Tactical tweak reaped the benefits for Manchester United, says Smalling

Manchester United defender Chris Smalling had explained the tactical tweak which has helped his side pull off two consecutive away victories in the Premier League this week. United beat Watford at Vicarage Road 4-2 on Tuesday evening, scoring three goals in the first half; Ashley Young (19′, 25′), and Anthony Martial (32′). In the 84th minute of the match, Abdoulaye Doucoure scored a consolation goal with Watford getting themselves back into the game and then Jesse Lingard scoring a stunning effort two minutes later to restore the two-goal cushion.

In Saturday’s clash with Arsenal at the Emirates, United won 3-1 with goals from Antonio Valencia (4′) and Jesse Lingard (11′), ending the first half with a 2-0 lead. The four minutes into the second half, Alexandre Lacazette got a goal back, meaning it was game on. Fourteen minutes later, Lingard struck his second goal in the match and his third in a week, restoring United two-goal cushion. This resurgent display of football sets United up in good stead for the Manchester derby at Old Trafford in a week’s time.

Lingard was an instrumental player this week, especially against Arsenal where his pressing in advanced areas reaped the rewards for United. His goal in the 11th minute saw the hosts caught in possession in their own half, which saw the player combine with Anthony Martial, setting him up for the assist. Smalling, speaking to MUTV but reported by the official Manchester United website, speaking about Lingard and his team carrying on from the Watford victory, said:

“I think we were carrying on from Watford and the fact that, when we play, obviously in this system, we can play with two strikers. Quite often, they [Arsenal] are only used to playing against one. We put two up front and put them under more pressure and they are not used to that. 

“I think that was one to enjoy, for fans watching the game and for us as players. It was end to end, but for us to get those two early goals, I think, meant Arsenal had to come at us and that’s what made it a very entertaining game.”

Paul Pogba was sent off later in the second half of the match after a challenge on Hector Bellerin, which to me, did not show intent, but it obviously did to the referee, Andre Marriner. Smalling stated that the red card did not derail United, which it didn’t. Arsenal had more of the ball, and by the statistics of the match, they had the majority throughout the game, peppering United area with shots and crosses, David De Gea making 14 saves and two catches, not to mention the blocks and interceptions by the United defenders.

United made a total of 14 interceptions, 76 clearances and 22 blocks in the entire match against Arsenal – Victor Lindelof (8), Chris Smalling (2) and Marcos Rojo (2) were responsible for most of those. The team also made 67 clearances throughout the match, Rojo alone responsible for 15 of those. De Gea was brilliant, making 14 saves and two catches, he did save United a few times, but to suggest other players were not doing their job effectively would be incorrect. Smalling spoke about the red card, confirming that the tactical work helped United to play on and win, saying:

“I think that’s down to our tactical work and us being able to be strong. They probably had about four strikers on the pitch so it was a case of digging in and making sure, even the attacking players, were doing their job and everyone to a man was brilliant.

“I think Watford were going into our game on Tuesday on a great run of form and Arsenal, I don’t think they’ve lost at home like we haven’t, so I don’t think we could have asked for anything more. It’s been a great week.”

Manchester United can look back at the last two matches and see what their tactical ability has done, especially keeping a two-goal cushion with ten men away to a resurgent Arsenal side. With an important UEFA Champions League match with CSKA Moscow on Tuesday night, then the Manchester derby at Old Trafford, the important matches will be coming through thick and fast. The important factor here is that United take their confidence from their two victories this week, earn a place in the knockout stages of the Champions League then go all out against City, as despite the destruction of some teams this season, I still think they are beatable.

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