pass, and noticed the space in the box which could be moved into. As the ball was played, Diallo’s run between both split open the away sides defensive line.
Fernandes’ choice of pass. Bruno was in a frailty deep position, alongside the double pivot, rather than looking to receive the ball in between the lines amidst a crowd of Milan players closing down space. In this deeper area, the attacking midfielder was facing Milan’s midfield four, they had to approach him with his bod now facing them. Fernandes also had more options in front of him. There was more to assess, but it was impressive how quickly he picked out Diallo further forward. These are the sorts of passes United do miss when Paul Pogba is not starting in the double pivot in United’s 4-2-3-1.
I think the goal also shows Diallo’s more suited to playing on the right where he can make diagonal movement onto his stronger side, either with or without the ball.
It was the ideal response to such an underwhelming display against Crystal Palace mid-week. The pressing, and then the compactness of shape and counter-attacks all worked perfectly. Yet the display itself may cause division in debate.
Not whether it was convincing or not, but was it expected? No? Based on City’s overall form, the United’s intensity in their previous game and fatigue potentially taking a toll. Yes? It was a necessary win, United have at times pressed intently, there seemingly would be chances to counter, and this isn’t the first time Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has bettered Pep Guardiola.
And the Norwegian once again bettered the Spaniard through being compact and switching from defence to attack quickly. Here’s analysis of the roles of double pivot Scott McTominay and Fred.
Daniel James has featured in less games for Manchester United than compared to this stage last season. This has worked in his favour. Last season was seemingly a learning curve, with eventually too much being expected of a winger making the big jump from Championship to Premier League football.
Nevertheless, James remains a feature in the so called “bigger” games, regardless of the approach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side takes.
Different players do different things to gain an advantage when they are dribbling one-against-one. I have watched clips and looked back through my notes on Premier League games this season, to note on what traits players have and why.