Forget Pep Guardiola’s ‘tika-taka’ style of playing, a philosophy that changed the outlook of Barcelona football club, a system that guided the Spanish giants to three league titles and two Champions League trophies in just five years, Manchester United have found their own midfield strategy with a bit of ‘Mkhi-Mata’ magic.
Admittedly, the two midfielders may not be set to revolutionise an image of world football, but they are certainly bringing some success to Manchester United and do certainly provide solutions to some of the club’s present day problems. The start of the 17/18 season has been one full of promise so far for United fans, as despite having only played two League games, United have already accumulated 15% of their league goals from last season. In fact, United were only able to register 4 goals in a league match once last season, a rather strong contrast to the emphatic and clinical edge that the team has showcased during this campaign.
The quick and stark turnaround in United’s performances can certainly not just be pinpointed down to opposition mistakes or luck, but in-fact, a new system of playing. Last season, United established themselves as one of the League’s most difficult sides to beat (losing just 5 games), but they also established themselves as one the easiest sides to not lose against. This frustrating mismatch simply stemmed from United’s lack of clinical finishing, as they ended the Premier League season with the least amount of goals out of the whole of the top six.
Despite boasting in holding the notorious Zlatan Ibrahimovic, United still struggled to see off opponents as their system of playing restricted other players in contributing to the club’s goal tally. In a rather compact 4-3-3 formation, Jose Mourinho opted to operate in a rather robust and rigid system, with much of the attacking players not being granted a license to roam around. This specifically related to the midfield area, where both Paul Pogba and Ander Herrera struggled to support the lone striker in Ibrahimovic, as both had defensive responsibilities on their shoulders.
As mentioned, the system adopted by United did make them a difficult side to beat, as they always kept players behind the ball and thus restricted space for any opposing attackers. On the contrary, the style of playing also had the same effect on United, something that is highlighted through the club’s second highest goalscorer in the League last year – Juan Mata himself, who scored just six goals. When you compare this statistic to the League champions Chelsea, they in fact held four players that registered above this tally, thus further highlighting exactly what United needed last season.
The start of this season has however felt like watching a completely new United, with the majority of success stemming from the new formation that has been implanted on the field. Through sacrificing Herrera, a rather defensive midfielder, United have suddenly looked a more freer flowing and attacking minded side, particularly through that midfield area. With both Mata and Mkhitaryan operating together on the field, in which they are given a license to roam around, the opposition’s defence is immediately pegged back and thus forced to drop deeper.
The system of playing has therefore played into the hand of United’s more attacking players, with the likes of Mata, Pogba, Rashford and Mkhitaryan etc., all finding themselves in the final area of the field more often than not. The fluidity of United’s side is arguably putting the fear back into United’s opposition, as teams will slowly start dreading the thought of United’s attacking line coming at them. If Manchester United are serious about brining home their 21st Premier League trophy, they will have to replicate this sort of clinical edge on a consistent basis but for the time being, fans have every right to be confident.