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Aston Villa 0-1 Man Utd: Tactical Analysis

An analysis of how Manchester United fared against Aston Villa during their 2nd Premier League game of the season.

Manchester United win again

In a thrilling match where chances seemed hard to come by, Manchester United enjoyed a narrow 0-1 victory over Aston Villa to top the table as of Friday.

The first half goal scored by surprise starter Adnan Januzaj with the help of a deflection proved enough to seal the game in United's favour.


Once again though, United's attack lacked creativity and dynamism in stark contrast to their defence which looked sharper than ever throughout the entirety of the match.

Matteo Darmian, Chris Smalling, Juan Mata, Morgan Schneiderlin and Daley Blind were the stand-out players against Villa while Wayne Rooney and Memphis Depay failed to impress for the second consecutive game.

Tactical Analysis  

Van Gaal made one change to his line-up with Januzaj starting behind Rooney in the hole-role while Depay took over the left-wing. Besides that, the entire squad remain unchanged with Romero in goal for the second match in succession.

Avg posn of Utd players - Notably Rooney who started as a ST played in deep with Januzaj.

During the first twenty minutes, United looked nervy and unsettled making unnecessary mistakes exactly as they did the same way against Tottenham Hotspurs. Later on, the players settled and that much need composure returned to their game.

The game plan of Van Gaal was clear - regain possession quickly and build up the attack patiently. 


Analysing the defensive performance of both halves:

Man Utd showed more urgency in regaining possession with two defenders tailing the opposition players when in possession. In addition, the Red Devils dominated in the air cutting-off deliveries from the flanks and from set pieces. The defence looked compact and steady during the entire match. 


Darmian and Smalling continued their impressive start to the campaign with another stellar defensive display. Darmian again showed he's worth every penny United paid for him with this performance – he contributed to attack, he defended well and rarely let the Villans to impose their passing game. 

There were some notable incidents on the field when Darmian brilliantly distracted Villa captain Micah Richards during a corner kick before grabbing the latter's neck when the kick was taken. United were lucky not to get penalised for that incident.

Darmian is a typical Italian defender – he'll try everything in his book, even the ones that seem unsportsmanlike – and he's being the defensive gem United have missed since Gary Neville's tenure.

Midfield and attack – First half analysis

Januzaj was a surprise inclusion in the starting line-up but provided immense creativity down the middle feeding the likes of Mata, Rooney and Memphis. Unlike Depay in the first game, Januzaj showed he is more comfortable with that role, making some good runs off the ball, creating space for himself and taking on the defenders. The goal he scored overshadowed his weakness in holding the ball but above all he should be credited for that brilliant run to create his goal scoring chance.


Januzaj and Mata celebrate United's sole goal

Mata was voted Man of the Match for the two passes he made that opened up the tightly-packed Villa defence which proved decisive in the match. Apart from those, he struggled to cope with the physical battle of the Villans and misplaced plenty of passes in dangerous areas. Moreover, Mata showed he's the best player United have for that 'in the hole' role but is still not offered the chance to make that position his. 

Overall both players – Januzaj and Mata – need to work on their weaknesses to seamlessly integrate into Van Gaal's possession-based philosophy.

Schneiderlin and Michael Carrick formed a formidable partnership sitting deep and both of them did their job perfectly against Villa. Schneiderlin, in particular, impressed the most, supporting Blind at the back. He was excellent in tracking the opposition players, winning the possession, making interceptions and then with his distribution.

Schneiderlin stats from yesterday's match:

Rooney once again looked isolated in the match struggling to adapt to his new sole-striking role. According to Opta, Rooney touched the ball only once inside the box, that too in the 93rd minute and that sums up the frustration he continues to face playing up top.

Depay is still acclimatising to his new surroundings and its too early to judge his performances now. He was involved in the build-ups and almost scored his debut goal thanks to an exquisite through ball from Mata, only for the Dutchman to steer the shot wide of the goal post.

Midfield and attack - Second half

When Ander Herrera and Bastian Schweinsteiger came on for Januzaj and Carrick respectively, United's midfield looked more creative and balanced while going forward in stark contrast to the midfield in the first-half. Bastian once again used his leadership skill to keep the back four steady constantly giving instructions to the players while Herrera lead the attack through the middle supporting the forward trio of Rooney, Depay and Mata. The midfield became more energetic in their presence forcing Aston Villa to defend deep in the final minutes of the game. 

What changes to expect in next match

Lack of pace:   

Louis van Gaal needs to inject more pace and creativity to the United attack in order to charge for the title challenge this season. First, he needs to deploy a winger on the right side to take advantage of the counter attacks. Against Villa, most of the attacks down the right-wing ended fruitless due to lack of pace. Mata, when going forward, looked to drift inside every time and by that time the opposition were able to get back into their positions nullifying the threat completely.
We need a winger who can take on defenders and put some decent crosses into the box. Hopefully signing Pedro could solve this problem.

Predictable Attack and sloppy passing:

It's not a secret now that United attack mainly down the left side with little creativity through the right and none through the middle. This predictable attacking strategy makes it easy for opposition to defend against. 

A few changes to the current line up could add that missing attacking instinct to the United attack. With Carrick and Schneiderlin on the pitch United are more comfortable defending deep. But fans are not used to these negative tactics and need some entertaining football that justifies the spending spree. 

Van Gaal prefers a 4-2-3-1 formation deploying a player to play in the hole just behind Rooney, but this move makes no sense until he start a player to bridge the gap between attack and midfield. A player in the mould of Herrera (probably him) could fill the void adding more strength and one that could support our forward trio. He may have to sacrifice the hole player for an attacking midfielder, but the gamble is worth a take.

In addition, sloppy passes prove to be a stumbling block to get his philosophy in action. The players really need to work on it and have to show immediate improvements.

Goal scoring burden

Last but not least, the performance from our captain has been unconvincing in both the matches. He need to be prolific this season to challenge for title and van Gaal is taking the gamble of not filling the void left by RVP and Falcao. Only time will tell whether it's worth to take or not.


Moreover, it's customary for Rooney to struggle in front of goal during the first few games of the season. Hopefully he will start firing on all cylinders when it matters.

Stat Source : Opta, Squawka

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