Leeds United were four (4) goals down at Old Trafford in the first 30 minutes; the first half between these two teams was one of the most entertaining halves of football we have seen in the Premier League this season.
How did it happen? Was it the brilliance of Ole Gunnar Solskjær or Leeds being very naive defensively?
Leed’s man-to-man marking
It was not that clear because United scored 2 goals in the first 10 minutes, but Leeds set out with their usual man-to-man marking early in the first half.
Man-to-man marking is a very unique concept often used by Marcelo Bielsa, it involves each player marking an opponent player; no zonal marking or marking spaces, purely 1v1.
The advantage of man oriented pressing is that when there is a turnover, the dispossessed player is taken out of the game immediately and there is a numerical advantage during transition. An early example of this during the game, created a half decent chance, which Patrick Bamford could have converted.
In the passage of play above, Klich sees the pass to McTominay, jumps the passing lane and intercepts the ball. Immediately, McTominay is taken out of the play, and with one pass, Klich puts Bamford in on goal for a decent chance.
Negatives of a man-to-man marking
The biggest flaw of going man-to-man is that if one player loses his marker, it puts the team at a disadvantage. In this game, United were frequently able to lose their markers with their first touch and 3rd man runs on the blindside of Leeds.
In the passage of play above, Manchester United played through Leeds’ man marking with a quick one-two between McTominay and Bruno.
The one-two is one of the best ways to negate man-marking, because it does two things: loses the marker of the initial player A, and provides a passing option for player B behind the two markers, effectively taking two players out of play with just two passes.
Another way United beat Leeds’ man-marking was by making the pitch bigger; moving attacking players as high and wide as possible to vacate enough space in the center of the pitch for a long ball.
A perfect example of this was Bruno Fernandes dragging Kalvin Phillips out of the center of the pitch, creating a passing lane to nearby attackers.
The technical quality of United’s players was on full display during this game: the team completed 20 dribbles to Leeds’ 9 during the game. Earlier this season, Fulham (Zambo Anguissa in particular) showed how open Leeds’ press is once you dribble past your marker. During the clash at Old Trafford however, the dial was cranked up x10 and the scoreline was the result.
Manchester United were also able to press effectively against Leeds’, preying on the sloppiness of Kalvin Phillips and Mateusz Klich throughout the first 30 minutes of the game. Phillips and Klich were exploited so often in the first half of the game that Marcelo Bielsa decided to substitute both on the stroke of half-time.
When United pressed Leeds, they often did it in numbers to allow numerical superiority during transitions.
For the first goal, the United press outnumbered Rodrigo on the ball after his loose touch on a pass, there were as many as three United players surrounding him. As soon as he slipped, the ball was taken off him and United struck on the break.
The first half of this game was a display of the power of the press; when organized well and executed, it leads to a lot of chances against the opponent. But when the press is broken, the tables are turned. Both Ole Gunnar Solskjær and Marcelo Bielsa set up their teams well, but in the end, the sheer quality of United’s attack was enough to settle the game in just 30 minutes.
This game was a display of how dangerous Manchester United can be on transitions with Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Bruno Fernandes; Ole’s transition Reds.