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Midfield battle, defensive failure and more – A tactical run-down of what went wrong for Man United in 3-0 loss to Barcelona

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Barcelona 3-0 Man United: Tactical Analysis and Talking Points

Man United became the first English team to crash out of the UEFA Champions League this season, as the Red Devils suffered a 3-0 (4-0 aggregate) humbling at the hands of Barcelona at Camp Nou on Tuesday night.

Having gone down 1-0 at Old Trafford last week, it was always going to be a daunting task for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to inspire his team to replicate the 1999 Champions League comeback feat, though the team’s recent heroics against PSG in the Round of 16 would probably have given the fans some hope.

Away from home and 1-0 down on aggregate, Solskjaer fielded a much more attacking formation to cope with Barcelona’s organised and disciplined approach, preferring a 4-3-3 system as opposed to the back-five system he used at home to contain the Spanish giants.

The onus was always going to be on United to force the issue and overturn the deficit and it would be fair to say that they played it into Barcelona’s hands to some extent by adopting an attacking philosophy.

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Battle of the midfield trios

With both the teams playing a 4-3-3 system, the battle between the midfield trios was the one to watch out for. Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitic and Arthur proved themselves to be a class above the likes of Paul Pogba, Fred and Scott McTominay.

United showed purpose right from the very beginning with their calculated pressing off the ball in the midfield, which was clearly a part of a plan to win back possession and hit Barcelona with quick attacks.

That worked to perfection for the first 5-10 minutes and United had a golden chance to open the scoring in the very first minute, only for Marcus Rashford to hit the post after Pogba showed a tremendous bit of vision to pick him out with an inch-perfect pass.

However, once Barcelona weathered the early storm and settled down, they retained possession really well and negated United’s pressing with some slick passing in the midfield.

As a result, United were starved of the ball and didn’t offer much going forward. Sergio Busquets, playing in a No.6 role, ensured that United’s midfield trio kept running around without getting a touch of the ball.

United lost control of the proceedings in the midfield and the involvement of Pogba and McTominay was minimal, allowing Arthur and Rakitic to keep the ball moving in the middle of the park and dictate the tempo. Barcelona managed to cut United’s supply lines and the front trio of Rashford, Lingard and Martial had very little to feed upon.

Question marks should also be raised on Lingard’s selection as he was pushed off the ball way too easily by the likes of Lenglet and Pique, pouring cold water on Solskjaer’s plans of exploiting Barcelona’s lack of pace at the back.

Someone like Romelu Lukaku would have been a better physical presence up front to deal with the opposition’s centre-backs. Maybe, the introduction of Alexis Sanchez at halftime could have made some difference.

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Failure of United’s full-backs

With Lionel Messi playing down the right, Ashley Young was always going to be up against and it was a moment of sloppiness in possession from the veteran that led to Barcelona’s opener.

Messi took advantage of some poor passing from Young and dribbled past Fred to find the back of de Gea’s net with pinpoint accuracy, leaving United with a mountain to climb.

Victor Lindelof, who was fielded as a makeshift right-back, had a tough time dealing with Barcelona’s left-axis of Jordi Alba, Coutinho and Arthur. He had McTominay for support to negate the impact of Coutinho and Alba but the Barca duo managed to stamp their authority with their pace and guile.

Coutinho’s goal looked absolutely unstoppable, though it has to be said that  Lindelof didn’t do enough to close down the Brazilian for Barcelona’s third.

Both Young and Lindelof needed to move forward and support the likes of Martial and Rashford respectively but neither of them managed to make an impact in the attacking third, thanks to Barcelona’s dominance.

The midfielders hardly made any attacking runs into the box and the full-backs failed to spark any sort of creativity by delivering crosses into dangerous areas. In fact, they were totally pinned back inside their own half by Sergi Roberto and Jordi Alba, which denied United the chance to use the width of the pitch and bring the pace of Martial and Rashford into play.

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Messi’s Brilliance

On a night where both Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi were in action in the Champions League, it was the latter who prevailed and proved to be a deciding factor in his team’s progress to the semi-finals.

As deadly and ruthless as he has always been, the Argentinian scored the opener and soon doubled Barcelona’s advantage with considerable help from de Gea. De Gea though, made a tremendous save in the second half to deny Messi a hat-trick which would have capped off a perfect night for the 31-year-old.

In all honesty, Messi absolutely humiliated United’s defence, taking Phil Jones for a ride and nutmegging him before picking out a perfect pass that almost led to a goal.

His movement off the ball, eye for passes, remarkable ability to dribble at pace and accelerate, as well as his ability to work the pockets of space in the final third proved a bit too much for United to deal with. It was a night where Messi’s brilliance once again reigned supreme and United were clearly the second best.

Borussia Dortmund

Manchester United can move on from Matic by signing this 23-year-old German midfield prodigy and here’s why

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Manchester United Opinion: Why Man United should go for Julian Weigl?

According to a report from the Daily Star, Manchester United manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has told the club hierarchy to offload star midfielder Paul Pogba so he can reinvest the funds in improving the squad.

Pogba, 26, has refused to commit his future at Old Trafford in recent weeks and admitted last weekend he was contemplating a ‘new challenge’, amidst interest from Juventus and Real Madrid. Manchester United have maintained their stance of not selling the World Cup winner this summer but the Daily Star claim Solskjaer is ready to sanction a move.

The Red Devils have only given the Norwegian manager a summer transfer kitty of £100million to spend after failing to qualify for the Champions League, the report adds. They hope to make Aaron Wan-Bissaka their second signing of the summer following the arrival of Daniel James from Swansea City. But Solskjaer knows he needs many more players to complete his squad for next season and is ready to sacrifice Pogba to bolster the funds available to him.

Pogba, who is valued around £140m by United, is keen to leave Old Trafford this summer and challenge for major honours elsewhere. So, Solskjaer will be keen to sign a midfielder to replace the Frenchman. In fact, the 46-year-old tactician would need at least a couple of midfielders having lost Ander Herrera and Marouane Fellaini since joining the club in December.

Back in January 2018, the Independent claimed United were interested in signing Borussia Dortmund midfielder Julian Weigl. However, a move didn’t materialise then and Weigl stayed at Dortmund.

The German midfielder’s form has taken a slight dip in recent times, resulting in him falling down the pecking order last season under Lucien Favre. He managed only 25 appearances across all competitions, predominantly playing in central defence. Even if Weigl has struggled in the last 18 months or so, United must rekindle their interest in the 23-year-old this summer.

Once regarded as one of the finest midfield talents in the world, Weigl could be the perfect replacement for Nemanja Matic, who has looked somewhat past his best for the Reds. The Germany international is also an exceptional passer of the football and is very comfortable in possession, whilst excelling when breaking up opposition’s play. He has plenty of energy and always looks to pass forward, making him a perfect fit for Solskjaer’s style of play at United.

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Weigl is vastly experienced, regardless of his tender years, and he would bring real quality competition to the central midfield department at Old Trafford. The 23-year-old should be the perfect player to partner Scott McTominay in central midfield next term, with Fred and Andreas Pereira having done very little to warrant a starting berth.

Verdict

At the age of 23, Weigl is still young and in the developmental phase of his career. His form has been patchy in the last couple of seasons at Dortmund, but that should not deter United in splashing the cash to sign him ahead of the 2019/20 campaign.

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Bournemouth

Man Utd’s £50m pursuit of this 21-year-old playmaker starring for PL rivals would be a solid move by Solskjaer

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Manchester United Opinion: Why Man United should sign David Brooks?

According to a report from The Sun, Manchester United are eyeing a £50m swoop for Bournemouth playmaker David Brooks.

The Wales international, 21, joined Bournemouth last summer in an £11.5m move from Sheffield United on a four-year contract. He enjoyed a fine debut campaign in the top-flight last season, scoring seven goals and assisting seven times and was awarded with a new, long-term deal in March.

David Brooks is the latest name to be linked with Manchester United, who are expected to back Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wholeheartedly in the summer transfer window after a disappointing sixth-placed finish last term. The United manager is plotting a major rebuild of his squad with a particular focus on signing young, exciting and hungrier British talents.

Before signing off for the summer, Solskjaer said he wanted all of his new signings on board and ready to start training when the squad returns on July 1. Yet, the Red Devils have just made one signing so far in the summer transfer window, with Daniel James joining the club from Swansea City.

With Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku declaring their desires to leave Old Trafford this summer, David De Gea out of contract next summer and yet to sign a contract extension and the likes of Ander Herrera and Antonio Valencia have released by the club, further additions of the requisite quality are the need of the hour.

Things must change thick and fast for United and they must not hesitate in splashing the cash to sign David Brooks from Bournemouth. The Welshman impressed in his debut season with the Cherries and could be the player to improve United’s attack next season.

A technically gifted and tactically versatile player, the 21-year-old caught the eye with his work-rate, energy and versatility—playing in the no.10 role, out wide and in a deeper midfield role. That’s exactly what makes Brooks so valuable, as the 21-year-old can fill in at any attacking role very effectively. The no.10 role allows him to assert his creative dominance on the field, helping link the play with midfield and attack.

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The ex-Sheffield United man is excellent from dead-ball situations and has a hammer of a left foot with which he can score long-range screamers. He is only 21 and is a very exciting talent, who has massive potential to develop.

Verdict

Manchester United have a rich history of nurturing young talents into world beaters and Brooks—a boyhood Red Devil—might see this as an opportunity to help the club take back to where they belong. Even if Bournemouth aren’t willing to let go of the Welshman, Solskjaer and co. must do everything possible to lure him away to Old Trafford.

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Manchester United

Manchester United offering a new deal to this 22-year-old England U21 star would get them a successor for De Gea

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Manchester United Opinion: Man United must offer fresh terms to Dean Henderson

According to a report from Mirror, Manchester United goalkeeper Dean Henderson is set to agree on a new deal after an impressive loan spell with the Sheffield United. The report also claims that the England U-21 goalkeeper will be loaned back to the Blades for the upcoming season.

Impressive performances with the Blades and the Three Lions

Henderson played a great role behind the Blades’ promotion to Premier league in the recently concluded season.

In the long run, the 22-year-old kept 21 clean sheets, the highest by a Championship goalkeeper and have conceded only 41 goals.

Furthermore, his contribution for the Three Lions team turns out to be nothing short of greatness as he put up a stellar display against France in Euro U-21 competition. Despite ending on the losing side, Henderson pulled off a series of fine saves and also denied an opposition’s penalty.

De Gea’s uncertain future at Old Trafford

It has been that kind of season for United’s No 1, David de Gea, not only in terms of his lacklustre performances on the field but also with his wages issues with the club.

The Red Devils are reluctant to meet his high wages demands thereby allowing the 28-year-old to have second thoughts about his future. The ex-Atletico Madrid man’s contract at Old Trafford ends next season, with PSG and Real Madrid tracking his situation.

Is Henderson the right one to succeed De Gea?

The Spaniard’s situation has forced Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to sort out the replacements and the names like Gianluigi Donnarumma, Jasper Cillessen emerged on the wishlist.

Even, the Norwegian manager has tabled the idea of promoting Sergi Romero, who has been serving as United’s second string shot-stopper for years.

And United don’t have to look outside while they are having an option off the shelf named Henderson. The English youngster holds every trait to succeed De Gea as he has already shared a glimpse in his previous loan spells and with the Three Lions U-21 side as well.

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My Verdict

Henderson has been depleted with the first team chances owing to his subsequent loan spells at various English clubs since his move to Old Trafford.

And the Red Devils sending him out on another loan spell while he is at this zenith doesn’t sound wiser. If there is a player who needs to inherit De Gea, then it has to be Henderson.

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