Tactics Journal

by Kyle Boas

Analyzing football tactics

Manchester United Learned From Gakpo's Goal Last Season

Manchester United learned from their mistake last season at Anfield and implemented this well-thought-out transition to counter Liverpool when Alisson stepped forward into the backline, forcing them to play short rather than direct long.

Figure 1.1 - Ball played out from Alisson to Andrew Robertson, dragging Diogo Dalot out wide to challenge Robertson. This left a huge space open behind Dalot, which Cody Gakpo ran into.
Figure 1.2 - This move by Dalot forced Fred to cover a large amount of ground to mark Gakpo far up the field. Robertson then drove into the open space in their left half-space.
Figure 1.3 - Andrew Robertson enters into the left half-space and then plays Cody Gakpo into the box.

This is from last season. Cody Gakpo scored from this sequence. They, particularly Fred, were caught out too high, leaving too much space in the left half-space behind United’s first and second line.

Figure 2.1 - Illustration of the transition of Manchester United's counter-press when Alisson stepped out from the back.

This season, on the weekend, when Alisson came out of his goal to join the backline, Manchester United immediately moved back, switching from a flat 4-2-4 shape to a 4-3-3.

Hojlund and McTominay shadow cover Liverpool’s double-pivot, and Antony moves back to mark Tsimikas. They force Alisson to play short to Virgil Van Dijk. They weren’t going to allow Alisson to have an outlet long again to that left side.

Then when Van Dijk gets the ball, they immediately switch back to the 4-2-4, and this forces Van Dijk to pass short to Tsimikas.

Figure 3.1 - Sofyan Amrabat and Kobbie Mainoo man-mark Dominic Szoboszlai and Ryan Gravenberch.
Figure 3.2 - When Alisson pushes forward, Manchester United abandons their normal pressing structure. Everyone moves back to force the pass to Virgil Van Dijk. Scott McTominay and Rasmus Hojlund shadow cover Liverpool's double pivot.

This change made it difficult for Liverpool to progress forward quickly and blocked off the direct pass. It was very smart and well-executed. United were very organized out-of-possession and quick to switch between the two formations. As I discussed yesterday, the only way forward was progressive passes from Wataru Endo.

Match: Liverpool 0-0 Manchester United, 17 December 2023

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