Twelve Manchester United players graced the FIFA World Cup 2018. Phil Jones, Marcus Rashford, Ashley Young and Jesse Lingard made up the England contingent. Marouane Fellaini, Romelu Lukaku and Paul Pogba all faced one another in Belgium vs France Semi-final. Victor Lindelof was part of the surprise Sweden run to the semi-final. Marcos Rojo and David De Gea were surprisingly knocked out in the last 16 with Nemanja Matic losing out in the group stages. Fred rarely featured in a Brazil team that didn’t live up to expectations. With such a differing landscape what can Jose Mourinho learn to take into the 2018/19 season?
The key player
Jesse Lingard has now established himself as a key attacking midfielder in the starting eleven for England. Throughout the World Cup, his passing accuracy hovered in between 89%-95% and his possession recovery (5-10 per game) in the oppositions half was one of England’s highest. Jose Mourinho should use this to his advantage and switch from a disciplined structure to a more aggressive press to win the ball back. Manchester United sides of old have always played on the front foot and Jesse Lingard can lead an aggressive press to enable this. For example, in the Quarter Final against Sweden he won 9 ball recoveries in the opposition half, many high up the field using an aggressive press.
The surprise team of the tournament is arguably Sweden and the talisman behind their structured defensive play with Victor Lindelof. He won over half of his defensive duels in the tournament making an average of c.5 interceptions per game. Jose Mourinho values defensive discipline and Victor Lindelof has shown on the world stage that he can adapt to this. In addition, his passing accuracy hovered around 80-85% throughout the tournament which will be valued highly as Manchester United look to control games through possession. In the Quarter Final against England, in a high-pressure game, he achieved a passing accuracy of 83%. which will be vital as Manchester United look to build from the back. Furthermore, many of his passes were played forward which will have a positive effect in Manchester United building from the back but not keeping possession for possession’s sake.
After such an impressive season for Manchester United, David De Gea’s World Cup ended in a whimper. After Spain sacked their manager before the World Cup began, the predictions of a difficult tournament came true. David De Gea conceded 6 goals in 4 games as Spain tumbled out in the last 16. He was accustomised to being the last line of defence throughout last season and single handily won Manchester United games. However, he only faced 11 shots all tournament and he will be disappointed with conceding 6 goals. One thing is for sure he will still be a key man at Old Trafford and the defensive mishaps of Spain were not entirely down to the goalkeeper.
The Playing Style
The FIFA World Cup 2018 has shown us one thing: structured attacking football will win over sitting deep defensively. The four semi-finalists (Croatia, England, Belgium and France) all played expansive, pressing and attacking football. They did have a strong defensive base but that is already part of Jose Mourinho’s repertoire. One thing he can add to this is to put Manchester United on the front foot. Allow them to press high to win the ball back and create attacking opportunities. Enable them to be more creative and use the attack as a form of defence. If Manchester City did not highlight this to Mr Mourinho scoring over 100 goals then the attacking nature of the FIFA World Cup 2018 hopefully has.