This article originally featured on totalfootballanalysis.com, our flagship analysis site covering players, managers and matches from across the globe.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has had a relatively gentle introduction to life as Manchester United’s manager, with games against Cardiff and Huddersfield navigated easily enough. This run continued with a game against Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth side at Old Trafford on Sunday night, and the Red Devils duly obliged, running out 4-1 winners to end 2018 on a relatively happy note. Solskjaer’s philosophy is beginning to take shape now, with the United players looking increasingly comfortable on the ball, and Paul Pogba, in particular, having been transformed from his earlier malaise.
Rashford’s mobility stretches Bournemouth
Romelu Lukaku’s absence on compassionate grounds afforded Marcus Rashford the chance to hit the ground running under new management, and the Englishman has, quite literally, taken that chance. Rashford offers greater movement and work-rate off the ball than Lukaku, and he has combined wonderfully with Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial in these three games. This flexibility was abundant at Old Trafford, with United’s front three exchanging positions at will to confuse Bournemouth’s defence. A look at Rashford’s touch map from the game will illustrate this point –
Rashford’s ability to stretch defences was nowhere more evident than for Manchester United’s first goal. Look at the image below to see the run he makes, dragging Nathan Ake out to the touchline before dribbling past him and Diego Rico.
Rashford’s movement caused Bournemouth problems throughout the game. As his touch map shows, he often moved into the right-hand channel, in that tricky half-space where Bournemouth were undecided as to who should pick him up – the left wing-back, the left-sided centre-back or one of the central midfielders. One passage of play in the first half neatly summarised the threat he carried.
The Englishman consistently looked to get in behind, causing the Bournemouth defence to drop deeper and thereby creating more space in midfield for the likes of Lingard and Pogba.
Rashford looks rejuvenated under Solskjaer, and this performance illustrated his confidence levels. While he may have been replaced by Lukaku in the second half, the Belgian will find it extremely difficult to dislodge him from the starting XI in the near future.
Pogba and Lingard once again run the show
Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard have started all three of Solskjaer’s matches in charge so far, and are the two players who have arguably benefited the most from the Norwegian’s tactical instructions. Both players have had the license to get forward and create, with Rashford’s pace stretching opposition backlines and providing space in midfield. Lingard has always been intelligent off the ball, knowing where and when to make runs and position himself, and this has proved invaluable under Solskjaer. His touch map from the Bournemouth game will demonstrate this.
Pogba too has found a new lease of life and put in yet another match-winning display following his efforts against Cardiff and Bournemouth. Here too, he played in his favoured left-sided role, as is evident from his touch map.
Once again, Solskjaer’s set-up in midfield allowed these two players to thrive. Herrera and Matic were the two deep midfield players, taking turns to drop between the centre-backs, which allowed the full-backs to push forward and also gave Pogba and Lingard the freedom to play higher up the pitch.
Lingard’s movement and awareness were once again exemplary. Bournemouth’s defence was often caught in no man’s land, as the United man consistently found space between the lines because the Cherries had to contend with Rashford’s pace in behind. A brilliant example of how the two Englishmen worked together can be seen below.
Pogba simply carried on from where he left off against Huddersfield. Bournemouth’s shape helped him, as he too was able to find pockets of space between their defence and midfield. Nevertheless, the Frenchman took full advantage, registering 114 touches of the ball as he ran the game from his position. Once again, he was extremely attacking in his play, always driving forward on and off the ball. There were numerous occasions when he was United’s most advanced player.
He was also helped by the movement of the players in front of him. Lingard, Rashford and Martial were consistently making runs into the channels, which gave Pogba the chance to show off his passing range. The nature of his role was neatly illustrated for his and United’s second goal; look at the images below to see the run he makes to get onto the end of Herrera’s cross.
He also notched an assist for Lukaku to go with his brace and looks completely at home in this system and philosophy. Solskjaer’s biggest task upon arrival was to get the Frenchman onside, and on this evidence, Pogba is enjoying his football and thriving with the responsibility placed on his shoulders.
More of the same from Manchester United – get the full-backs forward, stretch the opposition using pace and width, and allow Pogba and Lingard to play their natural game. These can broadly be summarised as the three biggest changes that Solskjaer has made to United, and the results are there for all to see. United remain defensively shaky, failing to keep a clean sheet in all three games despite their superiority, and this would the next item on the Norwegian’s to-do list. Nevertheless, it has been a strong start to life for him at Old Trafford, and with Reading in the FA Cup and Newcastle in the league up next, he has the chance to build up a significant head of steam before his first true test – Tottenham away at Wembley.
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