Tactical Analysis: Manchester United vs Juventus

By Dominic Casciato

Champions League Group H – Matchday 3 - Tuesday 23rd October 2018

Manchester United welcomed Juventus to Old Trafford on Tuesday night in a clash of two European superpowers, with the team from Turin taking home the spoils with a well-deserved 1-0 victory. Here’s how it happened.


United’s Unforced Errors In Possession

Jose Mourinho has faced a lot of criticism at times this season for the way his United side has played. Many critics have said his team selection and tactics have been too conservative, given United’s culture of attacking football and a never say die attitude.

Tactics, team selection, and culture aside, United’s players were guilty of several seemingly unforced errors when in possession.

Digging A Little Deeper

It’s easy to identify that United gave the ball away under little pressure more frequently than their Italian counterparts. But why did this keep happening?

One of the biggest reasons for this was a lack of movement from United’s two midfielders, Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic, while they were building up. Often they would sit centrally in front of the centre backs waiting to pick up the ball, which made them easy to mark and eliminate from the game.

Although there were times when they were able to dictate play and stretch Juve (most often in the second half when Pogba switched play into Ashley Young advancing down the right), they lacked the movement to really control the game in the same way that Juventus’ midfield three did. By not dropping into the space between the centre back and full back during the build up, Matic and Pogba failed to unbalance Juventus’ defensive set up. Having one of them drop between FB & CB would have given them more time on the ball, and allowed the full backs to get further forward. Then, once the full backs had moved forward, Pogba or Matic would have had more options for forward passes from this position, and, as a result, you’d expect they’d have given the ball away less.

In contrast, Juve’s movement through midfield and positional understanding was excellent. Their fluid interchanges were simple but effective, with Bentancur’s movement leading to the winning goal.

Tracking Runners

We’ve all heard the phrase “getting back to basics” thrown around in football circles. But what exactly does that mean?

If I were to put a list together of the “basics” for high-level players, tracking forward runs effectively would be close to the top of my list. United failed to do so in the first half, and a big part of this is due to the good movement of Juventus in possession. Their positional interchanges destabilised United, and led to moments of defensive miscommunication between their players.

Most of Juventus’ best chances and their winner from Paulo Dybala in the 17th minute came from defensive miscommunication, with players failing to track their man as he supported the attack. Surprisingly, the usually reliable Nemanja Matic was a serial offender in the first half, frequently switching off when tracking Dybala.

Defensive Organisation

Although we’ve highlighted some aspects of United’s play that contributed to their underwhelming performance, nothing should be taken away from a very good Juventus team that put on a master class in defensive organisation. They set up in a 4-4-2, pressing fairly high at times while aiming to force the ball wide and protect central areas.

When the ball was worked wide, Matuidi on the left and Cuadrado on the right would go to help the full back. Dybala would then drop centrally.

At times when Matuidi or Cuadrado couldn’t get across to help support the full back, Pjanic would do so. Matuidi or Cuadrado would then cover Pjanic inside.

On the rare occasions that they were beaten in wide positions, they had the insurance of two of the world’s best centre backs to cover them – the majestic Chiellini on the left, and Bonucci on the right.

United also set up in a 4-4-2 without the ball, but began to press around the halfway line. Mata would often drop to cover the passing lane into Pjanic, which often led to their shape morphing into a 4-4-1-1.

They struggled to get effective pressure on the ball in the first half. Marcus Rashford often found himself playing next to Ashley Young, which in turn forced Pogba into wide areas to defend, allowing Juve to stretch United further.

In the second half, United pressed higher, sometimes in a 4-1-4-1 with Matic sitting in front of the back 4. This forced Juve into more errors and led to United winning the ball back higher up the field.


Although United improved in the second half, they never really threatened the Juventus goal enough to get anything from the game. Juventus looked comfortable throughout, and on this form must be considered one of the favourites to lift the trophy in June.

You can follow Dominic on Twitter @domcas5.

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Paul Harper