Lack of Movement costing Manchester United, tactically.



Manchester United have recorded their worst start to a season in the Premier League era under David Moyes and have already equaled the number of defeats sustained throughout the entire 2012-13 campaign after 15 games. The former Everton coach has been under severe pressure this season. His tactics and man management skills have all been questioned this season following their poor league start, with the midfielders taking much of the blame, as per.

Manchester United’s midfield, or a lack of it, has been been a concern for United fans for a while now. United, if you look back at the likes of Ronaldo, Giggs and even the days of George Best, have relied on width for their main source of attacking joy. Focusing on width however in the modern day sometimes means you’ll have to surrender a forward to make up for the lack of numbers in the center of the park, to prevent being overrun in midfield. Last season it was Wayne Rooney who was dropped into the deeper role to prevent midfield overloads against United. This season however, David Moyes has predominantly deployed a 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 formation with Wayne Rooney, who complained in the summer about playing a deeper role, playing higher up the pitch.



The team shape up in a traditional 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1 formation, depending on Wayne Rooney’s role. Wingers hug the touchline in an attempt to stretch play, as Moyes fixates on wing-play for inventiveness.

3v2 in midfield?

Since most teams in the Premier league overload the midfield with a bank of 5, playing 2 men in the middle of the pitch v 3 will certainly leave you outnumbered and could leave you exposed in the middle, especially with United’s widemen hugging the touchline. To play the 4-4-2 successfully there’s a need to have dynamic and energetic midfielders to press and make up the numbers. At the moment it doesn’t feel like United have the right kind of midfielders to play this system but if Moyes intends to carry on with it, the Scot should be looking to sign a dynamic central midfielder to fit the system.

Manuel Pellegrini’s Man City and Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid, who are arguably the most well drilled team tactically in Europe, are a few examples of how brilliant the 4-4-2 formation could be if deployed perfectly. Atleti make-up for the lack of numbers in midfield by playing a very narrow and compact system, while City do it particularly well with either Aguero/Negredo dropping of each other. David Moyes could make similar adjustments and tweaks to the ‘old-fashioned’ 4-4-2 system as well, the derive proper benefits of it.

Slow build-up

“The key for me is that the speed of their game through the midfield is not quick enough. United have always been about those relentless waves of attacks, sustained for good periods without counter which would eventually overwhelm the opposition. Because this isn’t happening opponents have time to rest and recover between attacks.” – Gary Neville on United’s midfield.

United’s style of play particularly in midfield has become very predictable this season. A lack of flair, guile, creativity and nous, as well as slow attacking transitions is apparent in the United side. United are lacking a midfield metronome, one who would command the midfield and dictate the tempo of the game. According to stats, Utd average 53% possession, simply not good enough.

Over the years, United have often played with quick offensive transitions, and were even dubbed the best counterattacking team in Europe by many. Far from it at the moment.


In this illustration, Anderson gets the ball in the center circle, has his head up looking for a passing option but guess what? No one makes himself available. Lack of intent and movement in the build up slows transition and gives opposition team the chance to recover their defensive shape. Gaps and spaces which could have been exploited then are now non-existent.


Again United have the ball in midfield, but no one makes himself a possible outlet to receive the pass, Giggs is forced to keep the ball a bit longer, allowing Everton to recover their defensive shape.


It’s difficult to play from the back against Southampton due to Mauricio Pochettino’s high pressing system, however United made things a bit more difficult for themselves. In phase 1, Jonny Evans tries to build play from the back, passing angles are poor because of Saint’s pressing and again, a lack of movement in the United half. Ideally a player should be dropping deeper into the highlighted zone.

Utd vs Newcastle

Again, Newcastle press United high up the pitch but there’s no United player( Maybe Cleverley) willing to find space to receive the pass. This means United’s CB has to hoof the ball forward or keep the ball in defense, rather than playing through the opponents to create a goal-scoring opportunity.

Inventive play/quick offensive transitions vs Leverkusen

Against Bayer Leverkusen, we saw how threatening United looked with Giggs, Kagawa, Nani etc interchanging positions in a free flowing 4-2-3-1 shape with Kagawa linking the midfield and attack, in the league somehow, the reds haven’t been able to recapture that sort of inventive and free-flowing football.


Image via Click for more tactical shots of Bayer vs Man Utd.

Normally, Manchester United players play with a certain swagger and charisma. Nobody shies away from the ball, everyone wants the ball to feet. This season United have become a reactive side. Instead of blowing opposition away, the United-way, the reds are taking a more cautious and pragmatic approach.

“They(Newcastle) are coming to Old Trafford and we’re going to try and make it hard for them” – David Moyes. Certainly not the United way.

The tempo and intensity has drastically decreased in recent months. Flair players such as Nani, Kagawa and Anderson who will try to make an impact at the other end of the pitch are often dropped for functional players – to track back etc.


David Moyes looks out of depth tactically at the moment. The rigid 4411/442 formation in my opinion, isn’t going to work with the current crop of players available at the squad. There’s practically no link between defense and attack this season, and no United player is looking to make things happen on the ball in midfield. Philosophically, United are becoming a long ball team. It’s quite apparent now, why David Moyes was after the likes of Luka Modric and Ander Herrera in the summer. Both are creative, energetic and dynamic in some respects and will be better suited for this system.


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