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Tactics BoardPSV [2] vs [1] Manchester United

Philips Stadion – 15 September 2015

Manchester United looked sharp in their play-off ties against Club Brugge. After beating Liverpool 3-1 over the weekend, United hoped they would carry some momentum into matchday 1 against the reigning champions of the Netherlands, who lost 2 key players in Memphis Depay and Georginio Wijnaldum in the summer. While United have struggled creating chances this season, this was not a problem here. Instead, they were sloppy converting their chances and made a couple costly mistakes that PSV were able to finish.

Manchester United (4-2-3-1)
Two changes were made from the side that defeated Liverpool on Saturday. With Wayne Rooney still missing with a hamstring problem that has bothered him since the international break, and Marouane Fellaini struggling as a lone striker, Anthony Martial started as the striker. Michael Carrick was left on the bench, so the midfield was reshuffled with Ander Herrera playing deeper alongside Bastian Schweinsteiger. Behind the striker, Ashley Young came into the side on the right, allowing Juan Mata to start as the number 10, and Memphis Depay stayed on the left.

PSV (4-3-3)
Phillip Cocu named an unchanged side from the side that destroyed a 10-man Cambuur 6-0 on Saturday. Goalkeeper Jeroen Zoet started behind a back four of (r-l) Santiago Arias, former Chelsea player Jeffery Bruma, Mexican national team member Hector Moreno, and Joshua Brenet. The midfield 3 consisted of Jorrit Hendrix, as the holding player, with Davy Propper and Andres Guardado ahead of him. A dangerous front 3 consisted of right-winger Luciano Narsingh, striker Luuk de Jong, and left-winger Maxime Lestienne.

Starting lineup for PSV vs Manchester United

Starting lineup for PSV vs Manchester United



  • Anthony Martial made his full debut, playing well to hold up play and bring the players behind him into the attack.
  • PSV typically presses high up the pitch, but they defended in a low block for this game as the Red Devils have struggled against teams that defend deep.
  • Playing with an out-and-out winger gave United’s attack more width, and opened up space centrally for Juan Mata and Ander Herrera to exploit.
  • MUFC created chances, but didn’t convert them while PSV was ruthless on United defensive errors.

PSV sits and Manchester United control

Manchester United looked much more dangerous on the attack in this game than they have domestically this season. With Wayne Rooney still missing with a hamstring injury, and Marouane Fellaini being ineffective over the weekend against Liverpool, new signing Anthony Martial got his full debut in the UEFA Champions League. Starting him at striker did much to help United’s attack, but playing an out-and-out winger instead of 2 inverted wingers had an equally dramatic effect on the attack.

Manchester United has struggled against teams that play a low block, lacking the quick passing necessary to disorganize a compact low block, but they have had success playing against teams that try to press them, using their quality on the ball to bypass presses and get behind the defense. PSV obviously knew this, and chose to defend deep and make Manchester United break them down. A large reason for the Red Devil’s struggles against a low block has to do with their personnel. When Wayne Rooney plays as the lone striker, he has a tendency to drop deep for the ball which allows the defense to remain compact with the midfield. Another issue is playing Juan Mata and Memphis Depay on the wings, as they both prefer to come centrally and this congests the middle of the pitch.

Anthony Martial's heat map vs PSV (Squawka)

Anthony Martial’s heat mat vs PSV (Squawka)

In this game, Manchester United played much better against the low block and it had much to do with the introduction of Anthony Martial and Ashley Young. Anthony Martial is more willing to get behind the defensive line, as well as drifting into the wide areas. This forced the defensive line out of position, opening up gaps for Juan Mata through the middle. Ashley Young also made a contribution by playing as a more typical winger on the right side. He stuck close to the touchline and didn’t come infield like Juan Mata has done so far this season. This added more width to United’s attack, while also opening up more space centrally.

Many people have been calling for Juan Mata to start in the number 10 role, as he did in this game. In the build-up, he would frequently drop deep and this allowed Ander Herrera to move up the pitch. PSV struggled at times to deal with this switching, and Mata was effective at finding small pockets of space, but PSV’s marking improved as the game went along. This meant that while Juan Mata played well in the opening 15-20 minutes, his influence waned as the game progressed.

One change of Mata’s central positioning was a change in United’s defending. Without the ball this season, United have frequently played a 4-4-2 with the central attacking midfielder helping the striker press the back line. In this game, they defended as more of a 4-3-3, with Young and Memphis pressing high up the pitch with Martial, with Mata staying deeper to mark PSV’s holding player, Hendrix. This worked to great effect, as PSV was forced to bypass their midfield in favor of playing directly to the front.

How Manchester United lined up on defense.

How Manchester United lined up on defense.

In the second half, Young and Memphis swapped wings but the play remained the same. Young played inverted on the left side, while Memphis was now playing as an out-and-out winger on the right side. While United was much more effective at creating chances in this game than they have been this season in the Premier League, they failed to convert these chances. With more clinical finishing, they could have gone in at half-time with a 2 or 3 goal lead.

PSV take advantage of mistakes.

Attack DirectionThe Dutch side was content to defend deep, and try to his United on the counter attack. Their main avenue of attack came down their left side, with Maxime Lestienne their most effective attacking outlet. Matteo Darmian has been a consistent performer for Manchester United this season, but he struggled with the pace and directness of PSV’s attacks. Both of Eindhoven’s goals came down the left side, with the first coming off a corner that was conceded when Lestienne got behind United’s defense, and the second coming off a misplaced pass by Darmian.

Manchester United's chances created vs PSV (FourFourTwo Stats Zone)

Manchester United’s chances created vs PSV (FourFourTwo Stats Zone)

While Manchester United created 12 chances in the game, PSV only created 5 but they were more clinical in their finishing. Manchester United has had a problem creating chances this season, but that was not their problem in this game. Their problem here was putting the chances away, a problem that didn’t affect their Dutch opposition. All of PSV’s chances come down their left side, showing how dangerous Lestienne was, while also showing that the Red Devil’s defense played well.


United hasn’t looked convincing this season domestically, but they have been impressive so far in Europe. This game has shown that Manchester United’s attack is more effective when they play with a more mobile striker, who is capable of stretching the opponent’s defensive line. Another key of United’s attack come from having more width in attack. So far this season, United has been dependent on the full-backs to get up field and provide the width in the final third. With the loss of Luke Shaw, this won’t be as easy to do, and Ashley Young’s performance in this game shows that playing with only 1 inverted winger will open up more space centrally. This was a disappointing defeat for United, as they played well, but PSV finished better and took advantage of Manchester’s mistakes.

Comments are always welcome!

By Joe Schurhammer (@RangeRooney)