Manchester United’s opening aim in opposition to Arsenal was a factor of magnificence.
It wasn’t merely that the aim featured all 11 gamers, or the actual fact United lower by Arsenal’s traces easily. It was about how they created the state of affairs — taking part in 4 backwards passes and going from degree with the opposition penalty space proper again to their goalkeeper. It was an ideal demonstration of the worth of going backwards.
The attention-grabbing part of the transfer begins with the eventual goalscorer, Antony, up in opposition to two Arsenal gamers. The Manchester United winger performs a few stepovers, however the extra essential factor about this case is the positioning of the Arsenal gamers. All 11 gamers are again inside their very own third, with nearly no gaps between the traces. It’s troublesome to see how Manchester United may play by such a deep, compact block.
And due to this fact, Antony does the proper factor. There’s little level throwing a hopeful cross into the field right here. He goes backwards to Diogo Dalot.
Dalot, in flip, goes barely backwards to Raphael Varane, who then performs the ball to Lisandro Martinez. Each are sideways passes, actually, however each are taking the ball nearer in direction of Manchester United’s aim somewhat than the aim they’re attacking.
After which comes the obvious backwards go — Martinez, who has noticeably been eager to play ahead every time potential since becoming a member of United, goes all the best way again to David de Gea.
And, at this level, the travelling Arsenal followers sarcastically cheer, barely in response to Manchester United followers cheering Antony’s stepovers. Arsenal followers are making some extent — look the place that received you.
However Manchester United have, curiously, received Arsenal proper the place they need them. De Gea returns the ball to Martinez…
… and now, have a look at Arsenal’s form. There’s nothing inherently incorrect with it — it’s roughly as Mikel Arteta would need Arsenal to be on this state of affairs.
However Jesus has shifted 60 yards up the pitch and there are actually huge gaps between the traces for Manchester United to play by. The ball goes out to Tyrell Malacia, then infield to Christian Eriksen.
And, instantly, Arsenal look badly stretched. Albert Sambi Lokonga has pushed up in an try to shut down Eriksen. Granit Xhaka is infield watching Scott McTominay. Arsenal’s defence arguably hasn’t squeezed up tight sufficient, due to this fact Bruno Fernandes is free to obtain Eriksen’s ball into toes. It’s an excellent go, definitely, however the actual genius is what has come beforehand — going backwards to open up the house to play ahead.
Fernandes receives the ball and Marcus Rashford makes a run in behind. That is essential, not merely as a result of it impacts the place of William Saliba, however as a result of it briefly forces Gabriel to retreat. Word how, as Fernandes receives the ball, Gabriel is simply on the sting of the centre circle…
… however, responding to Rashford’s run, he shifts backwards three yards…
… and which means he’s not shut sufficient to win the ball right here. It’s a foul, however the referee performs benefit and the ball rolls onto Jadon Sancho. And now, this feels a really acquainted state of affairs for Erik ten Hag’s sides — they’re about to maneuver the ball from one flank to a different, having sucked the opposition to 1 aspect, simply as they did for the opener in opposition to Liverpool.
However first, it’s price trying on the Arsenal defence. When Antony had the ball within the nook, they had been completely organised. Now they’re desperately off form, with Gabriel out of the sport.
So Sancho strikes the ball on to Rashford, which prompts Arsenal left-back Oleksandr Zinchenko — conscious that left centre-back Gabriel is out of place — to dart infield and shut him down. Antony, on the far aspect, is already calling for the ball.
However that additional go sucked in Zinchenko. Rashford, the eleventh member of the Manchester United aspect to the touch the ball on this sequence, performs the ball completely to Antony…
… who, 30 seconds after he beforehand touched the ball and performed it backwards to McTominay, can apply a first-time end previous Aaron Ramsdale.
Ranging from Antony’s stepovers, it went from him, to McTominay, to Varane, to Martinez, to De Gea, again to Martinez, to Malacia, to Eriksen, to Fernandes, to Sancho, to Rashford, to Antony. Solely Martinez was concerned greater than as soon as.
However extra essential had been these backwards passes, with United fortunately taking the ball from the sting of the opposition field to the sting of their very own field, going backwards to go forwards.
It’s an more and more widespread function of top-level soccer — Maurizio Sarri has primarily based his type of mess around breaking into house in possession and his sides really feel extra harmful once they have the ball on the again, somewhat than within the opposition half. Antonio Conte’s Tottenham have additionally began to specialize in this sort of soccer — once they received 3-2 at Manchester Metropolis final season, with a few objectives scored by breaking into house in possession, he posted an Instagram video questioning why individuals described the objectives as “counter-attacking” objectives.
No matter you need to name these objectives, this was an ideal demonstration of the worth of backwards passing. Manchester United shifted Arsenal up the pitch after which performed by them, then shifted Arsenal throughout to 1 flank and exploited the house created on the opposite. It’s troublesome to think about Manchester United scoring a aim like this in earlier seasons. The Ten Hag period is certainly right here.