We’re not sure why his hair is blue, but Paul Pogba put on an absolute masterclass this weekend, assisting four goals in Manchester United’s stunning 5-1 win over Leeds. It was an incredible performance all ends up from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team, and one that certainly sets them on the right path toward a title hunt this season if they can keep up this sort of form. Here is our analysis of the match.
Manchester United lined up in their Solskjaer stamped 4-2-3-1, which looked very little like 4-2-3-1 in practice. Sometimes it was more 4-4-2, while other times Pogba, the supposed left winger in the team, floated as he pleased. Pogba’s movement allowed for loads of positional rotation, and a very fluid United system that completely exposed Leeds’ man-to-man defense. The Red Devils spent a solid amount of time attacking, and in the middle of the pitch, where more of a 2-4-4 shape took centre stage. Shaw and Wan-Bissaka looked for moments to get up and down the wings, while Greenwood, James, Pogba and Bruno Fernandes all hovered around central areas.
Leeds United lined up in their favoured 4-1-4-1, which can theoretically match perfectly up against a 4-2-3-1. Unfortunately, the way they deployed their personnel left them cruelly exposed time and time again. The attacking midfielders were sometimes too high and other times too wide (sometimes both at once), and Dallas’ high position on the left also left Leeds out of shape during United’s deadly counter attacks. And here is why…
pogba’s positional rotation
Paul Pogba is probably best as a central midfielder pushing up with the attack, particularly when playing against teams operating with a high line, where he can spread passes in behind onto pacey attackers. It’s why he worked so well as part of a midfield three with France and Juventus in the past, and why he also works well in a midfield two alongside someone so defensively solid like N’Golo Kante. Pogba himself can do decent defensive work, but you’d like him to focus all of his energies further forward instead. Recognizing the Frenchman’s talents are best served further forward, Solskjaer began to play Pogba off the right wing last season, with Rashford off the left. It shouldn’t work because Pogba doesn’t have the sort of take players on down the wing mentality that a Daniel James or Jadon Sancho possess. But that’s not why he’s in the team. Playing him off the left (or off the right) allows Pogba to do the things that he does best, finding space and picking out passes, without mitigating the defensive solidity of United in behind. They still had Fred and McTominay doing the hard defensive work, plus the effervescent Bruno Fernandes who never stops running. It does mean that the team lack a natural wide player, but that is why it works so well on the left in particular, because of Luke Shaw’s impressive attacking role in the team.
Leeds didn’t know whether to go with him, or whether to leave him on his own. Unfortunately, they left him on his own far too much and that gave him the space to showcase his extroardinary vision. The pass he made for Mason Greenwood’s goal is one of the best passes you’ll ever see, which seems like something we’ve probably said about Pogba several times over the years. His weight of pass is just out of this world. Being in this role, where he was afforded time and space to get his head up under little pressure, allowed the Frenchman to completely take over the match from start to finish.
At times, Pogba could also stay wide and hold more of a natural position on the left. But his role was more of a “free” one, and that never got in the way of Bruno Fernandes – United’s undeniable talisman. In fact, it allowed them to operate in close proximity, with Greenwood and James still able to make runs in behind and exploit Leeds’ high line. Again, Pogba’s position on the left also allowed him to operate alongside another key creator for United – Luke Shaw, who also functions down the left side to great effect. Shaw’s adventurous nature to get up and down the left himself, meaning the Red Devils don’t miss that wide player when Pogba moves inside.
COUNTER ATTACKING & SPEED ON THE BREAKEmbed from Getty Images
Manchester United perfectly exploited Leeds’ high-line and man-to-man system through quick counter attacking and speed on the break. As Pogba and Fernandes roamed around, the man-to-man system couldn’t cope, and Leeds players had several moments of hesitation that ended up resulting in goals.
Daniel James and Mason Greenwood also varied in their movement by drifting out wide or inside during these transition. It was their speed that became a perfect match for Pogba’s vision, and helped to move Bielsa’s back-line further back, where more space could be found by Bruno and Paul. That is precisely why Bruno Fernandes was able to find so much room in between the lines, where he scored a hat-trick from Pogba’s play. He even scored one from a Lindelof assist, when the Swedish centre-back looped one over the top of Leeds’ high-line. Nearly all of their goals were scored within ten seconds of winning the ball back, which really speaks to just how out of sorts Leeds were in transition.
fred & mctominay still importantEmbed from Getty Images
One of the other main reasons for this incredible victory was due to the high and wide positioning of Leeds’ attacking midfielders – Rodrigo and Mateusz Klich. Fred and McTominay were forced wide to track them, but remained much more central by comparison. So when the two ball-winning midfielders would do what they do best and win the ball, they would instantly have all the space in the world in the centre of the park to find any one of the front four – particularly Pogba. From having that space to exploit centrally, McTominay and Fred were also given freedom to go forward one at a time themselves. This is where Fred found himself in the box for the final goal of the game, where he tapped in Pogba’s precision pass.Embed from Getty Images
It has to be said that the two defensive midfielders in behind Pogba and Bruno are so crucial to inspiring United in all areas of the game. They press excellently well, and also distribute quickly and vertically where they know Pogba and Bruno will be. Without them, or without players of their underratedly high quality, the two talismen would be forced further back, and not be able to impact the game.
In the end it was a United masterclass, led by their two stars Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes. When you add Jadon Sancho to this mix, things could get very deadly this season.
So there it is! A tactical analysis of Manchester United’s big 5-1 win over Leeds this past weekend. Be sure to check out more of our tactical analyses, and follow on social media @mastermindsite via the buttons below. Thanks for reading and see you soon!
YOU MIGHT ALSO ENJOY….
When it comes to analysis, it’s no secret that the goal is to think on a deeper level, scrutinizing over the finer minutia beyond what you see at first glance. But it’s also no secret that this skill takes dedicated time and energy to learn. A lack of deep tactical understanding about the game often comes at a cost to coaches and amateur analysts. They are adequately able to perceive events on a football pitch, but they may be unsure of how to change what they are seeing for the better, or even fully comprehend what they are seeing to the level required. Coaches in my Mentorship Program often ask me – “How do you go from seeing to understanding?” Well that, my friends, is what we’re after today. In this series of notes, I’m going to give you a series of images and videos, where you can go from seeing, to understanding. If you’ve been doing analysis for years, no worries, this will still be an excellent way for you to practice and refine your skills.
Out of all the names to be linked with Manchester City, Marc Cucurella would have been an obscure choice beyond belief this time last year. But after a successful first season in the Premier League with Brighton & Hove Albion, the versatile Spaniard may now be a few weeks away from securing a dream move to the Champions. Cucurella is one of the most versatile players on the planet, making him an ideal candidate to be City’s next rising star. Here is our analysis of the 23-year-old, and his potential fit for Manchester City.
A rollercoaster of a year for Yusuf Demir can end with his head held high after a tournament full of pride with Austria’s Under-19’s. Not reaching the semi-finals will feel like a major disappointment for Das Team, but the Wien local boy looks to have found the reinvigorating form that earned him a move to Barcelona at the start of last season. Things never quite panned out for Demir at Barca, and his contract was terminated after just six months. Since returning to Rapid, his performances have been up and down, but his evident technical quality still brings promise for what could become of the 19-year-old in the future. This Euros tournament has been all about regaining the confidence that sent Yusuf Demir to Camp Nou in the first place, and many top European sides will now be on red alert for his signature. Here is our analysis of Demir at this summer’s U19 European Championship.
As the name suggests, a ‘Ball-Playing-Centre-Half’ is a centre-back that excels in possession of the ball, from passing to long passing to carrying to dribbling. They can simultaneously exist as ‘Sweepers’ or ‘Stoppers’, providing another interesting asterisk to the role not found in many other positions. Unlike say a fullback or goalkeeper where we have created clearly defined separations and almost polarizations on a style scale, ‘Ball-Playing-Centre-Halves’ can also be ‘Stoppers’ or ‘Sweepers’.
It’s taken longer than most would have expected for Nick Pope to arise attention in the 2022 Summer Transfer Window, but it now appears as though the Burnley cult hero is days away from securing a move to Eddie Howe’s Newcastle United. Back in early June, our readers and contributors picked Pope as the number one player from relegated teams to keep an eye on this summer, and that promise now prepares to come to fruition with the Magpies. Pope would be the perfect player to bring greater stability and solidity to their defensive structures, not to mention between the posts, and at only 10 million pounds, remains an absolute steal. Here is why the Burnley man would be such an astute signing for the Magpies.
Preceding Sadio Mané’s shock departure for Bayern Munich, Reds recruitment staff kept themselves busy preparing for the possibility of one of their infamous front three departing. Spearheaded by newly promoted Sporting Director, Julian Ward, Liverpool landed on the decision to approach Benfica’s star striker Darwin Núñez, who reaped havoc when the two teams met in the UEFA Champions League earlier this year. The Uruguayan’s outstanding 26-goal haul in the Primeira Liga caught the attention of clubs around Europe, putting his price tag up all the way to €80 million. Liverpool remained favourites to sign the Benfica man throughout the early days of the window, even despite competition from Newcastle and United; and Jurgen Klopp has already expressed his delight in the securement of Núñez’s signature.
Victor Loturi has been a stalwart and a mainstay in Wheeldon Jr.’s plans, featuring in eight matches as a central midfielder, and even two filling in as an out-and-out right-back in the face of injuries. Coming out of the Calgary youth ranks and Wheeldon Jr.’s old Calgary Foothills, Loturi has been destined to stardom since making his professional debut in 2019. Since making two appearances that season, the box-to-box midfielder has only grown in his role and importance for the Cavs, and has now caught the attention of Ross County in the Scottish Premiership. So with that, we take a look at why Victor Loturi has caught the eye this season, and predict how he will fare in Scotland.