Manchester United must overcome Fulham at Old Trafford this evening as they bid to progress to the FA Cup semi-finals.
Here, The Peoples Person takes a look at how Erik ten Hag can secure victory by exploiting Fulham’s own defensive structure.
Fulham typically defend in a 4-4-2 shape, although as seen in their match against Arsenal, that can often shift into a lopsided variant. Bobby Cordova-Reid was tasked with shadowing Oleksandr Zinchencko in that game, while in-form Manor Solomon remained high to threaten the backline.
The problem for Fulham was that, just as Zinchenko shifted into midfield, so too did Leandro Trossard. That double-movement led to Fulham regularly being overloaded in the centre of the pitch, facing a 4v3 every time Arsenal were in possession in that area. It also gave the Gunners a clear advantage immediately after losing possession, as they were able to counterpress in greater number.
At the same time, Arteta’s wingers we’re afforded plenty of space because of the positioning of Solomon and Cordova-Reid. Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka managed 90 touches between them and completed five dribbles, showing just how easy it was for Arsenal to work them into one-on-one situations.
Given the options available to Erik ten Hag, it is likely that Man United will follow a similar blueprint on Sunday.
The Dutchman has made a point of encouraging his fullbacks to step into the middle of the pitch to support possession sequences, and having Luke Shaw perform this role regularly against Fulham could cause all sorts of problems for the Cottagers.
Jadon Sancho would perhaps be the ideal candidate to perform the ‘Trossard role’ as a false nine dropping deep to create a central overload, but given Wout Weghorst has started every game since signing, it will possible that the on-loan striker will be given the nod.
Where it gets very exciting from a United point of view is the space those movements will afford Marcus Rashford and Antony (if fit). Upon overloading the middle of the park, Fulham’s lopsided response will likely leave the wingers with plenty of room to manoeuvre.
Antonee Robinson and Kenny Tete are hardly the best one-on-one defenders around, and if the central attacker can draw a centre half with him as he drops deep, the space will open up in behind.
It must be noted, however, that Manchester United will have a far more difficult time exploiting Fulham’s midfield orientation than Arsenal did. When the Cottagers visit Old Trafford, they will be boosted by the return of Joao Palhinha, who is to Marco Silva what Casemiro is to Ten Hag.
Quick combination play in the middle to avoid the Portugal star dubbed “the tackle machine,” will still be a more than viable way of opening up the flanks, but it will be crucial to maintain a good tempo to avoid becoming embroiled in series of midfield skirmishes.
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