Manchester United are expected to continue in a 4-2-3-1 against Melbourne Victory today.
They will certainly be looking to build upon Erik ten Hag’s impressive debut against Liverpool in which pressure on the ball caused Liverpool no end of problems in Bangkok, where United won 4-0.
After that game, Jurgen Klopp lamented his side’s inability to cope with United’s “man-marking, especially in midfield.”
However Ten Hag was quick to clarify: “I wouldn’t say it was man-marking. We like press.”
The distinction is an important one for the Dutchman and while this isn’t a grudge match like Tuesday’s game, his perfectionism will demand a certain level of intensity across preseason.
Broadly speaking, there are two variations of pressure and counterpressure: ball-oriented and man-oriented.
In a ball-oriented press, the opponent in possession is the reference point for a press, with multiple players closing down the ball carrier from various angles in order to limit options and force a turnover.
Man-oriented pressing still involves harrying the ball carrier, but rather than four or five players closing them down, only the nearest two players will.
The rest of the side press potential receivers, leading to a situation where the ball-carrier has two problems: (1.) They have no time on the ball, and (2.) They have no free passing options.
The latter was what United did against Liverpool on Tuesday, and it’s what forced Liverpool to play passes into space, leading to possession gains for the Red Devils.
However it also led to some dangerous counter attacking situations, particularly in the first half.
When choosing to press in a man-oriented fashion, you allow the opponent space to play in to, essentially challenging the opponent to take advantage of that space before you can cover it.
Think of Pep Guardiola’s sides – the teams they come up against often have space to play in to, but the likes of Sergio Busquets and later Fernandinho ended up racking up interceptions as they “sweep” the space their opponents try to exploit.
With a ball-oriented press (which Liverpool themselves commonly use) because the team has the ball as a reference point, the entire team has one thing to move towards – central defenders are able to squeeze up in most situations leading to offsides or rushed passes.
It will be interesting to see if Ten Hag continues to opt for a man-oriented style of pressing against Melbourne Victory as he looks to impose his preferred style of play on this United side.
If he does, we’ll be paying special attention to how well the central defenders manage the space to their backs and sides – will they give up counter attacking opportunities again, or were Liverpool’s opportunities a “mistake” that Ten Hag must find other solutions for?
Regardless, he will soon have a familiar option available to him soon, with Lisandro Martinez set to join.