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How sorry Man Utd were stumped by aggressive Burnley - Tactical lessons from the Premier League

5:00 PM GMT+4 24/01/2020
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer Manchester United 2019-20
Sean Dyche's record against the 'Big Six' is pitiful but that did not prevent his side taking the initiative on Wednesday night at Old Trafford

1) Man Utd surprisingly stumped by aggressive Burnley

Prior to Wednesday night, Burnley’s record against the ‘Big Six’ this season read: played eight, lost eight, scored five, conceded 30.

The idea that Burnley are stubborn defensive opponents who steal wins against the top clubs is a myth. Sean Dyche does not sit back, but rather plays a surprisingly high-pressing game that creates an elongated – and therefore vulnerable – 4-4-2.

There are spaces all over the pitch in Burnley matches. That’s why it was such a surprise to see Manchester United struggle to get in behind the visitors, who were able to bully their opponents’ defensive and midfield lines by charging straight at them.

It really shouldn’t be so easy to ruffle United’s feathers, especially when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s tactics are supposed to work against open formations and only falter when up against a deep-lying defensive wall.

It would appear that losing Marcus Rashford means United have lost the one positive attribute they had: pace on the counter. Juan Mata and Andreas Pereira were aimless in their passing, although they cannot be blamed for the lack of movement ahead of them, while Daniel James looks exhausted.

It’s a sorry situation, but 18-year-old Mason Greenwood might need to be thrown in at the deep end in the weeks ahead.

2) Lack of pressing undermines Spurs’ improved movement

There are small signs that Jose Mourinho is moving in the right direction despite results.

Tottenham’s combinations in possession are gradually improving, and the pattern appears to show Mourinho wants them to play through the middle of the park, bunching up to overload the opposition through the half-spaces.

Against Norwich, Lucas Moura dropped off as a false nine to join Erik Lamela – cutting inside – and Giovani Lo Celso – roaming ahead of Harry Winks – to link up in the centre-right. However, one major difference on Wednesday was Heung-Min Son drifting in from the left to join them, rather than hug the left touchline as he so often does.

In small bursts, the Spurs attackers combined neatly – although the team is let down by one crucial missing element.

In the modern game, the counter-press is, as Klopp famously said, the best playmaker in the team. But Tottenham aren’t pressing at all, which is why Norwich were able to so casually build possession in this game, passing and moving freely up the pitch.

The one time Spurs did press – Lo Celso getting in tight as Norwich looked to launch an attack – they promptly scored the opener, exposing Norwich’s fanned-out position.

Mourinho has to start implementing a high press. There is no other way for an elite team to play.

3) Traore switch nearly takes advantage of Liverpool’s new defensive tactics

Jurgen Klopp was wary of the unique threat that Wolves pose.

Using wing-backs has been proven to be the best way to nullify Liverpool, but only Wolves know how to deploy a 3-5-2 as an attacking formation. And so, Klopp decided to line up in a 4-4-2 off-the-ball shape, moving back into 4-3-3 when in possession.

The idea was to provide an extra body out wide, ensuring Andrew Robertson in particular wasn’t overloaded with Adama Traore and the overlapping Matt Doherty.

It didn’t quite go to plan, because although Liverpool should be praised for their character, and skill, in winning the game, Wolves very nearly overturned a 1-0 deficit in a second half-blitz.

Nuno Espirito Santo moved Traore further out to the right wing after the break, having deployed him as a striker in the first half, and suddenly the Spaniard took advantage of Liverpool’s uncertainty in an unfamiliar system.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, supposedly the left midfielder to protect Robertson, frequently lost Traore. He can be seen jogging listlessly back as Wolves broke for their equaliser, leaving Traore all alone to cross for Raul Jimenez to score.

This pattern repeated several times before Klopp, sensing the danger, took Oxlade-Chamberlain off and moved Georginio Wijnaldum to the left.

4) West Ham’s disorganised 5-3-2 allows Leicester prospect Barnes to dominate

David Moyes appears to already be in trouble at West Ham, particularly as his unexpected formation switch against Leicester City suggested he is going for a trial-and-error approach to sorting out the club’s defensive issues.

Their 5-3-2 had too many individuals in unfamiliar positions, from Aaron Cresswell at centre-back to midfielders shunted into wider roles, allowing Leicester to rediscover their goalscoring touch.

Harvey Barnes was the standout performer, and again Moyes should take the blame for this. Not only did he pick Pablo Zabaleta to mark the in-form winger, but by moving Robert Snodgrass and Declan Rice into unusual wider central midfield positions, he ensured space would open through the middle.

Leicester’s opening goal saw Barnes pick up the ball on the edge of the D in an alarming mount of space as Snodgrass and Rice suddenly jolted into action, realising too late that they had left a gap in between them.

Having scored one goal in their last three games, West Ham are becoming the dreary defensive team many had feared when Moyes was appointed.

More worrying still, they are only outside the bottom three on goal difference ahead of a horrid sequence of fixtures.

Liverpool, Brighton, Manchester City, Liverpool, Southampton, Arsenal, Wolves, Tottenham, and Chelsea are their next nine in the league.

5) Aston Villa need to rejig central midfield after fortunate win

Villa’s switch to a three-man defence in December helped to stabilise a club that was leaking goals, and while Dean Smith should stick with this shape for the time being, the 2-1 victory over Watford suggested things need tweaking higher up the pitch.

The central midfield partnership of Marvelous Nakamba and Danny Drinkwater didn’t work, leading to aimless stilted possession for the hosts. What’s more, Jack Grealish struggled to make an impact from the left flank, where Watford could easily double up on him and force the playmaker into a cul-de-sac.

Eventually, Grealish helped turn the game on its head, but only when he abandoned his instructions and, taking things into his own hands, began to roam into central attacking midfield.

Villa can solve both issues by putting Grealish back in the middle, moving from 3-4-3 to 3-5-2.

Grealish’s desire to drop deep for the ball means he could operate as the free-roaming midfielder to the left of centre, linking the defence with attack while offering additional close support to Nakamba and one other.

After Drinkwater’s poor start, Douglas Luiz is unlikely to stay behind him in the pecking order.