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!
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