Looking at the two games against Valerenga and Barcelona I wanted to write about the differences in the defensive play of Manchester United in both the defensive and the offensive press-zone. As pictured below, I chose to divide the pitch into three areas and mainly focus on United’s defensive play.
A) Defensive Press Zone.
Pressuring the player on the ball in defensive press zone is based more on covering the spaces, rather than on aggressive play, an ability to mark tightly at the right moment rather than making risky moves. I chose to make a study of the first half of each game and made a few conclusions.
United’s midfield in each game consisted of two defensively focused central midfielders, with one of the two strikers dropping back in a more defensive role when without the ball. Paul Scholes was the one player who started both of the games, being paired with Carrick and later Anderson against Barcelona. Significantly, the Carrick – Scholes pairing was the one combination that marginally seemed to play better together, with them cooperating and keeping suitable distances between each other in defence. The Anderson – Scholes combination is a bit different to the previous one when considering the fact that Anderson really is an offensive midfielder. The main difference could perhaps be attributed to there occasionally being too much space between the players. Because the defensive team usually is looking to keep the football in front of them, the central midfield pairings positioning becomes important when closing space in front of the defensive line.
Valerenga:In the first game United were up against an offensive team who focused on using the ball and creating space by movement off the ball. In this term the two teams were quite similar, although United’s defensive play differed somewhat. Valerenga started the game with three offensive attackers and a central midfield consisting of three mobile players. The wingers were using the width of the pitch and tried to create one-on-one situations against United’s wingbacks.
A big proportion of United’s defensive play in their own defensive press-zone was a combination of keeping defensive lines and controlling the movement of the opposition players, which has been quite distinguishable about them. One of Valerenga’s ambitions was to find the space between United’s defense and midfield. As you can see from the picture below on the left side, United had one of the strikers dropping back (mostly Rooney when given the time). When needed, one of the central midfielders of United dropped back into the space were the oppositions offensive midfielder operated, leaving one of the strikers to fill in at midfield. Valerenga had a combination of one to two players operating behind United’s midfield and a lot of teamwork focus was in fact between our defenders and midfielders in controlling that particular area.
Barcelona. The opponent in the other game I wanted to take a look at was playing a similar type of football than the previous team. The difference was really how United answered defensively in the both the defensive and the offensive press zones. Even though Barcelona were also playing with a lot of width and movement, United defended in dropping lines, compared to straight lines against Valerenga.
When playing against a team like Barcelona that are moving the ball, and their players, in such a quick tempo then United’s main focus was to take away passing angles and the possibility of turning with the ball. As shown in the picture above to the right one could argue that Sir Alex’s idea was perhaps to play aggressively on the strong side of the pitch, while dropping back on the weak side and thereby creating a two lines that alternated between pressing and dropping back. A noticeable aspect of the Anderson and Scholes defensive play was that they seemed to had been assigned somewhat of a man-marking task on the inner midfielders of Barcelona.
Another thing I found interesting was the fact that teams tend to push up their entire defensive line, so as to not create chances for opposition midfielders to run deep and thus avoiding the offside trap. Some teams prefer to have the central defender closest to the ball to the determining player in judging the height and depth of the line, while some prefer the one on the weak side.
B) Offensive press zone.
Pressuring the player on the ball in offensive zone is based covering space and taking away the oppositions players time on the ball, that is if the team wants to attack the football, as in the Valerenga game. Another option is to defend like you United did against Barcelona, dropping back, compressing the teams different parts and really making the opposition pass the ball in front of the team.
This area of defending could be about winning the ball back with aggressive play. The further up the pitch a team wins the football back, the less distance would they have to cover to get to a scoring chance.
Valerenga. Against Valerenga, United were working with a high press and were really aggressive when trying to win the ball back. A combination of high-pressure and many players moving towards the ball made it easier for United to win the ball back in the offensive part of the pitch. Against a better opponent this could however be quite dangerous, as such a team could move the ball through the lines of press, thereby creating matchup problems.
Barcelona. Against Barcelona we saw a more defensive minded United after they had lost the football. They dropped back quite quickly and withdrew into the more central parts of the pitch. As they had gotten as many players possible behind the football-line, they started pressing and moving the football to whatever position the found useful.
When defending, United tend to play a 4-5-1 system, were one of the strikers is dropping back to prevent the defensive midfielder from getting the football or creating passing angles. Of course, one advantage in playing more defensively, is that there most definitely will be more space behind the opposition defence after winning the football.
What type of defending do you think we will see against Everton on Monday? Are we going to be looking to win the football high up the pitch or dropping and waiting for the opponent to make mistakes? To get where we want this season, which ultimately is to be successful and develop young players, we need to be solid at the back. That really needs to be the teams emphasis going in to the 2012-2013 season.