Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side welcomed the Turkish champions Istanbul Basaksehir at Old Trafford in the Champions League group stage round of fixtures this week. Having beaten Manchester United 2-1 in their previous meeting a fortnight ago, the Istanbul outfit were keen to take advantage of United’s sluggish form at home this season. This fixture was bound to be a tricky one for either side after Basaksehir had provided the shock result of the previous round of fixtures.
United were expected to come up with a few tactical tweaks in their system to break down Istanbul’s low block system which had managed to get the better of them before. United had a flying start to the game from the first whistle looking to play quick one-two touch football. Keeping the majority of the ball and outclassing their opponents in passing statistics with conviction, whereas Istanbul sat back looking to absorb the pressure and hit United on the counter whenever possible with former Chelsea frontman Demba Ba leading the line for them.
In this tactical analysis, we try to understand how Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Okan Buruk set out their respective sides in order to get the desired result. In this analysis, we will see how the introduction of Donny van de Beek in United’s starting lineup had a major say in how United outperformed and beat Istanbul to hold a commanding position in the group and make themselves favourites to go through as group winners.
Manchester United shuffled their pack for this fixture giving new signings Van de Beek and Edinson Cavani a place in the starting lineup. This was Van de Beek’s third start after arriving from Ajax in the summer transfer window and Cavani was making his first start in United colours after signing for the red devils on a free transfer.
David de Gea started in goal ahead of Dean Henderson who had made his Champions League debut in the reverse fixture. With the absence of Luke Shaw due to injury, Alex Telles started at left-back alongside the usual defensive line for United this season of Lindelof, Maguire, and Wan-Bissaka. Fred and Van de Beek were the two central pivots in midfield with Van de Beek given the freedom to move forward and Fred the defensive duties.
Bruno Fernandes started in his favourable number ten role and Edinson Cavani as the sole striker. Marcus Rashford occupied the right-wing and Anthony Martial the left. United had a decent looking bench with young players like Greenwood, Williams, and James at their disposal.
Experienced Turkish international Mert Gunok kept in goal behind a flat back four of Rafael at right-back, Martin Skrtel and Epureanu at centre-back, and Bolingoli-Mbombo at left-back. Rafael was making his return to Old Trafford after winning three Premier League titles at Manchester United under Sir Alex Ferguson.
Berkey Ozcan was given the responsibility to shield the defensive backline. Kahveci and Turuc started as the advanced midfielders in the 4-1-4-1 system. Edin Visca and Nacer Chadli played on the wings whereas Ba was given the responsibility to lead the line for the Turkish outfit. Being the debutants in this year’s UEFA Champions League Istanbul were looking to upset Manchester United for the second time in as many games.
United’s defensive setup
Solskjaer set up his team in the preferred 4-2-3-1 formation with two defensive pivots rather than a single one. Maguire and Lindelof have been the usual defensive pairing for the Norwegian throughout the season.
Telles and Wan-Bissaka were given the full-back position. Telles looked to bomb forward at every opportunity on the left-hand side of United’s attack whereas Wan-Bissaka looked to combine more often with the midfielders and forwards on the right.
Fred and McTominay have been Ole’s go-to pairing in the midfield pivot to cover the defensive line, but with games coming thick and fast in this pandemic hit campaign rotation is going to be a key factor. So, Van de Beek got the nod ahead of his Scottish compatriot.
Fred was given the majority of the defensive duties of the two, dropping in between both the centre-backs at times to dictate the tempo of the game from the defensive third. Fred’s responsibility was to prevent the opposition from building attacks through the centre and covering for either full-back whenever they surged forward in an attacking instance.
His ability to read the game and position himself accurately to cut out passing lanes for the opposition has been a major factor for his impressive performances lately, he has now established himself in the starting lineup and is on course to quickly become a fan favourite if he keeps performing like this.
Van de Beek was given a spot in the starting eleven after impressing on international duty for the Netherlands, and he found himself in a much-withdrawn role at the centre of the field. He usually played at the number 10 spot just behind the striker at his former club Ajax Amsterdam but that position is currently occupied by United’s best player Fernandes.
It seems the only way that Van de Beek can get more minutes is by adapting his game according to the needs of his team and his manager. He put on a stellar performance in the outing giving Solskjaer a glimpse of his technical abilities. He completed an impressive 100% of his dribbles and had a passing accuracy of 88% throughout the game along with creating 2 chances to score for his teammates, showing exactly why Manchester United spent close to 45 million Euros for him in the transfer window.
United’s attacking setup
Solskjaer’s tactics were to set out his wingers with a bit of tactical tweak in the system to find space behind the compact backline of Basaksehir. Rashford and Martial who started out in the wide positions were drifting inside to pull out the Istanbul full-backs from their positions. This created space in behind either fullback which was exploited by Telles on the left side and Fernandes on the right.
For the entirety of the game, United’s wide men were looking to attack the channels and leave space for the full-backs on the byline. Telles had an impressive performance from Left-back whipping in crosses at every opportunity. It was his cross that was spilled by Mert Gunok in the Istanbul goal which was tapped home by Fernandes quite comfortably. Telles attempted a total of 11 crosses throughout the game and created 4 chances, a decent return from the left-back spot.
As it is clear from the above image the tactic which was used to drag the opposition defenders out of their position. Rashford falls deep to combine with Wan-Bissaka on the half way line as Bruno slots into the right-wing position left vacant by the full-back who has tracked Rashford.
For United’s first goal as Fernandes clearly mentioned in the post-match interview, he and Fred held a line to stop Istanbul from starting a counter and proving lethal as they did in the reverse fixture in Turkey. But the ball fell at his feet and he unleashed an absolute screamer in the top corner to put Manchester United ahead in the 7th minute.
Cavani’s withdrawn role
Edinson Cavani was starting for the first time in the famous red of Manchester United and he had a pretty decent game if we go by the numbers. His passing accuracy was 96% and he chased down every pass not allowing the opposition defenders any time to look up to pick a pass. His off the ball work was totally impressive as well falling down the middle of the field and pressing the opposition from behind. He was also found circling around his own half to link up with his midfield and help them to get out of tight situations.
Istanbul’s defensive setup
Basakshier started off with their usual centre-half partnership of Skrtel and Epureanu with Burak Ozcan playing in the defensive midfield role providing passing lanes to both the full-backs, Rafael and Bolingoli on the right and left respectively, Rafael Da Silva was playing in a familiar atmosphere having won three Premier League titles while playing for Manchester United.
Basakshier’s 4-1-4-1 formation was more like a 2-3-4-1 one over the course of the game as they looked to carve out chances against United, attacking the Stretford end in the first half. Demba Ba played as an out and out striker in the first half and had a couple of decent half-chances but was unable to test David De Gea in the United goal.
Istanbul’s major tactic throughout the match was to keep their wide men in Chadli and Visca as close to the byline as possible and outnumber the side of the field with an underlapping fullback. As we can see in the instance above, as soon as Chadli receives the ball on the byline Bolingoli bombs forward making an underlap and eventually being able to create a chance which his team couldn’t take. Chances like this were far and few in between as they were unable to put on a sustained attacking threat to the opposition. İrfan Kahveci, in particular, had a below-par performance, touching the ball for only 24 times for the entirety of 90 minutes and being a spectator for large portions of the game.
Better 2nd half
Buruk made some tactical changes in his team at half time as they were losing three-nil. He put Ba in a withdrawn role of a second striker in the 2nd half. He had the responsibility of being the pivotal linkup point in Istanbul’s attack and they managed to create five chances in the second half. Deniz Turuc scored a sensational consolation from the free-kick for the Turkish outfit with more than a quarter of the game remaining. Visca hit the crossbar from a left-footed drive from outside the area, had that gone in Manchester United would have treated to a nervous end to the game.
Manchester United silenced some of their critics and took revenge for their loss against Istanbul Basaksehir in the previous round of fixtures. Solskjaer would be particularly pleased with the performances of Van de Beek and Cavani alongside Fernandes of course, but on the other hand, he might as well be wondering where they would’ve been if they had failed to secure the signature of their talisman in January. United are now favourites to qualify to the round of 16 from what many critics had labelled as the ‘group of death’ when the draw had been made. But they would also be wary to not put their gas off the pedal. As we all know the Champions League provides the most unlikely of surprises.