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Tactical preview: Manchester United vs Southampton

by David O'Neill
Erik ten Hag

Manchester United take on Southampton this afternoon as they look to pick up right where they left off against Real Betis. In this tactical preview, The Peoples Person outlines what can be expected of the Saints and their new boss, as well as where Erik ten Hag might look to exploit weaknesses.

Ruben Selles has opted for the 4-2-2-2 formation in his first few games in charge, relying on the base of Romeo Lavia and James Ward-Prowse to provide a platform for their attacking midfielders to operate in the half-spaces as Kyle Walker-Peters and Ainsley Maitland-Niles or Romain Perraud push on from the fullback positions.

Marcus Rashford has often been given the freedom to move into positions where the opponent is most vulnerable this season, to devastating effect. He is likely to find that space in behind the fullbacks time and again.

The setup is very similar to that of Ralph Hassenhuttl’s system prior to his sacking this season and United will know what to expect, despite Sellers’ short time in his post.

Southampton will press high and with intensity, and that aggressive press can make them incredibly vulnerable to through balls into the channels, which will likely see Erik ten Hag happy to play a fairly direct brand of football this afternoon.

They also play with a huge focus on congesting the central areas of the pitch. That makes playing through the middle something of a non-starter and, as demonstrated by Leicester City last week, combination play down Southampton’s right flank is a good route to chance creation.

While they lost 1-0, Leicester’s gameplan largely seemed to be working in an attacking sense, but Brendan Rodgers’ side were let down by their woeful finishing, getting none of their 11 shots on target.

There may also be joy to be had against Southampton from set pieces. United have shown a marked improvement in their ability to create chances from corners and dead-ball crosses in recent weeks.

Against Leicester, Selles’ side were fortunate not to concede on two occasions from such scenarios. Leicester won four corners, two of which found a Fox’s head, with an accumulative xG of 0.64. (SofaScore)

Casemiro’s determination to get on the end of a cross could be a real threat in this match, particularly given Luke Shaw’s progress in terms of delivery.

Of course, Southampton pose a terrific set piece threat of their own.

Death, taxes, and Ward-Prowse working the goalkeeper from a free kick are about the only three certainties in this world, and the fact that the Saints captain has scored 27% of his direct dead ball attempts on goal this season is obscene.

Southampton has had an uptick in form under Sellers after a bizarre three months under Nathan Jones. Good results against Chelsea and Leicester bookend losses against Leeds United and Grimsby Town (FA Cup). A cynic might call them lucky to have secured any points at all in the Premier League, however, having been outperformed in xG terms in every match they have played under Selles.

While no Premier League side can be taken lightly, Manchester United really should be winning this match at a canter. Evading the central press, exploiting the wide spaces, and doing well in set piece situations should help them achieve just that.

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