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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.

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Forget it Solskjaer – Man United would commit a massive blunder by signing this 24-year-old German defender

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Man United Opinion: Niklas Sule would be an underwhelming signing for the Red Devils

According to claims from German source Sport1, Man United are interested in signing German international defender Niklas Sule from Bayern Munich in the summer.

The same report claims that Bayern are looking for a complete overhaul of their defensive options in the summer, with new signings Lucas Hernandez and Benjamin Pavard set to arrive at the Allianz Arena for a combined total of €115m.

Sule, who was a part of Germany’s squad at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, has established himself as a regular at the back for Bayern under manager Niko Kovac and has played a key role in his team’s surge for the Bundesliga title.

The 24-year-old has made a total of 26 appearances for the Bavarian giants in the league this term and has been an integral part of a backline that has conceded only 29 goals in 29 games, a defensive record that has only been bettered by RB Leipzig.

The German international rose through the youth system at Hoffenheim and carved out a reputation for himself as one of the hottest young defensive talents in the country. He spent four successful seasons at Hoffenheim before moving to giants Bayern Munich in the summer of 2017 and his stocks have continued to soar high ever since.

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Man United’s interest in Niklas Sule comes as little surprise as the Red Devils do need to bring in a new centre-back in the summer to replace Eric Bailly, who looks set for an exit after falling out of favour.

Victor Lindelof, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones have all looked quite solid and confident under Solskjaer but the Red Devils can certainly do with another top-quality centre-back, as Solskjaer looks to build a strong enough squad capable of challenging for the Premier League title.

Marcos Rojo is another player who seems to have no future at Old Trafford and United should look to accommodate fresh faces by getting rid of deadwood.

To put things into perspective, United are in need of strengthening their defensive options but Niklas Sule might not necessarily be a good choice. Agreed, he is currently one of the best in Germany but there is every possibility that he might struggle to adapt to the dynamic nature of the Premier League.

Another thing that should be mentioned here is that United are more in desperate need of new full-backs and signing a centre-back need not be a big priority this summer, as Solskjaer also needs to invest in other areas of the squad.

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Standing at 6ft. 5 inches with a towering frame, Sule is an absolute giant of a centre-back who is noted for his physicality, aerial ability ball-playing ability and composure in possession, while also boasting of good game-reading abilities.

Although tackling is not one of his greatest strengths, the German is quite strong on the tackle and he knows how to use his long legs to good effect. He usually relies on his positional awareness to deal with the opposition’s attacks, staying deep inside his own half to clear the ball to safety.

However, two of the main drawbacks in his game are his lack of pace and inability to deal with fast, agile and fleet-footed attackers, something which should prompt United to drop their interest in him.

His lack of pace makes him a liability while playing in a high defensive line and his slow nature has been exploited to good effect by some of the opposing sides in the Bundesliga.

Solskjaer’s knack of tinkering with tactics combined with the possibility of new summer arrivals might see United play a high line in some of the Premier League games next season and Sule won’t be a good fit for a dynamic system. Moreover, Sule would hardly be an upgrade on the likes of Smalling, Lindelof and Jones.

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With that being said, United should look at other targets if they really want to bolster their backline in the summer.

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These 2 Premier League clubs would be absolutely ideal for this lethal 25-year-old defender – Agreed?

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Premier League Opinion: 2 Premier League destinations for Samuel Umtiti

Samuel Umtiti is a French World Cup-winning centre-half, who currently plies his trade for Ernesto Valverde’s Barcelona side in La Liga. He is part of a high-quality team that boasts some of the best players in the world across various positions.

Umtiti was a youth product of the world-famous Lyon academy. He made his way up the ranks at the Ligue 1 side as a teenager after he joined them from local club Menival FC all the way back in 2001.

Since joining the Lyon ranks in 2010 though, he development through the various youth levels at the club were quite commendable. He earned himself a professional contract by his 2nd season at the club and it was in the Ligue 1 that he really announced himself as a top player.

The Frenchman made a whopping 170 appearances for Lyon in more than 5 years at the club and he even managed to find the back of the net on 5 occasions during this tenure as well. His defensive displays have often been dependable while he does offer a certainly degree of composure in the final third as well. 

A full French international, the 25-year-old really moved up into the spotlight at the recent World Cup where he was a regular. At club level though, Umtiti has found it hard to come to the fore in squad filled with superstar players like Sergi Roberto and Gerard Pique. 

His numbers for the club this season display this quite clearly as he has only featured in 11 league games from the start of the season. While he is a key part of the national set-up, the lack of game-time is bound to frustrate any player and a move away could be the perfect solution. 

As suggested in a recent report by The Sun, Here are the two Premier League clubs keen on bringing Umtiti to England:

Manchester United

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s searches for a trustworthy centre-half hasn’t been kept a very good secret and Samuel Umtiti could spot right into the vacant role at Old Trafford. Although Manchester United boast good defensive numbers, the presence of average players like Phil Jones and Chris Smalling have certainly hurt this historic club. 

Umtiti’s physical presence in the box will be a massive asset to United who certainly haven’t been too good at defending crosses even after Ole took charge. Given his recent exploits in Russia, he is guaranteed to be a hit and United will do well to snatch him from under the Gunners’ noses. 

Arsenal

The Gunners Under Unai Emery have been transformed into a force to be reckoned with but, as was seen in their 1-0 defeat of Watford in recent weeks, the addition of a couple of solid centre-halves who are immune to individual mistakes would be a massive coup. 

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Umtiti has the right physical attributes to fit in at the Emirates while his pace and positioning will also suit the Premier League’s rhythm and intensity. His French connection with Arsenal captain Laurent Koscielny will certainly come as a massive boost as the Emirates could finally be where Umtiti showcases his full potential.

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Arsenal

These 4 PL super clubs would be absolutely ideal for this 22-year-old Brazilian prodigy starring in the Champions League

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Premier League Opinion: 4 PL destinations for Brazilian winger David Neres

According to a recent report by The Sun, Premier League giants Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Everton are all keen on signing Ajax Amsterdam’s Brazilian right-wing prodigy David Neres.

David Neres is a 22-year-old Brazilian right-winger who currently plies his trade for Ajax Amsterdam in the Dutch Eredivisie. The youngster has grown into a pretty big part of the Ajax squad and his talents and exploits for the club from the Dutch capital certainly haven’t gone unnoticed.

A product of the world renowned São Paulo academy, the winger was signed up by Ajax in the winter window of 2017 and since joining the Dutch side, his rise to the supreme levels of Europe has been accelerated by the fact that he is capable of some amazing football at times.

Capable of playing on either flank or even across the middle, the Brazilian often displays a certain unpredictability about himself which ensures that when he runs at a defender, they’re filling to the brim with the fear of getting embarrassed.

Unbelievably tricky and skilful on the ball, Neres is also an excellent finisher and would certainly be a huge boost to any top European side. He shows amazing dribbling ability and touch on the ball while he certainly isn’t a slouch either.

This season, Neres has really come to the fore for Ajax who have managed to knock out Juventus and Real Madrid from the UEFA Champions League. He has scored some crucial goals for the club along various situations and his figures read 8 goals and 11 assists from 27 Eredivisie appearances.

Here are the 4 clubs who are said to be keen on signing David Neres:

Arsenal

The Gunners must acquire the services of a top-quality winger in the summer if they hope to compete at the highest level in the coming season. While all the sides around have adapted, Arsenal are still stuck with only Alex Iwobi as an option on the flank and the addition of David Neres could be the perfect platform to free up Pierre Emerick Aubameyang‘ role in the side. 

Manchester United

Manchester United’s season has been one that Red Devils fans can be proud of as they have literally come back from the dead to regain their former glory. Although the football isn’t quite what is used to be, there is a huge improvement from Jose Mourinho’s style. The addition of David Neres would bolster a fairly average United front-line and add something new to their attacking play. 

Everton

The Toffees must be willing to go all out in the summer in order to fix their squad. The team that Marco Silva has at his disposal is capable of great things. Richarlison’s pace and prowess have improved them massively and the acquisition of another young Brazilian to partner him up-front will be positive news for Everton fans will be starting to frow frustrated with Theo Walcott’s inconsistency. 

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Chelsea

The Blues are the side that are most in need a new winger at this point in time given the Eden Hazard situation. Also, the fact that Pedro and Willian are both over 30 certainly won’t fill Maurizio Sarri with too much confidence either. Neres has the right skill-set to slot in and do a job at Stamford Bridge but whether he has he mental strength to succeed in England, remains to be seen.

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