Despite a strong run of form before the break, this has been an inconsistent season for Manchester United overall.
Yet amid the frustrating results at time, manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has stuck to his guns.
He has stuck with two formations, 4-2-3-1 and 3-4-1-2, but has never got desperate even when injuries have gone against us.
Figures from Whoscored.com show United rank 20th in the Premier League for ‘long balls’, averaging just 49 per game.
Sheffield United rank highest with 76 per game, followed by Burnley, Southampton, Wolves and Liverpool.
A clear philosophy
Liverpool ranking in the top five along with Sheffield United and Wolves – all in the Premier League top seven in points – shows that the amount of ‘long balls’ played do not determine success.
What United’s position in 20th demonstrates however is a clear philosophy in terms of playing style, to play out from the back and not just ‘lump it forward’.
This was part of the reason behind signing Harry Maguire in the summer, a centre-back who like Victor Lindelof is comfortable with the ball at his feet.
United’s approach is the same at home and away, ranking lowest in the league when split for both.
This is a positive. Modern football should be about more than going ‘route one’, and Solskjaer’s United aim to play an aesthetically pleasing style. Especially when the squad was in need of a makeover and lacked quality to mount a title challenge. At least create a team worth watching.
This can run into trouble occasionally as we saw at the start of the season when Axel Tuanzebe filled in at left-back against Arsenal at Old Trafford and gave the ball away in his own third for their equaliser.
Yet overall United have been comfortable in possession, with Brandon Williams a key part of this. The youngster is happy to run forward with the ball and make runs off it to create space.
United rank in the top seven in the league for possession per game, and in the top six for pass completion.
Now with Bruno Fernandes linking the play so well in attack, United look so much more functional as a team and playing out from defence has become easier. Nemanja Matic has been key in recent weeks too protecting the back four as he regains form.
United don’t have a typical target man striker to play long balls to in any case. Loanee Odion Ighalo can hold the ball up well, but he is a skilful player rather than simply being a bruiser/battering ram type of centre-forward, as his goal against LASK showed.
Long gone are the days under Jose Mourinho of lumping the ball up to Marouane Fellaini up top.
While this was a sometimes very effective plan B, Solskjaer was never interested and sold the Belgian right away, without replacing him.
The Norwegian has stuck to his beliefs, and even when United are chasing games late on, you won’t see many desperate hoofs upfield.
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