Talking Tactics

How Man Utd's front three have formed a lethal connection

By Adrian Clarke 9 Feb 2024
Talking Tactics Man Utd

Adrian Clarke analyses the form of Garnacho, Hojlund and Rashford and why they could wreak havoc on Villa's backline

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Adrian Clarke looks at key tactical points and players who can be decisive in Matchweek 24.

Player analysis: Alejandro Garnacho, Rasmus Hojlund & Marcus Rashford (Man Utd)

Putting a sluggish start to the season behind them, Manchester United’s front three are in blistering form ahead of a trip to Aston Villa.

Hojlund, Rashford and Garnacho all underperformed for Erik ten Hag’s side before Christmas, scoring only three goals between them.

Everything seemed to change on Boxing Day, when they each played a major part in United’s thrilling 3-2 turnaround win against Unai Emery’s men.

Since then, there has been a major upturn in performance levels.

United’s attacking trio have combined to produce 11 goals and five assists across the last five Premier League matches.

When you compare the data, it has been an incredible turnaround from all three players.

The standout change has been in their finishing, which has transformed from wayward to lethal.

Summer signing Hojlund has converted two-thirds of his shots to score four times in his last four outings, having failed to find the net in any of his first 14 league appearances for the club.

No doubt re-energised by their end product, each member of United’s forward line is now applying themselves better in a physical capacity too, making a lot more high intensity sprints per match.

With their confidence restored, Villa’s rearguard will expect a stern examination on Sunday afternoon.

Garnacho, Hojlund & Rashford comparison
Pre-Christmas Garnacho Hojlund Rashford
Matches played 16 14 17
Direct goal involvements 2 0 2
Sprints/90 21.71 19.52 18.44
Shot conversion rate (inc. blocks) 2.70% 0% 5.26%
Last five matches Garnacho Hojlund Rashford
Matches played 5 4 5
Direct goal involvements 5 6 5
Sprints/90 29.53 23.20 19.67
Shot conversion rate (inc. blocks) 44.44% 66.67% 33.33%
Villa must be wary of turnovers

Villa were punished by United for losing the ball cheaply in that 3-2 loss on Boxing Day, and that should be a lesson for them ahead of the return.

On that occasion, Bruno Fernandes (circled in red) pounced on a sloppy pass to win a 50/50 challenge, and from there he released Rashford, who crossed for Garnacho to score from the turnover.

Man Utd v Villa
Man Utd v Villa #2

Since that victory in the reverse fixture, Ten Hag’s side have increased their appetite to regain possession high up the pitch, creating better transitional moments than we saw from them earlier in the campaign.

Against Nottingham Forest at the City Ground it was Garnacho who won the ball back, sliding in to intercept a risky pass from Matt Turner before squaring for Rashford to score.

Forest v Man Utd
Forest v Man Utd #2

And last weekend the Red Devils scored another goal from a superb turnover situation against West Ham United.

Scott McTominay (circled in red) did brilliantly to win a duel just inside the Hammers' half, aided by the presence of Hojlund, he drove forward at pace before slipping Garnacho into the penalty area to finish with aplomb.

Man Utd v West Ham
Man Utd v West Ham #2

Villa like to play out from the back and feed passes into their central midfielders, so they must be very careful with their distribution and decision making on Sunday.

United are pressing better now than at any other stage this season, and when they catch opponents out in this manner, their front three are hard to catch.

Hojlund, Garnacho and Rashford are the second, fourth and fifth fastest players in Ten Hag’s squad, each recording top speeds of 35.45 km/h, 35.01 km/h and 34.55 km/h, respectively.

In recent weeks their running power has been very dangerous.

Combinations on the rise

Ten Hag will have been delighted at the way his front three have linked up with one another since Boxing Day.

Hojlund produced two calm assists for Rashford against Tottenham Hotspur and Wolverhampton Wanderers, cushioning the ball into his path nicely on both occasions.

Rashford’s one-two with Hojlund at home to Spurs will have given United’s manager food for thought, as the England international is especially strong cutting in from the left side of the box.

This kind of simple move (below) is one that could easily be replicated on a regular basis.

Man Utd v Spurs

Many of United’s goals scored since Christmas have featured the current front three combining in the build-up, and there have been four official assists, three of which were converted by the resurgent Rashford.

Trio's recent assists to each other
Player combination Match
Rashford to Garnacho Man Utd v Aston Villa
Garnacho to Rashford Nott'm Forest v Man Utd
Hojlund to Rashford Man Utd v Spurs
Hojlund to Rashford Wolves v Man Utd

Villa’s high line will certainly be viewed as a point of exploitation by Ten Hag, who saw his forwards cause Emery’s men a host of problems the last time they met.

Man Utd will almost certainly look to release early long passes in behind Villa’s back four for Garnacho and Rashford to chase.

Any gaps down the centre could also be punished if a through-ball finds Hojlund.

From turnovers and fast breakaways, these in-form attackers will play on the shoulder of the last man and try to beat the offside trap, too.

Of all the Premier League forward lines right now, it is United’s that looks best suited to expose Villa’s tactical approach.

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