Tactical Preview: Northampton Town v Manchester United – EFL Cup 2016/17


Manchester United travel to Sixfields for their EFL Cup match against Northampton Town on the back of three straight losses leaving them in desperate need of avoiding a cup upset. Mourinho’s men are clearly the stronger team even with a second XI out but tactically United are all over the place and unless they can sort themselves out soon then it could get worse. Northampton Town are a team finding their feet in a new league after their promotion to League One last year under a new boss in Rob Page and it’s been a relatively successful venture so far having lost only one league game so far.

I said it above and I’ll say it again, United have been absolutely woeful tactically. Against Manchester City, United were blown away within the first 30 minutes with no clear idea of how the midfield should operate together, no idea of their positions and no clear plan in whether the team were supposed to press the opposition high or sit back deep and try to counter attack. This trend continued in the game against Feyenoord midweek and came harshly down upon United against Watford where certain players looked more like semi-professionals instead of the £300k a week players they are supposed to be. Manchester United are likely to drop numerous players for the weekend and give the fringe players a run who are more hungry and hope it pays off, what is unlikely to change is the formation and approach to the game.

4-2-3-1 seems to be the set upon formation and in all honesty, it’s probably too defensive for the game against Northampton. It is likely that Morgan Schneiderlin and Ander Herrera will be the two sitting deep trying to dictate the play forward like they did against Feyenoord, which worked well but unless Herrera uses his attacking capabilities more, then United will could struggle to build attacks. Their attacking build up will be enhanced with the addition of Daley Blind to the team, who is likely to start at centre-back. His composure at the back and ability to bring the ball forward will allow Herrera to drive forward as well as providing balls up for Rashford and wingers alike. The table below shows the players passing range and completion rate and as you can see Blind sits third in total passing score and first for average passing length.


Speaking of wingers, with Anthony Martial picking up what seemed like a concussion on Sunday against Watford, he will take no or little part in the game allowing Jesse Lingard or Memphis Depay to step in on the left-hand side. It’s actually quite possible that both will start as Paul Pogba will be rested moving Juan Mata into the number 10 role leaving space out wide. Memphis has been getting five minutes here and there looking to get fit and prove himself, this could be a good opportunity for him. Lingard has been knocked down a peg after his Community Shield heroics especially after his poor display in the first half v City. Both players have to prove themselves if they start, even if it is only a cup game against a lower league team, play poorly and it will do them no favours.


Northampton Town come up against United at possibly the best time for them, United have been struggling and the Cobblers have been playing good football. Most of their play is linked through the attacking duo of Marc Richards and Alex Revell, the two big men provide a focal point for virtually all attacks allowing the quicker players such as Swansea loanee, Kenji Gorre who is looking to turn heads on TV. The young winger is quick, seriously quick. He will take on players all day long and has a good eye for a goal. Not only are they potent up front but they have an experienced head dictating the play in midfield with former Portsmouth and Burnley player Matt Taylor, who is famous for his screamers, after the veteran joined Northampton at the beginning of the season. Northampton started off the season playing 4-4-2 with both Revell and Richards but since the arrival of former Ipswich midfielder Paul Anderson, manager Rob Page has used both the 4-4-2- and 4-3-3 with Anderson and Gorre out wide. Either way, they line up, this Northampton side has the potential to hurt United unless they shut them down early on and attack.

Key Battles

Matteo Darmian/Fosu-Mensah v Kenji Gorre

Either one of the potential starting right-backs ,with Valencia likely to be rested, will have a tough night ahead with the pace of Gorre, I think Fosu-Mensah would be suited better to cope with Gorre as he is more physical but has the pace too. Gorre prefers to cut inside but whether he goes either way, unless the United right back can clamp down early on, it’ll be a long night.

Memphis Depay v Brendon Moloney

Memphis has been in a bit of a rut lately and short of game time, he’ll be keen to impress if he gets the start. Moloney loves to bomb forward and Memphis will need to track back or United could get exposed. Memphis has the ability to beat absolutely any defender on his day and it should be a routine game but he can’t afford a slip-up and Moloney will not give him room to breathe.

Morgan Schneiderlin/Ander Herrera v Matt Taylor/Harry Beautyman

Ability-wise both Schneiderlin and Herrera are better players and should dominate in the middle but it’s a game away from home, on a smaller pitch and their opponents will be keen to impress. Beautyman and Taylor both have great technical ability and do dictate games in League One but Herrera and Schneiderlin will need to establish dominance. This matchup is the key to the game in my eyes, after United’s poor midfield showing in the last three games, the pressure will be on United who has everything to lose. Herrera needs to be silky and Schneiderlin needs to be disciplined.

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