We’ve entered the Winter Break in the Premier League, and now we’re on the third fixture in a week. In matchday 14, Leeds United faces off Manchester United at Old Trafford. 

Leeds United come off an emphatic 5-2 thrashing of Newcastle United in midweek, with goals from striker Patrick Bamford, Rodrigo Moreno, Stuart Dallas, Ezgjan Alioski and Jack Harrison. They conceded two from Jeff Hendrick and Ciaran Clark. 

Manchester United come off a close 2-3 win against Sheffield United with a brace from Marcus Rashford and the first goal from Anthony Martial. Meanwhile, they conceded a brace from David McGoldrick. 

The last time these two sides faced off was not in the league, considering that Leeds United hadn’t been 16 years in the Premier League, but in the League Cup, they faced off and Manchester United won it 0-3.

In this tactical analysis, we will preview the game to see how Marcelo Bielsa and Ole Gunnar Solksjaer might set up and the tactics they might use in the game. This analysis will also look at their previous fixtures and what they should learn from them.

Expected Lineups

Premier League 2020/21: Manchester United vs Leeds United - Tactical Preview Tactics
Expected Lineups for Manchester United vs Leeds United

Leeds United in Yellow: 4-1-4-1 

We expect Marcelo Bielsa to start with his 4-1-4-1 lineup. Illan Meslier should start in goal, in front of him, captain Liam Cooper should start alongside Luke Ayling considering that Koch and Llorente are injured. At left-back, Ezgjan Alioski should start with Stuart Dallas on the opposite flank. 

At holding midfield, England international Kalvin Phillips should start with Mateusz Klich and Rodrigo Moreno in front of him. On the wings, Jack Harrison should start at left-wing and new signing Raphinha from Rennes in Ligue 1 should start at right-wing. Patrick Bamford, who ranks fifth in the top scorer list in the Premier League, should continue his role as the sole striker. 

Manchester United in Red: 4-2-3-1

Expect Solksjaer to start the 4-2-3-1 that he has regularly used this season. David De Gea, who was rested against Sheffield United, should start in goal. The central defence pairing should contain Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof. However, Fosu-Mensah or Tuanzebe could get starts for rest and rotation. At left-back, we expect Alex Telles to start with Aaron Wan-Bissaka at right-back.

In midfield, expect a double-pivot to consist of Paul Pogba and Scott McTominay. While Matic has put in good performances, he will need to be rotated, and McTominay could come in that role. Other possibilities include Fred and Donny Van De Beek. 

In attack, Bruno Fernandes should start as the attacking central midfielder with Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood on either side of Fernandes. Rashford grabbed a brace against Sheffield and should get the nod against Leeds. Anthony Martial could be the lone striker in this game as well.

Leeds United in attack

When in the attack, Leeds United try to stick to their 4-1-4-1 formation with Kalvin Phillips as the holding midfielder. An important technique that Leeds United use is stretching their opposition’s defences wide and open up spaces. The wingers need to open up the opposition by occupying the full-back and creating space in the half-spaces. Now, the full-backs can start underlapping and the central midfielders can make shuttling runs into the box. We can see an example of this below:

Premier League 2020/21: Manchester United vs Leeds United - Tactical Preview Tactics
Harrison stays wide to stretch the opposition’s defences.

In Leeds’ second goal against Newcastle, Harrison stays very wide high up the pitch and draws the opposition’s right-back and a midfielder. In the middle, Patrick Bamford draws some of the centre-backs so that the winger on the far side or the midfielder near him can make a darting run into the box. Here, Bamford drew Longstaff and Fernandez to the near post and Rodrigo made a run into the box to score from a header.

Another important attacking movement is the formation of passing triangles in the middle of the pitch and higher up the pitch. The winger and full-back are crucial in both forms of build-up, but the third player in this build-up varies based on the locations of the ball on the field. We can see passing triangles forming near the halfway line with Luke Ayling (centre-back), Stuart Dallas (full-back) and Raphinha. 

Premier League 2020/21: Manchester United vs Leeds United - Tactical Preview Tactics
Ayling, Dallas and Raphinha forming a passing triangle

The passing triangle is essential in shuttling the ball quickly between midfielders and assists in progressing the ball higher up the pitch. This helps in keeping the ball wide on the pitch and creates more runners in case one of them is marked. For example, if Raphinha’s run was marked, Dallas can run on the flank and create attacking opportunities for Leeds. 

The other passing triangle forms higher up the pitch between the full-back, winger and midfielder. We can see it in action below:

Premier League 2020/21: Manchester United vs Leeds United - Tactical Preview Tactics
Harrison, Alioski and Klich forming a passing triangle on the left side

Here, Harrison makes an underlapping run while Alioski overlaps to create width and stretch Newcastle’s defence. Klich makes a progressive run to form a passing triangle on the left side. There are three options from this passing triangle: Alioski dribbles wide and puts in a cross, Klich carries the ball centrally for Rodrigo or Bamford, or Harrison underlaps and creates an attacking opportunity by shooting or passing the ball.

Leeds United in Defence

When defending, Leeds United tend to take up a man-marking system where each player is responsible for the man closest to them, while one player in the last line of defence covers for the area by covering aerial balls and to step out of position to nip the attacking player’s advances in the bud. Meanwhile, the striker takes the centre-backs in a 2v1. 

We can see the first level of pressing high up the pitch with Bamford. While strikers are not expected to be great defenders, Bielsa prefers attackers that can press and recover the ball high up the pitch to create scoring opportunities from a better position. 

Premier League 2020/21: Manchester United vs Leeds United - Tactical Preview Tactics
Patrick Bamford pressing high up the pitch

Here, against Wolverhampton Wanderers, we can see Bamford pressing late in the game to win the ball back. He presses the right centre-back, but because he is on a 2v1 situation (2 centre-backs vs him), he needs to use smart pressing techniques to block off passes to the centre-back. This forces the centre-back on the ball to either clear the ball out or they need to use pure pace to get the ball out of the box.

The interesting part about Leeds’ defensiv1e organisations is their swarming when pressing defensively during transitions. When Leeds players lose the ball, they immediately start pressing the opponent on the ball and swarm him to choke out passing options. This has led Leeds to having the lowest PPDA (Passes Per Defensive Actions) in the Premier League.

Manchester United in Attack

When attacking, Manchester United shift to a 3-4-3 formation, with the full-backs pushing higher up the pitch and the holding midfielder (Matic or McTominay) dropping back. The Maguire-McTominay-Lindelof line forms the three, with Fernandes dropping back into midfield to form the line of four.

Between the four attackers (Fernandes, Greenwood, Rashford and Martial), I would argue that Bruno Fernandes is the most dangerous of the attackers in the team. He has been a crucial part of Manchester United’s attack with his creativity in passing and shooting. The midfielder tends to attack box and play crosses from the half-spaces into the runners from the wings to create goalscoring opportunities. 

Another crucial attacking tactic that United employ is the attacking of the half-spaces. The full-backs in Wan-Bissaka and Telles provide the width and cross into the box, while Greenwood and Rashford drop into the half-spaces or into the centre to get onto the end of crosses or through passes. 

Conclusion

In this tactical analysis, we saw how Manchester United might be attacking and how Leeds United might attack and defend with their tactics. Leeds United are a punishing side that can score a lot of goals on their day. However, Leeds have also conceded lots of goals so far, so Manchester United will surely put some goals past them as we indicated in this analysis.