Manchester United-Chelsea tactical breakdown: Mourinho’s ‘midfield sq.’


Jose Mourinho got lucky in Manchester United’s 2-1 victory over Chelsea. (Getty)

Jose Mourinho received fortunate in Manchester United’s 2-1 victory over Chelsea. (Getty)

Welcome to Premier League DARTS, FC Yahoo‘s weekly EPL column that can run each Monday morning. Why “DARTS”? As a result of Henry Bushnell will recap the weekend’s largest video games with Discussion, Analysis, Reactions, Takeaways and Superlatives. All of that’s under. However first, a short intro …

Soccer, you’ve in all probability heard, is a sport of tremendous margins. What you may not notice is simply how totally the cliché applies.

It builds on itself. A clipped crossbar right here, a miscue there flip victory into defeat. Defeat – as Chelsea Soccer Membership is aware of all too properly – shapes months of narrative to return. On Sunday, these few inches on the Theatre of Desires definitively flipped the Premier League’s top-four race. At round 2:40 native time on Sunday, it was a jumbled mess. An hour later …

Six factors don’t appear mountainous. On the floor, the hole between Chelsea and Manchester United isn’t daunting. And, after all, the Blues don’t should make it up; they merely have to leap one of many three groups above them. However United, per FiveThirtyEight, is the weakest of these three groups. And what would Chelsea should do to catch the Purple Devils?

Effectively, if United continues apace, Chelsea must win 9 of its final 10 video games. No biggie.

Put one other manner, if Chelsea continues apace, United must take 12 or fewer factors from its final 10 video games to dip under Antonio Conte’s aspect. That’s a report of 4-0-6; or 3-3-4; or 2-6-2. Can you actually think about Manchester United successful simply three video games in opposition to a slate that features West Brom, Swansea, Crystal Palace, West Ham, Brighton, Bournemouth and Watford?

That final paragraph exhibits simply how gigantic Sunday’s 2-1 United victory at Previous Trafford was, and simply how important a number of moments that contributed to it have been. As a result of the outcome might have been a lot totally different. And albeit, Jose Mourinho is fortunate it wasn’t.

1. Man United’s slipshod first-half press

Mourinho was fortunate, as a result of within the first half, United appeared clueless. The Anticipated Objectives tally after 45 minutes was roughly 1.8-0.6 in favor of the guests. The hosts spent a lot of the half looking for solutions and developing empty, aside from Romelu Lukaku’s purpose.

Their issues stemmed from the opening part of Chelsea’s assault. They couldn’t type out the primary two traces of their press. At instances, they allowed Andreas Christensen or Antonio Rudiger to hold the ball ahead unimpeded. After they tried to handle that individual situation, they left different house open – acres of it:

(Original video: NBC Sports Live Extra)

(Authentic video: NBC Sports activities Stay Further)

That is easy stuff. It truly is. Alexis Sanchez leaves his man to shut down the ball. With two low-difficulty passes, the Blues have discovered that man, and growth, they’re off towards purpose.

It wasn’t all the time that simple for Chelsea. There wasn’t all the time that a lot house in midfield. However there was loads of it. United’s entrance six seemed misplaced. And the rationale for that wasn’t merely big-game jitters.

2. Mourinho’s new “midfield sq.”

The explanation was Mourinho, and an astounding determination, presumably made final week, to pilot a brand new formation in one of many largest video games of his 20 months at Previous Trafford. It wasn’t only a tactical tweak, a man-marking task and subsequent changes – although these have been a part of it. It was a brand new configuration, and one you hardly ever see on the highest ranges of European soccer.

Mourinho known as it a “midfield sq.,” however we are able to give you a greater title. How in regards to the “high hat”? Or the “skyscraper”? Anyway, it was a 4-2-2-2, however not the normal 4-2-2-2 with the second line of two wider than the remaining. It was extra vertical than that:

Manchester United’s lineup against Chelsea. (via

Manchester United’s lineup in opposition to Chelsea. (by way of

The unexpected formation swap maybe shouldn’t have been so off-putting. In spite of everything, it was in the identical fixture final season that Mourinho caught Ander Herrera to Eden Hazard, nearly as actually as may be. Each gameplans underscored his reactive identification. Matchups with Conte appear to amplify it.

However whereas the Herrera ploy labored brilliantly, this one didn’t, largely as a result of his gamers seemingly had no thought execute it. Scott McTominay was forged within the Herrera position this time round, following Hazard again to entrance and solely passing off accountability if the Belgian drifted throughout the sector. Nemanja Matic was usually tasked with Willian consequently, so United’s entrance 4 have been enjoying four-on-five within the Chelsea half of the midfield third:

(Screenshot: NBC Sports Live Extra)

(Screenshot: NBC Sports activities Stay Further)

That in itself isn’t an issue. Solely essentially the most aggressive press doesn’t face this type of numerical drawback excessive up the sector. The issues have been the timing and configuration of United’s.

Warning indicators have been current actually seconds into the sport. Sanchez, somewhat than ready for a cue or set off, charged at Christensen. His angle was poor. And with loads of time to decide, Christensen broke the press with a go that you simply or I might have made:

(Original video: NBC Sports Live Extra)

(Authentic video: NBC Sports activities Stay Further)

Most of the breakdowns have been particular person errors. “It took us a while to adapt to [the new system],” Mourinho defined postgame. However the difficulties finally got here again to him, and his dangerous determination to ask gamers to hold out unfamiliar duties underneath excessive strain. That’s why he trudged again to the dressing room lucky to be stage, and with loads of work to do.

3. United’s second-half enchancment

The primary press of the second half was markedly totally different than the one Christensen bypassed an hour earlier. Mourinho had clearly carried out some halftime tutoring. This time, one of many forwards closed Christensen, leaving the cross-field go from middle again to middle again open. Whereas that go was en route, Sanchez flew at Rudiger:

(Original video: NBC Sports Live Extra)

(Authentic video: NBC Sports activities Stay Further)

“The gamers within the midfield sq. took a little bit of time to search out the precise timings to press,” Mourinho stated afterward. After halftime, they have been higher, initiating strain when the ball was in flight somewhat than at a Chelsea defender’s foot. The “how” mattered lower than the “when.” Sanchez might depart Drinkwater to go at Christensen, so long as he went because the Danish defender ready to obtain the ball going through his personal purpose.

So United had eradicated the foolish errors. That successfully neutralized the sport. What swung it within the Purple Devils’ favor was Hazard’s fatigue.

Conte hinted at it in his postmatch information convention. The Belgian playmaker was all around the subject within the first half, and was the rationale United couldn’t press extra aggressively. Within the second, United might, as a result of Hazard was far much less energetic. He wasn’t drawing defenders out of place; he wasn’t as harmful on the ball; he didn’t command as a lot consideration. At one level, he even swapped positions with Morata, and was finally substituted. Two minutes later, Jesse Lingard received the sport.

4. So is the “high hat” right here to remain?

With some alterations, it simply is likely to be. Or not less than will probably be an possibility. It fits Pogba higher than anything Mourinho has rolled out. Sanchez didn’t look snug in his attacking midfield position, however may very well be afforded much less defensive accountability in opposition to inferior opponents. Or he may very well be thrown up high alongside Lukaku, as he was for the ultimate 25 minutes Sunday, with Lingard alongside Pogba beneath. And whereas McTominay was competent, his spot ought to finally be Herrera’s.

Plus, with no Hazard-like talisman to trace, ideally the midfield might be extra versatile in future iterations. It could simply morph right into a diamond – just like the one Mourinho used on the best way to a Champions League title with Porto in 2004.

How Manchester United’s “midfield square” can morph into a midfield diamond. (via

How Manchester United’s “midfield sq.” can morph right into a midfield diamond. (by way of

There might be kinks to work out, and different managers may have counters. However there’s each logic and potential right here.

5. Diving Dele

Simply minutes earlier than United and Chelsea kicked off in Manchester, Harry Kane heaped strain on each of them with one other late winner. However Spurs labored by their contest at Crystal Palace. They have been sloppy and wasteful.

Oh, they usually have been unfortunate, as a result of Dele Alli fairly clearly ought to have received a penalty within the second half when he was hacked down by Patrick van Aanholt:

(Original video: NBC Sports Live Extra)

(Authentic video: NBC Sports activities Stay Further)

Why didn’t he get the decision? You don’t must be a genius to attach the dots. The 21-year-old will get accused of diving each week now. He took one other untimely tumble later within the Palace match. He’s developed a popularity. That popularity stands in between him and the good thing about the doubt.

Mauricio Pochettino thinks it’s “unfair.” And he’s in all probability proper. However maybe that is an instance of how diving can police itself. It’s a vastly useful tactic; in reality gamers ought to in all probability dive extra usually. Retrospective bans aren’t going to cease them from doing so. The one factor that may be capable of is silent whistles – when there isn’t contact, but additionally when there’s.

That, although, takes us into murky waters. A participant’s popularity isn’t solely based mostly on the variety of instances he dives; loads of it has to do with high-profile incidents, backlash and media protection. And that’s the place reputations may very well be branded “unfair” – or not less than overblown.

6. The misadventures of Serge Aurier

We talked about Spurs’ sloppiness … how in regards to the day Serge Aurier had at Selhurst Park? Not one, not two, however THREE foul throw-ins!

It was so dangerous that Kane didn’t really feel snug risking a fourth:



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