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Tactical Analysis: Hull City 0-1 Manchester United – Premier League 2016/17

Marcus Rashford scored a late winning goal as Manchester United beat Hull City on a rain-soaked evening in the Premier League. The game may have finished with Manchester United bombarding the Hull City goal, but the performance in the opening 45 minutes was far from as convincing. Jose Mourinho selected the same team that beat Southampton, but the quality on show was some way off the expected level from this group of players. In the opening 20 minutes, Manchester United had plenty of possession, there was a freedom among the forward players that bred a lot of movement and they were in complete control. Until they reached the final third.

Manchester United passing 0-20 minutes vs Hull City - 27.08.16. Credit: Squawka

Manchester United passing 0-20 minutes vs Hull City – 27.08.16. Credit: Squawka

Despite completing 87% of their passes in that opening period of the game, United completed just two passes that found a teammate in the opposition penalty area. The majority of passes in the attacking third were misplaced or incorrectly executed. As a result, any momentum or threat in the game was killed off instantly and Manchester United found it difficult to take full control.

While the opening 45 minutes was lacklustre and pedestrian at times, it did demonstrate the changes to the style of play under Jose Mourinho. The number of times United gave the ball away in advanced areas was frustrating, but it showed a sense of endeavour, an intention to make something happen. Taking risks and trying adventurous, incisive passes? Unheard of under Louis van Gaal.

United also showed their reliance on the full backs. With Juan Mata and Anthony Martial drifting inside to get on the ball and become greater attacking threats, there was a real reliance on Luke Shaw and Antonio Valencia to get forward and supply the width in order to threaten Hull City’s deep-lying block defence.

Manchester United passes in the attacking third vs Hull City 0-45 mins - 27.08.16. Credit: FourFourTwo StatsZone

Manchester United passes in the attacking third vs Hull City 0-45 mins – 27.08.16. Credit: FourFourTwo StatsZone

Manchester United’s passes in the final third show how dependent they were on finding players in wide areas – namely Luke Shaw and Antonio Valencia.

There was a completely different pattern of play in the second half as Manchester United grew in stature and wrestled more control away from Hull, while the home side was content to defend with a compact shape and a deep line and play on the counter-attack. The compactness of Hull City’s defence and their desire to defend so deeply meant the second half became an exercise in attack vs defence and Manchester United had to find a way through. This only highlighted the necessity for attacking threat in wide areas and the influence of Luke Shaw and Antonio Valencia grew throughout the game.

Luke Shaw and Antonio Valencia heat map vs Hull City 45-90 minutes - 27.08.16. Credit: Squawka.

Luke Shaw and Antonio Valencia heat map vs Hull City 45-90 minutes – 27.08.16. Credit: Squawka

Shaw and Valencia completed 93% of their passes in the second half and were virtually camped in Hull’s half after the restart. As Mourinho changed his personnel and added more creativity and goal threats with his substitutions, Shaw and Valencia became pivotal as the first outlet in wide positions, and as the genuine supply line to the plethora of attacking talent on the field for Manchester United.

Despite the level of dominance shown in the first hour, the game changed on the first of two important substitutions. Once Henrikh Mkhitaryan entered the action Manchester United was able to up the pace at which they attacked Hull. Up until that point, United had struggled to break the lines quickly, play between Hull players and create attacking opportunities in the central areas, instead relying on the space out wide.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan passing vs Hull City - 27.08.16. Credit: Squawka.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan passing vs Hull City – 27.08.16. Credit: Squawka.

Mkhitaryan played predominantly in central areas, taking over from Wayne Rooney as creator-in-chief. He moved freely, though, allowing teammates to move and interchange with him and drag Hull defenders away from the comfort and organisation of their defensive structure.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan heat map vs Hull City - 27.08.16. Credit: Squawka.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan heat map vs Hull City – 27.08.16. Credit: Squawka.

The important aspect of his performance was his passing, though. He moved the ball quickly. Sometimes one touch, sometimes two. He made United players play on the turn and he was eager to pass and move and pass again. Mkhitaryan raised the tempo of Manchester United’s performance but crucially, he also started to ask more difficult questions of the Hull defenders. As the game wore on and they began to tire, the Armenian made them move a little quicker and turn a little sharper each time. It eventually takes a toll and it is little surprise United finally scored the winner in the 92nd minute.

A special mention does need to go to Marcus Rashford too. He came on a few minutes after Mkhitaryan and made just as devastating an impact. Instead of the speed of his pass, it was the speed of his feet. Rashford is lightning quick and willing to run at players, in behind players, commit them, take them on, make them defend. He did that every single time United strode forward in search of the winning goal and it was his touch in the six-yard box that did finally win it for United. A special moment.

Not a vintage performance, rain pouring down, last minute winner from the substitute, manager barking instructions on the touchline. Today wasn’t Fergie time but it felt just as significant. Some will point to luck, others will praise the qualities that surfaced in a team unwilling to give and accept a draw. Either way, Jose Mourinho and Manchester United have nine points from the first three games and proudly share a lead at the top of the table. It’s only August but honestly, it feels so good to be back.

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