Another week, and another pitted performance by Manchester United. Once again, manager Jose Mourinho was highly critical of his team’s defensive performance. This time he questioned the entire lineup in their collective failure to adhere to their responsibilities without the ball. He claimed to be “the luckiest manager in the Premier League” to still be level at half-time against Bournemouth.
The most-played broken record at Old Trafford has been the one reiterating a lack of defenders signed in the summer. Chris Smalling and Swedish international Victor Lindelof have played together in the last three Premier league matches. It was the Englishman who was singled out for specific criticism though. His early error “triggered instability in the team”, according to Mourinho.
A lack of cohesion and identity to the team’s style has been a negative hallmark of United this season. The manner in which an admittedly in-form Bournemouth totally outplayed them was disappointing. This became more evident in light of Mourinho’s frustration at his players’ inability to carry out tactical plans.
“We were really poor, defensively awful. And I do not just look to my defenders, as a team we did not start pressing up, the work we did during the week. People watching this game will not believe how hard we worked this week. The first half was a disaster.”
By the end of the game, we can see that the intensity of pressure high up the pitch improved. The red dots in the infographic above show that Bournemouth lost possession seven times in their own half, as opposed to United’s four. There is even a stark contrast between the hosts’ two lost possessions near the penalty area and the visitors’ seven. This is despite both teams losing the ball the same number of times.
United made almost twice as many blocks as their opponents (21 to 11). Rather than painting a simple picture of a team buffeting sustained pressure, it showed an improved attempt to implement the desired pressure on Bournemouth. Luke Shaw made five blocks by himself, with two of those coming in the opposition half. Shaw’s energy all down the left flank has been a real asset, and supports his manager’s ethos.
By contrast, Eddie Howe’s side only made one block in United’s half. Simon Francis’ four blocks on Shaw’s side of the pitch show where the focus of the visitors’ attentions were. Despite Bournemouth’s upper hand in the earlier stages of the game, they attempted 24 tackles to United’s 21. Only three of those were in over the halfway line. United made seven in the attacking half.
Perhaps a more telling observation is the number of tackles made by position. Bournemouth’s back four made 18 of their side’s 24 total attempted tackles, whereas United’s defenders made just seven of their 21 total attempted. As an indicator to the overall pressure applied, it suggests United were more aggressive higher up the pitch.
These statistics do not conclusively disprove Jose Mourinho’s assertion that his side failed to carry out tactical plans. What they do indicate is that although they were outplayed for large periods, they were aggressive in their approach over 90 minutes. Alexis Sanchez, however, had only 35 touches, the second-lowest total of the starting XI. Nine were in his own half, with just four in the Bournemouth penalty area. To fully realise the tactical plans of Mourinho, his team must not just avoid defensive lapses. The striker must become more involved too.