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Tactics Board- United falls against Swansea’s changes

Tactics BoardSwansea vs Manchester United

Liberty Stadium – 30th August, 2015

Manchester United came into this game on the back of a convincing 4-0 victory over Club Brugge midweek. While they looked impressive in both legs of the Champion’s League Play-off, they have looked less assured in the league. United travelled to the Liberty Stadium, having lost both games last season against Gary Monk’s side, and the fans wondered which performance was the real Manchester United. Was it the team that beat Club Brugge 7-1 on aggregate, or the one who scored 2 goals in 3 games with one of those being an own goal.

Manchester United (4-2-3-1)
Louis Van Gaal started Ander Herrera in the central attacking midfielder role, as Adnan Januzaj was out of the game with a knock. With Herrera playing further up the pitch, Bastian Schweinsteiger filled a defensive midfielder role with Morgan Schneiderlin starting in place of Michael Carrick.

Swansea City AFC (4-2-3-1)
Gary Monk’s team beat York City in midweek with a weakened squad, but made only 1 change from the side that drew 1-1 with Sunderland. Former Arsenal goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski continued as the number 1 goalkeeper. The backline remained unchanged, with Kyle Naughton at right-back and Neil Taylor at left-back. The center-back pairing of club captain Ashley Williams and Federico Fernandez, shielded in front by Jack Cork and former Liverpool man Jonjo Shelvey. Bafetimbi Gomis started as the lone striker, supported by Gylfi Sigurdsson in the number 10 role. The one change was Jefferson Montero missing with an injury, so Andre Ayew switched to the right wing and Wayne Routledge came into the side on the left wing.

Starting Lineup for Swansea vs Manchester United

Starting Lineup for Swansea vs Manchester United



  • Without Januzaj, Ander Herrera started as the number 10 for Manchester United.
  • Manchester United struggled to find space for their attacking midfielders, as Wayne Rooney too frequently came short without anybody going past him to stretch the defense.
  • Memphis occasionally got space to dribble into due to Luke Shaw’s driving runs.
  • Swansea struggled create chances until the second half.
  • Gary Monk changed from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-1-2-1-2 and dominated midfield and frequently got behind United’s fullbacks.

United struggle for space

Manchester United came into this game on the back of another impressive European performance. The Red Devils looked impressive in their 7-1 demolition of Club Brugge over 2 legs, but they haven’t looked near as good domestically. Wayne Rooney continued up front after getting a hat-trick in Belgium, but his performance is still causing problems for United’s attack. This wasn’t helped by Adnan Januzaj’s absence through injury, with Ander Herrera playing as the number 10.

Much of United’s problem this season has been in the final third, where they are frequently predictable and playing in front of the defense. Wayne Rooney contributes to this problem with his tendancy to drop deep to get on the ball. With nobody attempting to get in behind the center-backs, the defensive line can stay high up the field and compact with the midfield, providing no space between the lines.

This was less of an issue against Club Brugge as Rooney made several good runs in behind the defense, forcing them to drop deeper. Even in this game, some of United’s best chances came when the England international tried to get behind the Swansea defense.

Another factor in United struggling for space came from Ander Herrera replacing Adnan Januzaj as the central attacking midfielder. In the game against Newcastle United, Januzaj was very effective in drifting horizontally across the pitch. Since Manchester United plays with 2 inverted wingers in Memphis and Juan Mata, Januzaj’s willingness to move into the wide areas provided more balance to United’s attack. Ander Herrera played as a much more standard number 10, staying in the middle of the pitch. He was more involved in the build-up than Januzaj was in previous games. With Juan Mata also dropping deep in the build-up, there wasn’t enough of a presence in the final third.

Manchester United have 4 players in a central area, with no body out wide.

Manchester United have 4 players in a central area, with no body out wide.

Midweek against Brugge, when Herrera came on the side looked more dangerous but why didn’t he have the same effect in this game. In the second half of the Brugge game, United played as more of a 4-3-3 than a 4-2-3-1. This meant that Juan Mata was stayed higher up the pitch and was more involved around the penalty box. Ander Herrera worked with Bastian Schweinsteiger in the build-up phase, linking the defense with the attack. He was also more willing to run beyond Wayne Rooney, and this is what led to his goal in Belgium. In the Swansea game, he tended to stay deeper and provided little presence in the final third. He also didn’t drift out to the flanks as well as Adnan Januzaj did against Aston Villa and Newcastle.

Heat map for Herrera vs Swansea, and Januzaj vs Newcastle United

Heat map for Herrera vs Swansea, and Januzaj vs Newcastle United

Swansea switches formation

A constant source of attack for Manchester United this season has come from the full-backs. Matteo Darmian tends to be the more restrained fullback, making less frequent forward forays than the left-back, Luke Shaw. Shaw has gotten forward to good effect this season, with Daley Blind frequently sliding over to cover the space that is vacated by Shaw’s forward runs. The coverage provided by Blind has been essential for the Red Devils this season to ensure that the opposition can’t exploit the gaps.

Another advantage of Shaw’s charging runs is he opens space for Memphis. A common tactic is for Shaw to take the ball up field along the touchline past Memphis. By driving towards the by-line, he often attracts the attention of the right midfielder and right-back. He’ll then pass back to Memphis, who then has the space to move infield at speed before he encounters one of the central midfielders.

Shaw runs towards the by-line, then passes back to Memphis who can cut infield unmarked.

Shaw runs towards the by-line, then passes back to Memphis who can cut infield unmarked.

After Manchester United went up through a Juan Mata goal, with the cross provided by an advanced Luke Shaw, Gary Monk made a counter-intutive change. He took out a speedy, direct winger in Wayne Routledge and replaced him with a defensive midfielder in Ki Sung Yueng. This substitution led to the Swans switching to a 4-1-2-1-2, with Andre Ayew going up top alongside Bafetimbi Gomis.

Lineup after Ki Sung Yeung came in for Wayne Routledge.

Lineup after Ki Sung Yeung came in for Wayne Routledge.

With such a narrow formation, United’s fullbacks no longer had any direct opponent to mark. On the right side, the more cautious Darmian did well in maintaining his positioning but the younger Shaw on the left-side was drawn further up the pitch. Swansea immediately took advantage of this with both Sigurdsson and Ayew drifting into the space behind Shaw on the counter-attack.

For Swansea’s first goal, Sigurdsson drifted into the vacant left-back space and played in an excellent cross to the back post that Andre Ayew was able to head in. For the second goal, Ayew drifted into the left-back space. Daley Blind, as he has done all season, was already shifted over to try and cover this area. Unfortunately, this left a large gap between United’s two center-backs for Gomis to run into as Ayew played him an excellent through-ball.

Heat map of Daley Blind & Bafetimbi Gomis

Heat map of Daley Blind & Bafetimbi Gomis

Swansea exploited the left-back space ruthlessly, and once behind, they were able to see out an easy victory. Van Gaal’s only option when chasing the game seemed to be to put Marouane Fellaini up top, and try to lob long balls to him. Monk brought on a third center-back, who man-marked the Belgian, and the Red Devils presented no threat.


This game continued several troubling trends for Manchester United domestically. In playing two inverted wingers, United has a tendancy to congest the middle of the pitch. This isn’t helped by Wayne Rooney frequently dropping deep to get involved in the build-up. Adnan Januzaj helped off-set this somewhat, by running past Rooney and also drifting into the wide areas to provide additional attacking width. Without somebody stretching the defense, United will continue to struggle to find the space between the lines that both Mata and Memphis thrive on.

This game changed with Gary Monk’s change of formation, with Luke Shaw not showing enough positional discipline. The defensive issues displayed in this game have been present all season, Swansea just were more effective at exploiting them.

Comments are always welcome!

By Joe Schurhammer (@RangeRooney)



  1. Karl

    September 1, 2015 at 12:21 pm

    Brilliant analysis RangeRooney.

  2. storm

    September 1, 2015 at 12:33 pm

    Great analysis. I think it boils down to the fact that Gary Monk’s plan B was far more effective than Van Gaal’s. Let’s hope any new players coming in mean a change in formation and tactics. Utd look far more effective with a 4-3-3.

  3. Jambo7

    September 1, 2015 at 1:07 pm

    We are a joke shipping out young talent like januzai and playing central players like mata on the wing . Why are we playing with two holding players ? Play sneiderlin in front of Defence and play heera and mata in front of him and then play with a front 3 of Rooney depay and martial. But lvg is way too negative

  4. RangeRooney

    September 1, 2015 at 2:58 pm

    A plan of playing to Fellaini is reasonable for some games but that can’t be how we chase games. Swansea just brought in a third CB to man mark him. A dearth of strikers make it hard to play a 4-4-2 at the end of game when needed.
    With Blind at CB, and Fellaini at striker, it seems like LVG won’t be happy until we’re playing 10 midfielders.

  5. colver

    September 1, 2015 at 3:23 pm

    I think we need to start playing with some genuine width and pace. The slow build up play and excessive emphasis on possession makes us predictable and easy to defend against and while defensive organization has improved our defence we lack the experience and leadership in defence and the tactical flexibility to deal with curve balls like the one Swansea served up.

    Hopefully with the arrival of Martial we will revert to a 4-3-3. My choice would be Young on the left Rooney in the middle and Martial on the right. Although I expect Depay will continue to get the nod on the left side. In any case a pacey front line with good movement can be exploited by passmasters like Carrick and Schneiderlin and could hopefully result in more goals.

    • Karl

      September 1, 2015 at 5:35 pm

      @colver: with him letting go of Januzaj, Chicarito and Wilson, I think it is more realistic to expect 4231 to persist, with Rooney dropping to no.10 and Martial whatever to play no.9.

      His reasoning seems to be that M.whatever is the main striker and Rooney and Fellaini will provide cover at 9. Mata and Valencia will share right side and Depay and Young the left. Herrera will provide cover at 10, whilst The Schnidis will play double 6 with Carrick as cover.

      Plan B will be 451/442 hoofball.

      Its not going to be pretty…lets hope it will be effective.

  6. colver

    September 2, 2015 at 12:00 am

    Uhh you are probably right Karl which is super depressing. Looks like more of the same with no width, Mata and Depay cutting inside, Rooney probably dropping deep into midfield, tediously slow build up play and Martial getting isolated up top just like every other striker unfortunate enough to play as a number 9 for Van Gaal.

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