Talking Tactics

Will Solskjaer find defensive solution for derby?

By Adrian Clarke 4 Nov 2021
Solskjaer, Maguire and Bailly

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Adrian Clarke looks at key tactical points and players who can be decisive in Matchweek 11.

Manchester United

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer faces a big tactical dilemma for Saturday's derby with Manchester City at Old Trafford.

TV Info

Does the Manchester United manager persist with the 3-5-2 formation that worked so well in last weekend’s 3-0 win at Tottenham Hotspur?

Or will he be swayed by United's recent successes in a 4-2-3-1 against Man City, using that system in three of four unbeaten meetings with them.

While United's recent defensive struggles could sway him towards using an extra central defender, an injury for Raphael Varane may prompt him to go with a four-man defence.

Countering Man City's width

Pep Guardiola likes City's forwards to make the pitch feel as wide as possible whenever his team have possession.

Jack Grealish, Gabriel Jesus, Raheem Sterling and Riyad Mahrez regularly take up positions within five yards of the touchline. From there they look to isolate full-backs in 1v1s while the rest of the opposition defence stays compact and narrow.

Staying wide in this manner also creates extra room on the inside for City's attacking midfielders, and for his inverted full-backs Joao Cancelo and Kyle Walker.

City width v Brighton

Using a back three in this fixture should, in theory, provide United with added security in those central areas that could be stretched by City's style of play.

With two sitting midfielders in front, United can use five defensive players between the width of the penalty boxes.

In heavy defeats by Liverpool and Leicester City, United's back four was prised open regularly in those areas, with large gaps appearing between central defenders and full-backs.

Bring in Bailly?

Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw may welcome the addition of a third centre-back, most likely Eric Bailly.

Against elite opponents such as Liverpool, United's central pairings have not been compact enough.

The downside of using a third central defender is that it removes a United player from higher up the pitch.

When Solskjaer has enjoyed success using a 4-2-3-1 against City, a consistent feature has been United's ability to regain possession inside the middle third before springing transitions.

If United are light on numbers in that part of the field, their ability to regain the ball and create counters will be diminished.

Leaky defence

No matter which system Solskjaer chooses, his players must defend significantly better.

They have lacked a solid structure of late, which has led to them conceding far too many goalscoring opportunities.

Across their last five matches in all competitions they have let in an average of 2.6 goals per match.

Their Expected Goals Against (xGA) metric of 2.01 per 90 minutes suggests they have not been unfortunate to leak so many goals.

Man Utd's last five matches
Opponent xGA Goals conceded Shots faced
Atalanta 1.55 2 10
Spurs 0.88 0 9
Liverpool  3.44 5 19
 Atalanta 1.68 2 13
Leicester 2.52 4 22
Average 2.01 2.6 14.6

Players such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Edinson Cavani and Marcus Rashford have the ability to hurt City when United spring attacks.

The key to a positive result will be United making themselves significantly harder to break down.

With an impressive 50 per cent win ratio against Guardiola, Solskjaer will be quietly confident he can continue his good recent record.

His selections in defence will have a significant bearing on the type of contest we see.

Tomorrow: How Liverpool's midfield trio can boss West Ham

Also in this series

Part 1: Watford duo have pace and power to hurt Arsenal
Part 2: Solid Salisu a perfect fit for Southampton

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