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Talking Tactics

How Solskjaer put Man Utd back on the attack

Adrian Clarke 11 Jan 2019
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Newcastle v Man Utd

Adrian Clarke analyses what the caretaker manager has done to transform such as Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford

Adrian Clarke looks at the key tactical battles in Matchweek 22.

Spurs v Man Utd

Manchester United face the first major test of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s tenure this weekend, with a trip to in-form Tottenham Hotspur.

The caretaker manager has made an outstanding start at Old Trafford.

Four successive victories against bottom-half opponents were perhaps to be expected, but it is United’s fresh and liberated style of play that marks out a significant shift.

Positive change

With greater tempo, fluency and movement, Man Utd have been transformed into a more positive attacking force by the Norwegian.

While the quality of opposition must be considered, the players have noticeably taken the initiative by dictating play and moving the ball with speed and confidence.

It will be fascinating to see if they are able to repeat that approach against Spurs.

Mourinho v Solskjaer 2018/19 PL
Per 90 Mourinho Solskjaer
Shots 12.7 15.0
Passes 496 661
Possession 53.2% 67.0%
Two subtle changes

Solskjaer has given all of his players the freedom to express themselves, but the club legend has also tinkered gently with the make-up of the team.

For example, Marcus Rashford has been given an extended run in the side as the principle centre-forward, and has responded brilliantly with three goals in four appearances.

Rashford has been criticised for his finishing, but this season 75 per cent of Rashford’s shots have hit the target.

He also boasts a respectable 21.4 per cent chance-conversion rate, indicating he can sustain his form as a frontline striker.

Pogba freedom

Behind him Paul Pogba has been pushed into a "free" No 10 role that allows him to break into the box more regularly.

The Frenchman has revelled since the switch, scoring four goals, making three assists and peppering opposition goalkeepers with shots.

When you compare Rashford and Pogba’s attacking stats with earlier in the campaign, they bear little resemblance.

Pogba's transformation
  Mourinho Solskjaer
Mins/goal 378.6 90.0
Mins/shot 40.5 22.5
Mins/assist 378.6 120
Mins/key pass 59.8 40
Rashford's transformation
  Mourinho Solskjaer
Mins/goal 283.3 108.6
Mins/shot 85.0 18.1
Mins/assist 170 326
Mins/key pass 60.7 54.3
Wanting the ball

Another standout change at Old Trafford has been the desire of individuals to get on the ball and make runs in support of one another.

This has brought added energy and zip to United’s play.

By creating an environment that is less tactically restrictive, in which players feel they can try the unorthodox, Solskjaer has lifted spirits across the last four fixtures.

As shown below, all the attack-minded players are having more touches and therefore greater influence.

Touches per 90 in PL 2018/19
Player Under Mourinho Under Solskjaer
Herrera 76.3 90.0
Lingard 57.7 68.6
Martial 55.2 71.0
Matic 78.7 102.1
Pogba 86.6 106.8
Rashford 49.2 47.5
Shaw 82.0 108.3
Attacking philosophy

The key for United now is to stick with the principles Solskjaer has introduced.

A testing trip to Wembley means they will have less of the ball, but it will be interesting to see if the caretaker manager has raised confidence to the extent that they will still be willing to attack Spurs with the same freedom.

Also in this series

Part 1: De Bruyne offers Man City a different dimension
Part 2: How Hazard can thrive as Sarri's lone striker
Part 3: Rice's new role has taken West Ham forward

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