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Tactical Snippets: Quick Movement Key to Breaking Down Palace

As one of the most successful managers in Premier League history, Jose Mourinho knows the difference a day of rest can make. So, it should come as no surprise that the Portuguese manager was at his moaning best following Manchester United’s 4-1 win over CSKA Moscow in the Champions League. Mourinho highlighted the quick turnaround from Wednesday in Russia to Saturday in Manchester as an especially egregious offense. However, he will undoubtedly be encouraged by his own team’s form, as well as the lack thereof from Saturday’s opposition.

Crystal Palace, who became the first team in English top-flight history to score zero goals and record zero wins in their first six games, will be hoping they can turn their fortunes around beginning at Old Trafford. Having sacked Frank de Boer after just four matches, Roy Hodgson was selected to try to get the Palace ship back on course. A good performance in a 1-0 loss to Southampton was tempered by a sobering 5-0 defeat to Manchester City. On top of that, starting striker and perpetual thorn in United’s side Christian Benteke has been ruled out for 6 weeks. However, Hodgson seems to have a plan. While Mourinho fumed in Russia, Hodgson was setting up a closed-door scrimmage with non-league side Bromley in an attempt to sort out the defense.

The message from the London club has been clear, anything outside of a defeat is a victory and United supporters should fully expect a determined defensive performance. So here are three key areas for United if they’re to break down Crystal Palace’s defense.

Getting runners from midfield:

Roy Hodgson’s most successful time in England was spent at Fulham. When he saved the club from relegation and within two and a half years had them playing in the Europa League final. A truly remarkable achievement that was built off of his tireless work on the defensive shape. Say what you will about his stint as boss of the English national team, given the time one on one, Roy should be able to sort out this defense. However, two weeks in charge are unlikely to be enough to completely overhaul this struggling team.

Against Manchester City, Palace were torn apart by their off the ball movement. Especially with wide midfielders making diagonal runs into the box. Southampton’s lone goal came when Stephen Davis continued his run into the box and his marker, Yohan Cabaye, stopped following him. Leaving him all alone for an easy finish

We should expect Palace to defend deep and be compact. Meaning that the movement of players like Juan Mata, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and Marcus Rashford will be key to unlocking the defense. The limited attacking options posed by Palace, mean that Nemanja Matic can play as a lone holding midfielder and allow Herrera to make late runs. Having played on Wednesday, I would expect Mourinho to freshen up the squad. This will be important because stagnate movement from midfield will only play into Palace’s hands.

Switch the point of attack:

One of the easiest ways to pull a team out of their shape is to switch the point of attack quickly. Having had time to prepare I would fully expect Crystal Palace to play narrow and not allow too much space between their CB’s. Especially because neither Scott Dann or Mamadou Sakho are particularly fast. However, if United can either move the ball quickly along the ground or play big switches to the opposite flank, it will constantly test Palace’s commitment to their shape. Still learning Hodgson’s system and adjusting to a back four from a back three could allow United to take advantage of their tactical mistakes.

In Manchester City’s third goal against Palace, the London club is defending with all ten men just outside of the top of the box. Kevin de Bruyne then switched the ball to towards an onrushing runner in Sergio Aguero who laid it off for Raheem Sterling. This is exactly the sort of move United could hope to replicate. With so many players likely to be sitting deep, switching the ball forces the players to adjust their position, and if they are unable to move as a cohesive unit then United can punish them.

Pressure early and often:

When a team hasn’t scored in six games and then their top goal scorer gets injured, that usually isn’t a good sign for their attack. The lack of a threat from Palace should inspire United to be aggressive from the whistle. Without a target man like Benteke to aim at, United could push Palace deep into their own end and not allow them to escape. The key here is for United to translate this early pressure into a goal. Having just played a few days prior, we probably won’t see the most energetic United side for the full 90. But if they are able to get an early goal or two, it would force Palace to leave their rigid shape and start trying to score. This would allow United to soak up some pressure and attack with pace on the break.

Early goals have been one of the key differences between this year’s squad and the last. By scoring early, United have forced teams to chase the game and allowed them to score a large amount of goals late. A few early goals could crush Palace’s spirit and remove any hope that Hodgson has attempted to instil. The longer the game remains scoreless, the more and more confidence will begin to grow.

Crystal Palace is certainly not one of the most formidable foes United has faced this season. However, no match should be taken lightly and no opponent ignored. If United can move the ball quickly, switch the point of attack and translate early pressure into goals, then United supporters should expect more of the same. Allowing the Red Devils to remain at the top of the table.

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