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Man Utd: Jamie Carragher criticises midfield after Tottenham defeat | What's going wrong tactically?

We analyse the tactical issues Man Utd are experiencing after Erik ten Hag's side struggled against Wolves and suffered a 2-0 defeat to Tottenham; Jamie Carragher criticised the midfield on Monday Night Football, claiming "manager's set-up is not right"


Jamie Carragher says Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag needs to rethink his midfield after a "really poor start" to the season - but what tactical issues are causing their struggles?

"I think they have big problems in midfield," Carragher said on Monday Night Football. "I think there are a few things wrong. The manager's set-up, what he is asking them to do in terms of the profile of players, is not right."

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The Monday Night Football team discuss how much of a concern Casemiro's recent form should be for Manchester United.

Here, tactics analyst Dharnish Iqbal takes an in-depth look at how Tottenham achieved their 2-0 win on Saturday, one week after Wolves rattled United's rearguard on the opening weekend - when Ten Hag's side narrowly won 1-0 after the visitors squandered a raft of chances in front of goal.

Tale of two halves

The plan was for Ten Hag's summer signings to help close the gap between rivals Manchester City and Arsenal - but the gap appears to have only grown larger, albeit we are only two games into the league campaign.

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Roy Keane told David Jones he was in 'cuckoo land' when he asked him about Manchester United's Premier League title chances.

United splashed £60m on Mason Mount but early signs suggest Ten Hag needs to find a way of deploying the England midfielder without sacrificing defensive solidity.


Ten Hag got his tactics spot on in the opening 45 minutes against Spurs, but United could not make the pressure count and score.

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights of Tottenham against Manchester United in the Premier League.

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights of the Premier League match between Manchester United and Wolves.

Much like last season, when they led 2-0 at Spurs only to draw 2-2, United produced polar-opposite performances either side of the break as Ange Postecoglou's half-time tweaks thwarted the disorganised visitors.

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The graphic below highlights how momentum swung after the break, with Tottenham reclaiming control in the final third and scoring both goals - while soaring back, close to parity, with expected goals.

So, what issues emerged during the Tottenham defeat?

United's man-to-man high press

United limited Tottenham's inverted full-backs and build-up in the first half with their excellent high press, going man to man. Either Marcus Rashford or Bruno Fernandes would mark Yves Bissouma, while the spare man would press the centre-backs.

Antony and Mount tucked in to jump on Destiny Udogie and Pedro Porro - leaving Alejandro Garnacho to press whichever side the ball was going to.


This set-up cut off passing lanes to the full-backs, who inverted centrally and made the middle of the pitch as narrow as possible. There is no point having full-backs in a box midfield if they are marked off and can't distribute.

With Fernandes and Rashford marking Bissouma as well, it stopped the Spurs midfielder getting the ball from defence to attack with passes or dribbles.

United have used this pressing structure before to stop teams building up centrally. However, this time they successfully penned Tottenham back and also won the ball back - rather than just stopping their build-up play.


Whenever Porro or Udogie received the ball in the middle of the pitch, United hounded and pressed to win the ball.


This led to Mount pinching the ball off Porro but Antony couldn't hit the target with his shot.

With this pressing structure, if a player moves away from United's marking, the closest team-mate picks him up - so no player gets dragged around, sticking to the same man.

When Porro attempts to create space by moving away from Mount, the England midfielder instructs Garnacho to pick him up - wary of Pape Sarr dropping deep for the ball.


James Maddison also attempts to drag the press around by pulling wide but is marked by Antony, who rushes to mark him as Casemiro picks up Udogie. Effectively, occupying the same positions defensively with different players.


Tottenham looked a little nervous during the early stages as the trio of Bissouma, Udogie and Porro, couldn't receive the ball and frequently squandered possession cheaply in their own half.

Due to United's pressing structure, there were few occasions the ball reached the wide wingers in Heung-min Son and Dejan Kulusevski - to stretch United and have the full-backs underlap.

With the turnovers in possession and Fernandes' gilt-edged chance, United were the better team but wasteful in front of goal.

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Following a disappointing midfield display from Bruno Fernandes, Casemiro and Mason Mount against Spurs, 'The Question' panel discuss whether or not the trio might be a problem for Erik ten Hag's side

Game-changers: Maddison and Sarr

Maddison was the primary difference in the second half as he appeared to find space with ease.

United's pressing structure was still attempting to stay central and limit space, but compare the first image below to the second and how the press gets pulled around because of Udogie's dribbling.


Sarr pushed up higher and Maddison found space in behind Casemiro, who was drawn to challenge Udogie.

The chaotic nature of the game during this period coincided with Maddison's growing influence. United typically struggle when the pace of game increases, particularly away from home. With United pushed back, Maddison and Sarr began to drag United around.


Casemiro was now concerned by Sarr's movement and Mount picked up Maddison, but splitting them apart created a gaping hole in the middle for Spurs to exploit.


In this example, the ball is played to Son wide, he can pass to Udogie in behind - running into the half-space unmarked by Antony. These half-space runs are a trademark of Udogie, but it was something we saw less of in the first half.


Sarr would sometimes drop deeper for the ball, dragging a player with him as Porro pulled wide - pulling United's pressing structure away from the effective narrowness. Maddison could then receive long, as he pulled Varane out of the defensive line toward him - attracting Casemiro's attention, with Udogie occupying the space vacated.


As Spurs took control of the second half and United's back line was pushed back further, more gaps opened up for Maddison to do what he does best: pick the ball up and create chances.


United's press became looser as Tottenham became more mobile and their attacks increasingly became one-dimensional, with hopeful balls in behind to Rashford - a tactic which has proved successful in the past. But United are a better team when passing calmly through midfield.

Christian Eriksen came on with 30 minutes to play, in an attempt to wrestle back control. Indeed, United did see more of the ball - but they had lost the tenacity and zip of the first half and appeared exhausted from Tottenham's waves of attacks.

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Roy Keane criticises Manchester United's 'belief and desire' after their 2-0 loss to Tottenham.

It took United a while to get going last season, too, and just two games have been played, but Ten Hag's side are in danger of running into the same issues that plagued their previous campaign: blunt in front of goal, overawed at tough away fixtures and, now, overrun in midfield.

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