Man Utd 4-0 Liverpool: Pressing, fluidity & space in behind - first signs of Erik ten Hag’s style
The Red Devils faced their old foes in the sweltering heat of Bangkok, and were 3-0 up after 45 minutes, thanks to goals from Jadon Sancho, Fred and Anthony Martial.
Facundo Pellistri added a fourth late on as United’s pre-season campaign kicked off in a hugely positive manner.
Ten Hag may only have had a few weeks to work on his ideas at the training ground, but it seems he’s already managed to influence how the team operarte. We’ve picked out five of the most interesting points from the clash on Tuesday…
Pressing from the off
One of the biggest criticisms of the Red Devils last season was their inability to press, even under the guidance of Ralf Rangnick, the ‘godfather of gegenpress’.
But the first signs of life under Ten Hag is that will be very different, after 90 minutes where United tore around the pitch and repeatedly harried Liverpool into mistakes.
Within a minute the Red Devils had forced Jurgen Klopp’s men into losing possession, Fred’s pressing presented Marcus Rashford with a shot midway through the first half and Anthony Elanga nearly took the ball from Ibrahima Konate inside the box late on.
But the standout moment was Anthony Martial dispossessing Rhys Williams near the halfway line before striding forward and chipping the ball into the back of the net. It’s something that was unimaginable during 2021/22, but there was a notable improvement after just two full weeks of training under Ten Hag.
Space in behind
As the likes of Liverpol and Manchester City know, pressing intensely tends to require a high line, which in turn leaves plenty of space in behind.
That was the case against Liverpool on Tuesday, and United were a tad fortunate not to concede from some opposition breakaways.
At one stage, four Liverpool players managed to find their way in behind the Red Devils’ backline and Luke Chambers had a double chance blocked before Fabio Carvalho and then Luis Diaz hit the woodwork.
United actually looked slightly more secure after the break and with a weaker defence, but the number of chances created by both sides is an early indication that games involving Ten Hag’s side could be entertaining next term.
The Dutchman also gave a small hint at who he feels is in his strongest starting line-up.
United began the game with David de Gea in nets, behind a defence of Diogo Dalot, Raphael Varane, Victor Lindelof and Luke Shaw, with Harry Maguire missing out due to a knock.
In midfield, Scott McTominay and Fred started, with Sancho, Bruno Fernandes, Rashford and Martial making up an attacking front three.
This could suggest that, at this stage, the likes of Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Tyrell Malacia and Donny van de Beek aren’t part of his first-choice Xl, although all 11 starting players were replaced in the second half.
Sancho also thrived on the right wing, which again could be where Ten Hag opts to deploy him next season.
Fluid up top
That aforementioned front four of Sancho, Fernandes, Rashford and Martial really did impress in the opening 45 minutes.
While the quartet lined up in very set positions, they often interchanged roles and it was a fluid system deployed by Ten Hag.
Often Fernandes would run beyond a lively Martial, who himself would flit into spaces out wide, with the winger pushing inside wherever possible.
It was a run from Fernandes that resulted in Fred’s goal, with some frantic Liverpool defending needed to deny United’s impressive movement resulting in a chance. Instead, the ball rolled back to the Brazilian at the edge of the box and he dinked it over a bemused Alisson.
In the first period, Dalot and Shaw linked well with their corresponding wingers, Sancho and Rashford, and created plenty of overlapping runs.
Ten Hag likes his full-backs to push up, and that was evident in the humidity of Thailand, especially near the end of the first half when Dalot surged up the line and saw his shot crash off the post.
However, Wan-Bissaka and debutant Malacia didn’t offer the same threat in the second period after they replaced the defenders at half-time.