Mourinho's coaching failures exposed yet again & five Premier League tactical lessons we learned
Posted On March 22, 2019
The Portuguese and his Red Devils side continue to flounder as they lacked any cohesion during their defeat at Anfield on Sunday
Liverpool remain top of the Premier League table after their 3-1 victory over Manchester United, though Manchester City remain hot on their tail following their own win over Everton via the same scoreline.
Elsewhere, Arsenal’s unbeaten run is over after their 3-2 defeat to Southampton – a result that lifts the Saints out of the relegation zone.
But the results only tell half the story – here are five tactical things you might not have noticed from the Premier League action this weekend…
An odd first half shape from Manchester United at Anfield saw Diogo Dalot roam tentatively somewhere between a right wing-back and a right winger, making the visitors unevenly distributed on their right side.
Dalot’s confusion was symbolic of their wider problems in the first half for United, as a two-man midfield was easily overrun by Liverpool. There were gaping holes for the hosts to run into, and Jurgen Klopp’s side should have taken advantage more fully before the break.
Jose Mourinho responded by switching from 3-4-2-1 to 4-3-3, and yet this proved even more difficult defensively.
Jesse Lingard hardly tracked back at all from the right wing, which left Andrew Robertson – partially shackled by Dalot in the first half – free to attack Matteo Darmian. Liverpool began to overload the left flank, gradually grinding the away side down until Xherdan Shaqiri made the breakthrough.
It is not news to say Liverpool are a faster and hungrier team than Man Utd, but it is telling that Mourinho’s side simply could not implement their manager’s tactics in either half. An inability to problem solve on the pitch speaks to a lack of coaching off it.
Injuries to David Silva and Kevin de Bruyne meant Manchester City were always likely to struggle to create chances through the centre of the pitch, loading creative pressure onto their wingers for the visit of Everton on Saturday.
Given that the Toffees packed central midfield very effectively in the 0-0 draw with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and 1-0 defeat at Liverpool, Marco Silva could have repeated those tactics and frustrated the hosts. Instead, he made the mistake of unexpectedly changing formation.
Rather than again instruct Gylfi Sigurdsson and Richarlison to drop onto the opposition midfielders and block the passing lanes through, Silva deployed a 5-4-1 that meant they only had two central midfielders – neither of whom are particularly defensive – while Morgan Schneiderlin sat on the bench despite Idrissa Gueye’s absence through injury.
Consequently City were let off the hook, easily controlling midfield and building their way into the game as Everton’s flat back five stood and watched the champions dictate proceedings. There was none of the aggression we expect from Silva teams.
Furthermore, playing with an unfamiliar back three led to the first goal. Yerry Mina gave the ball away because he had no options – a direct result of Everton stacking the bottom end. For this goal, and the second, Gabriel Jesus found space because Everton’s back three did not quite have their positioning sorted out, and they paid the price.
The Antonio Conte-inspired 3-4-2-1 is clearly back in vogue in the Premier League, and it was Southampton who deployed the formation most successfully this weekend.
Ralph Hasenhuttl picked Nathan Redmond and Stuart Armstrong as the dual number 10s, using a high-energy system – and raw speed – to create gegenpressing space in the final third.
Hasenhuttl likes to counter with quick vertical passes in the half-spaces ,hence the Jurgen Klopp comparisons, and so it is no surprise that Redmond is already becoming his most important player.
He consistently picked the ball up in space behind Matteo Guendouzi, receiving passes to feet in that most dangerous area of the pitch before spreading it out wide for a Southampton full-back.
Saints’ second goal came directly via Redmond’s interplay in the number 10 zone; the 24-year-old driving into the gap between Guendouzi and Nacho Monreal before crossing for Danny Ings to score.
The move for the first goal was a textbook example of what makes the 3-4-2-1 so effective when coached well; as the image below illustrates. Armstrong was able to collect the ball and spray it out wide for Matt Targett to cross for Ings because of his playmaker partnership with Redmond.
Liverpool, Man City and Tottenham all won their matches at the weekend thanks to goals from substitutes, which has become an increasingly regular feature for the big clubs in England, in turn only highlighting their strength in depth and the growing gulf in quality between the top of the division and the rest.
Christian Eriksen score Tottenham’s 91st-minute winner against Burnley, and though he is ordinarily a starter for Spurs, Mauricio Pochettino’s willingness to leave the Dane on the bench speaks volumes. Tottenham are no longer reliant on fielding their star players week in week out.
Liverpool’s capture of Xherdan Shaqiri, meanwhile, looks like the signing of the season so far. He scored twice against Man Utd, but it was not just his deflected finishes that made the difference.
The Switzerland international’s first action on the pitch was to turn in possession and drive at the heart of the United defence. He raised the tempo inside Anfield at a time when their confidence was beginning to wane.
At City, Raheem Sterling scored within moments of coming onto the field against Everton, who had threatened to turn the tide after pulling a goal back through Dominic Calvert-Lewin a few minutes earlier.
Sterling’s calm self-assurance in the penalty area exemplifies Pep Guardiola’s ability to juggle a big squad and keep everyone happy – even if they are left on the bench.
The standout performer in Watford’s 3-2 victory over Cardiff City was youngster Domingo Quina, signed from West Ham in the summer and handed his first home start in the Premier League on Saturday.
Quina showed excellent composure for such a young player, completing 88 passes and four dribbles, as well as scoring the winning goal in the 68th minute.
It is a testament to Quina’s talent that Javi Gracia selected him ahead of England international Nathaniel Chalobah, who remained on the bench, and Tom Cleverley, who only came onto the field for the final five minutes.
Cardiff might not represent the toughest of tests for a young midfielder, but Quina’s self-assurance was further proof of the level of detail and tactical coaching Gracia gives to his squad.
PIC: Quina successful passes vs Cardiff City.