Ralph Hasenhuttl did not hesitate to publicly take apart the tactics of Manchester United. It has happened with weird frequency this season.
10) Unai Emery
“You try and set up your team to get the best advantages out of each player against their direct rival. I think that Yeremi did well down the right-hand side in the same way as you refer to Danjuma doing really, really well down the left. He performed very, very well. He created the goal. He created a lot of danger throughout the game.”
Having been asked whether it was a ploy to isolate Diogo Dalot against Arnaut Danjuma, Villarreal head coach Unai Emery hardly rejected the theory. Former Bournemouth winger Danjuma tormented Dalot throughout their Champions League group stage encounter at Old Trafford, having four shots, creating two chances and laying on Paco Alcacer’s goal. Yeremi was similarly effective for Villarreal on the other flank, completing six dribbles in 72 minutes, although Alex Telles recovered sufficiently to score an equaliser in Manchester United’s eventual last-gasp win.
9) Dean Smith
“We were too passive in that first half at times but we wanted to go down that right-hand side. We got on the front foot, we felt we could get down the sides with Ollie’s running and Danny Ings’ running and build up with our wing-backs.”
In two encounters with Manchester United this season, Dean Smith has proven to be quite the match for a pair of managers. Ralf Rangnick secured an unconvincing 1-0 win over Norwich at Carrow Road in December, but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer succumbed to his first Premier League defeat of the season by the same scoreline in September. Aston Villa weathered a mild storm to take an 88th-minute lead when Kortney Hause nodded a front-post corner past David de Gea. Bruno Fernandes squandered the opportunity to equalise in stoppage-time when Emi Martinez worked his penalty magic. But the visitors were fair value for a win built on the wings, best summed up by a glorious move that sliced Manchester United open and raided the bountiful space behind Luke Shaw after 16 minutes, only for Matt Targett to sky Matt Cash’s centre from about four yards out.
8) Thomas Tuchel
“I saw a huge effort, big intensity, so many ball recoveries in the opponent’s half, put the pressure up high. We controlled the counter-attacks before they started, we were brave and courageous.”
Michael Carrick (visionary) dropped Cristiano Ronaldo to the bench for his first game as a Premier League manager. Nemanja Matic took pride of place in a serviceable midfield and Phil Jones made a rare appearance in a matchday squad. The plan to deploy Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho as rapid counter-focused forwards almost paid dividends as the latter capitalised on a Jorginho error to score early in the second half. But the Italian equalised from the penalty spot within 20 minutes. It was a strangely flaccid Chelsea performance against a Manchester United side instructed not to venture from its defensive shell, but Thomas Tuchel was pleased with a shot count of 24 to three and a resounding 2.81 to 0.86 xG victory.
Also, carrick played Villareal and Chelsea away, and arsenal at home. Each of these fixtures are harder than any of the games we’ve had since Ragnick came in. Let’s compare that too
— . (@fxck_woodward) February 10, 2022
7) Eddie Howe
“We have very good transition players, quick players. We really hurt Man Utd on transitions today.”
Newcastle had been swatted aside 4-1 at Old Trafford in September but those points that Steve Bruce tended to gift wrap annually were long forgotten three months later when Eddie Howe took charge. While the Magpies continued on a rocky defensive path initially, conceding 17 goals in his first seven Premier League games, they have let in just three in five since. That run started against Manchester United at St James’ Park shortly after Christmas, when Edinson Cavani was needed to cancel out Allan Saint-Maximin’s early opener. As Howe suggested, the hosts excelled on the transition: Newcastle scored within seconds of Sean Longstaff dispossessing Raphael Varane, while Jacob Murphy and Miguel Almiron ought to have won it late on.
6) Brendan Rodgers
“Their central players weren’t pressing so we could be patient and work the ball through the pitch, we got into some really good areas and put pressure on their backline.”
Properly damning, and quite right after a 4-2 Leicester win that shredded any paper left over those Manchester United cracks in Solskjaer’s final weeks. Mason Greenwood gave them a thrilling lead and Rashford seemed to have salvaged an 82nd-minute point at the King Power Stadium but the Foxes struck twice more to secure a delirious victory. Youri Tielemans was particularly impressive, managing four shots, creating three chances, completing three dribbles and making more passes than any other player. As Rodgers pointed out post-match, a passive midfield of Matic and Paul Pogba, with Bruno Fernandes slightly higher, certainly helped. So did a noticeably half-fit Harry Maguire, robbed on the edge of his own area by Kelechi Iheanacho for Tielemans to equalise.
5) Claudio Ranieri
“King played a lot of matches on the left at Bournemouth and I wanted to put the defensive line under pressure because Dennis is very fast and it worked very well, but all of the team worked very well. I said to them, we have to press higher, so they can kick a long ball and we are ready to fight them and get in behind.”
Solskjaer’s final game. Ranieri’s final win. Myriad festering issues culminated in 90 chastening minutes for Manchester United at Vicarage Road as promoted Watford stuck four past their hapless visitors. Joao Pedro and Emmanuel Dennis applied separate coats of stoppage-time gloss as things truly started to combust at the seams. Watford’s gameplan engendered panic in the defence as their quick, skilful forwards feasted on Messrs Maguire, Lindelof, McTominay and Matic in particular. The deployment of Dennis in a more central role was most effective of all; the Nigerian assisted two and scored the last in a tirelessly brilliant display.
4) Thomas Frank
“Our intensity killed them, we showed that in the first half, we played the Brentford way. The boys kept running, fighting and kept going. We destroyed them in the first half. They are unbelievably lucky.”
Less tactically specific but far more of a visceral deconstruction of Manchester United than most other managers would be willing to offer. Thomas Frank verged into regrettable and unintentional territory in his memorable post-match mangling of a side that had beaten Brentford 3-1 after a frankly laughable first-half showing. But he pulled no punches and laid more than a few blows.
3) Ralph Hasenhuttl
“It is not a big secret that when they lose the ball that the reverse gears are not the best from everybody. Then you have the chance to create something and we did. The pressing for them was good in the beginning but they aren’t used to doing it for more than 30 or 40 minutes, we came into the game after that.”
You absolutely love to see/hear/inject it. Unless you are Jermaine Jenas and you are silly.
2) Bruno Lage
“The way they press, we prepared to try and understand, when we have the ball we try to understand which men will be free. It can be whoever is free, one of the centre-backs free, or if they come and press three against three like they did with Cavani the spaces will be outside. That’s why today we try to find Semedo and Marcal and they come inside to play and then we play against six men, the defensive line and the two midfielders. The most important thing for us is to see where the full-backs are, which position they start. It’s to find the spaces, when they are defending or attacking. If you look at the first half, when they were defending, they tried to block, and the space was outside. Semedo and Marcal in the first half had a lot of the ball and the boys found the spaces. Podence and Trincao understand if the full-backs are in front of them, or if they go, you control the space inside. When we arrive there it’s important to keep the ball, get the opponent running. Top teams, sometimes they have more problems when they don’t have the ball. If you spend more time with the ball we will find our space and create chances. Manchester United changed their system a bit, but when you look in the end the way we pressed, controlled the game, the chances we created we deserved the three points.”
A more thorough dismantling of a supposed title challenger does not exist. Bruno Lage sunk the knife in deeper by describing Old Trafford, that former fear-inducing arena in which opponents were already beaten as they stood frozen in the tunnel, as “a lovely stadium” after Wolves won 1-0 in January.
1) Pep Guardiola
“Let me be gentle: I never analyse or judge what the opponents do. The best way to silence Old Trafford is to have the ball with a lot of passes and attack the box in the right moment and we did it. It doesn’t matter where we are, home or away, we go there to play our game. Against our neighbours, we came and did our game. We control, control and they wait for counter-attack or a set piece to punish you. The best way to not let them run at us? Have the ball. Have the ball. Maybe this was the game that we dominated for the most time. Except for 10 minutes of the second half, the other 80 minutes were absolutely under control. In some games we are good but not for as long as today, it is a game we controlled more specifically. We know each other better, we know the opponent better. I love us arriving to the boxes, not being in the boxes. Arriving from behind is the best way to surprise the opponent and today we did it.”
But good lord, that is a humiliation. Pep Guardiola did not even afford Manchester United his usual pat on the head for those who surrender to the Spaniard after their meeting in November, trading that for an entirely more debasing “let me be gentle” and a claim to “never analyse or judge what the opponents do,” before very much analysing and judging what the humbled hosts attempted. Phil Foden added his own assessment, saying that the champions “knew we could exploit the space in behind and we picked the right times to do it”. Manchester City arrived from behind, alright.
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