Manchester United lost their first game of Europa League this season by unfortunate penalty. In this kind of game, it is important to reflect the 90 minutes to understand the result was truly deserved or not. To be fair, first half was excellent for United especially first 20 minutes and they should’ve scored at least one at the moment. However, Real Sociedad could adjust pressing shape, which made it difficult for United to play out from the back and Ten Hag used substitutions for only replacing players. Let’s begin analysing how United could play better in the first 20 minutes.
Pressing with Ronaldo
It is a long problem since he rejoined United. How can United press high with Cristiano Ronaldo. The best solution is not using him when pressing is necessary but if Ronaldo is on the pitch, giving him least amount of job and having others work more are required.
This is the pressing of United and a possible advantage in the middle for La Real. Ronaldo’s job was pressing to one of the opposition centre backs when the goalkeeper played to him. However, the intensity was not high especially after 20 minutes so both wingers needed to see both the opposition centre back and fullback. This is a strange shape of pressing. If the striker can press to the opposition centre back, the wingers don’t need to be positioned between the opposition centre back and fullback and could focus on the fullback. This allows the opposition fullback to receive the ball lifted over the wingers’ head by the goalkeeper. In this case, Marcia and Dalot jumped to press the opposition fullback but this can be a risk to be played over the back line. The reason of this strange shape is Ronaldo. If he can press to the centre back with proper intensity, both wingers can be positioned deeply parallel to the opposition fullbacks, which can prevent the opposition goalkeeper for playing over to the fullback and let United’s fullback stay at the back line. However, Ronaldo can’t press. So, wingers and fullbacks were required to work more than usual. Fortunately, La Real made lots of technical mistakes especially when the goalkeeper lifted the ball over the Elanga’s head so United could play well by winning the ball in the opposition half especially in the first 20 minutes.
However, as the striker became unable to press, La Real came to find a spare player and progress the ball. The key was the overload in the midfield as they had four players against three United players. Especially David Silva playing as a 10 dropped deep to receive the ball and stop their pressing. Additionally, if the opposition winger stayed deep to mark the fullback, the centre backs could have the ball and keep possession. However, the problem of Real Sociedad was breaking the opposition back line.
Problems of Quality
Alexander Isak, who was the main striker of Real Sociedad moved to New Castle and it can be a huge damage for La Real. Actually, in this game, they could progress the ball into the midfield but couldn’t play through the opposition back line.
Kubo likes to play as a winger so wanted to receive the ball with the foot while Sadiq wasn’t physically good enough to run past defenders or win the duel. Consequently, Silva had no options to play in behind so he was often pressed by the opposition centre back.
Additionally, in the attacking third, they lacked the quality again. Kubo delivered some excellent ball into the box but there was no Isak anymore. Therefore, it was too lucky for them to be able to win the penalty.
Sociedad Improved Pressing
United was able to progress the ball into the opposition half more in the first half than the second half. In the first half, United could use the weakness of the system of La Real.
The system of La Real was mainly a 4-3-1-2 but it turned into a 5-2-1-2 as Zubimendi joined the back line. Therefore, obviously it can be seen in the illustration above, there were huge spaces for both United’s fullbacks. Additionally, both fullbacks of La Real, who became wingbacks couldn’t jump to press because Elanga and Antony were positioned high and wide to pin them. Therefore, it was so easy for United to progress the ball in the first half by using Dalot and Malcia.
However, La Real changed the system after the half time, and it worked very well. To be fair, they continued the same system in the first five minutes of the second half but changed the new one and dominated the game for the five minutes until they earned the penalty thanks to the pressing.
They changed the system to a 4-4-2, which made it possible to apply pressure to the opposition fullbacks. This really caused a problem to United, and La Real dominated the game for the five minutes.
They key was the timing to change the system. At the beginning of the second half, it was still a 4-3-1-2 so United could bypass the pressing and progress the ball into the final third. Actually, there was a big chance for Ronaldo to head the ball so if he scored then, the plan of La Real should’ve been collapsed. This made much more difficult for United to adapt the new system of La Real because they might’ve though there was no change after half time. Thus, the defenders of United upset and failed to find a new solution quickly.
Overall, Manchester United didn’t deserve to lose the game in my opinion, but Real Sociedad could turn the game around successfully, so it was not a lucky for them but their effort. Thanks for reading.