Tactics Journal

by Kyle Boas

Analyzing football tactics

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How Manchester United’s man-to-man marking weakened Brighton’s buildup

April 23, 2023 — Brighton’s normal buildup was nullified by Manchester United’s tight man-to-man marking in the FA Cup semi-final match, similar to how United stopped Manchester City.

Figure 2.2 - Manchester United’s man-marking against Manchester City on January 14, 2023
Figure 1.1 - Brighton’s in-possession structure in the first half
Figure 1.2 - First half tactics board

In the first half, Brighton built up in a 4-2 sub-structure, and Manchester United man-marked throughout the pitch, except for Anthony Martial whose job was to press both Lewis Dunk and Adam Webster.

This created no room for their supporting creators Caicedo, Mac Allister, and Enciso, which made the lives of their transition players Mitoma, March, and Welbeck very hard. The transition players are reliant on those supporting players to progress the ball into the final third, so if you remove that outlet, then it’s hard to create numerical advantages in transition.

It played perfectly into Manchester United’s hands, and they always had the numbers back to match Mitoma, March, Enciso, and Welbeck 4v4 with Casemiro as the plus one.

Figure 2.1 - Brighton’s in-possession structure in the second half
Figure 2.2 - Second half tactics board

Robert De Zerbi countered this by having Estupinan and Gross invert in the second half, and Brighton switched to a 2-3 sub-structure.

Estupinan inverting allowed Mitoma, who had a difficult job separating from Aaron Wan-Bissaka, more space on the left wing. This change also allowed Mac Allister to push forward, disrupting the pressing assignments of Manchester United’s first line.

Figure 3.1 - Estupinan makes a run in behind Antony in the first half

The most interesting Brighton player was Pervis Estupinan. In the first half, he unlocked Manchester United’s right side with his runs inside into the left half-space to help the team transition out of the buildup.

The negative to this run was that it left space open for Antony on the right wing, for which Manchester United attacked unsuccessfully on two or three counterattacks.

Figure 4.1 - Estupinan dismarks from Antony to make a run into the left half-space in the second half

Estupinan did the same in the second half, but now that Brighton were more compact, the threat of Antony on the right wing was limited.

Figure 5.1 - Webster passes to Welbeck, who dropped, then Welbeck passes to Dunk

This move by Estupinan paired with Welbeck dropping began to cause Manchester United problems. Brighton began to gain numerical superiority versus United’s back-line making their attacks in the second half more potent then they were in the first half. Brighton could now create transitional threats through simple movements in their buildup. They were unable to convert the chances that superiority created.

Figure 5.2 - Estupinan makes the run behind Antony into the left half-space, and Dunk passes him the ball
Figure 5.3 - Estupinan brings the ball down, and Brighton has a 5v4 advantage

Manchester United’s rest defense always outnumbered Brighton’s attackers, but with moves like this, Brighton could gain numerical superiority on the break once they got past United’s initial press.

Ultimately, Brighton lost on penalties, and Manchester United advanced to face Manchester City in the FA Cup Final. United should look to copy this man-to-man marking scheme in the final, but they’ll need to remain as relentless defensively as they did in the second half to have a chance at beating Manchester City.

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