As typical of the 2022 Summer Transfer Window, Manchester United’s pursuit of Brazilian winger Antony stretched on for far too long, and ultimately ended with the Red Devils overpaying for his services. With a €95 million price tag tattooed to his neck, and the numerous failures of seasons past, Manchester United fans would have been right to be skeptical about the potential for Antony to hit the ground running and make an immediate impact at Old Trafford. Fortunately for United fans, Erik Ten Hag entrusted Antony to make the difference right from the start of his career, and that trust reaped immediate rewards. The Brazilian winger played a formidable role in United’s 3-1 win over Arsenal, and showcased promise that he could be the man to propel United to that next level this season. Here is our analysis of United’s 3-1 win over Arsenal, through the lens of new-signing Antony.
IN-POSSESSION MAGIC + FANCIFUL FOOTWORKEmbed from Getty Images
Antony came to the league to much fanfare for his fanciful footwork and remarkable skill. It’s nothing new to say that the ball sticks to his foot like glue, or that he wants to try the most complicated of skill moves at every turn. There were questions about how well that would translate over to the Premier League, as there would be with anyone making the jump from Netherlands’ top flight Eredivisie, to what many regard as the best league in the world.Embed from Getty Images
But Antony put his critics to sleep on Saturday, using his flicks and tricks to completely obliterate Arsenal’s attempts to defend him. Zinchenko couldn’t get to grips with the Brazilian, and frequently required the help of others to stop the wing wizard in his tracks.
As Gabriel Martinelli often stayed high to be used as an outlet in Arsenal’s transitions, Diogo Dalot was only then allowed more room to roam as he pleased. The above captures an excellent example where Antony occupied two defenders at once, and then used a bit of skill with a backheel pass to release Dalot in space. The move nearly paid off, and Eriksen should have finished off Dalot’s wondrous cross.
Prior to the match, our Twitter friend Anuraag Kulkarni made a nice thread about Antony’s potential to unlock more attacking potency from within Diogo Dalot.
His key argument, was that Antony’s brilliant ability on the ball will naturally attract defenders into his wake, and allow Dalot to attack the half-spaces like dynamite. This is not the most revolutionary hypothesis, but one that has to be highlighted as we examine the match in greater detail. The variability in Antony’s play simply means that you never know exactly where he’s going to maneuver, when he’s going to play a pass, and what foot he’s going to use to bamboozle you. From a defender’s perspective, that’s a nightmare. From the perspective of the man playing down his wing, that’s Christmas morning; and this should be a relationship that bears many gifts.
It nearly did on the Eriksen chance we highlighted already, and continued to have the potential to confuse and kerfuffle Arsenal’s defense all game long. If Dalot can take more opportunities like this to overlap and underlap his winger, opposition defenses will have much to contend with down United’s right this season. Not only does this sort of forward thrust create the potential for 2v1’s, but it also means the opposition are less likely to leave dangerous attackers forward in cases of transition. Above and below you can see two instances where Martinelli felt the need to come all the way back to combat his Brazilian friend.
Antony’s ability to stretch the field and receive nice diagonals from the likes of Bruno and Eriksen will create more opportunities for Dalot to thrive in underlapping moves, and use his crossing weapon to success. But the Portuguese full-back is not the only player likely to see a boost under the influence of Antony’s creativity.Embed from Getty Images
Jadon Sancho is another player who could thrive alongside Antony, as someone who loves to float about the pitch as he pleases. Here we can see Sancho coming all the way to Antony’s side to triangulate with Dalot, allowing Antony freedom of space to attack an empty pocket.
The potential for an overload like this simultaneously allows more room in the centre for someone like Scott McTominay to receive from a deeper position, and drive forward or switch play to the other side. It’s the overload and isolate tactic that Erik Ten Hag prioritized throughout his time at Ajax, and United will only grow in this approach as they become accustomed to one another’s services.
From a personal perspective, Antony also showed quality in his timing of movement, and touch of class. Whenever receiving the ball, the Brazilian scanned for the open space that he could advance into, and endeavoured to take his first touch in that direction.
While simple in theory, accumulating the right weight of touch is not an easy skill to master, and requires the player to achieve a balance between pushing the ball into open space, without presenting the opportunity for the opposition to snuff out the danger.
Antony’s class extended all the way into the final third, where he magnificently arched his run before putting it past Ramsdale, allowing him to strike on his strong foot and open up his hips to open the entire goal.
His timing of run prior to the pass also achieved perfection, giving himself the exact right amount of space to ensure the Ukrainian defender could not recover from his error.
Overall, Arsenal could not get to grips with Antony in the sixty minutes of action he played. The promise he showed in that opening sixty minutes to help his team overload the right and achieve a greater sense of dynamism in the final third completely obliterated Arsenal’s defensive desires. This type of play and promise could be essential to United’s quest moving forward, as they look to challenge for a top four finish…or even better.
OUT OF POSSESSION AGGRESSIVENESSEmbed from Getty Images
Out of possession, the Brazilian winger stuck to his defensive tasks responsibly, but also with an air of aggressiveness and fight. He featured on the far right of a 4-4-1-1 to 4-2-3-1 defensive set-up, but held the most adaptable role in that system due to his task of tracking Oleksandr Zinchenko’s movement inside. Sometimes this created a problem for United as they exposed the wide area on Antony’s side.
But it also created an opportunity for Antony to step on Arsenal’s centre-backs, knowing that the Gunners sometimes lacked the necessary width.
Antony was then able to showcase his strong and combative nature, winning 2 tackles on the night, and even completely two-footing Scott McTominay at one point. As he learns his way around the league, the Brazilian will just need to balance his moments of man-to-man pressure with a recognition of potential opposition ploys. It’s quite clear that Ten Hag set up his side with the intention of Antony getting touch-tight to Zinchenko, but the Brazilian will come to learn that this doesn’t mean it’s always the best idea to do so.Embed from Getty Images
Nevertheless, his defensive numbers provide an encouraging start for the former Ajax man at Manchester United, as he endeavours to fill the big money price tag in all facets of the game. If Antony can even come close to showcasing a worth of €95 million (€60 million above his proposed market value at the time), United will have an absolute game-changer on their hands, capable of propelling them to that next level. It’s only one match, but the early signs are incredibly encouraging for Antony at Manchester United.
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So there it is! A tactical analysis of Antony’s dream start to life at Old Trafford. Be sure to check out more of our Player Analyses and Match Analyses, and don’t forget to follow on social media via the links below @mastermindsite and @desmondrhys. Thanks for reading and see you soon!
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