Taking a look at Manchester United’s failure to exploit wide areas in the 1–1 draw at Southampton (A) 21/22

In a tale as old as time Manchester United were again participants in a drab draw under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer calling evens away to Southampton on Sunday. Whilst we saw the recent recruitment of set-piece coach Eric Ramsey immediately return dividends there was the all too familiar matter of not creating enough from open play.

And a big reason for that was the lack of penetration in behind the Southampton defensive line. Even Solskjaer felt so, “We didn’t have enough penetration. We lacked maybe some runs in behind, that threat in behind which will create space for Paul [Pogba] and Bruno [Fernandes] in the middle”.

Another reason in my opinion was the lack of lethality outwide. If United are to ever improve as a team they have to start being more dynamic and gambling more with passes and runs as a team. This is evident with their wing play.

With that said let's begin at:


Driving to the byline is not new to Greenwood and is something that he has pulled of many times before. In his defence, there aren’t many options in the box here.



In a more dynamic side, the players might instantly recognise this opportunity, AWB on the ball is no incentive for Fernandes to stay on the last line but he could and AWB should make the pass.


Pogba even darts a little forgetting who is on the ball. If wan Bissaka had the technique to pull off this pass, Martial and Pogba could be in and Greenwood and Fred would be able to hoover up second and third balls in the opposition box. It would provide another dimension to the attack.


I want to note here that Greenwood could be trying to take a touch, bounce it back to Wan-Bissaka and then quickly spin in behind.


Wan-Bissaka should be constantly looking for opportunities to attack space, here he could quickly readjust and curve his run to exploit the space behind the Southampton fullback.

If Wan-Bissaka is to ever become a useful attacking outlet he needs to become intelligent and relentless in the final third. He hasn’t got crossing from deep nor the precision from really wide crosses, so getting into dangerous areas where all he needs to do is make cutbacks and short crosses would be the best thing for him for now at least.


Here I don’t really know. Just seems like a lack of attacking structure.


Again, Greenwood has this in his locker, it’s just about being more proactive about it and developing dribbling moves to facilitate it in the future.


This is where relationships and trust really matter, because if this were Fernandes or Pogba in possession, Greenwood more likely makes the run and gambles that the ball will get to him. Since he doesn’t trust AWB he doesn't.

It’s not a good way to play because it limits a player and their team’s potential. But AWB has to be encouraged to make incisive passes where possible. For his confidence as a player, for those playing ahead of him to trust his distribution and for the team to benefit from what comes after that.

Again, players don’t trust Wan-Bissaka so a lot of the time aren’t willing to facilitate him when he is in dangerous positions. But they have to regardless of his ability and he must improve to gain their trust.


Relationships, relationships. This should be viable, but it’s not because AWB wouldn’t expect Fred to thread the pass and Fred doesn’t see Wan-Bissaka on the shoulder of the WM. So there is work for the coaches to be done for Midfielders to facilitate the fullback’s runs and the fullbacks to facilitate the midfielder’s passes.

This is forgone for a more speculative pre-worked move that ends up in the stands. AWB trusts Pogba enough to make the run after.


Martial fails to recognise the opportunity for a vertical run or a run into the channel.


A transition where the right-hand side is too crowded, Sancho should have gone central.


Now I’m asking for something that shouldn’t be improvised but would be a nice principle to have, the use of 1–2's and gravity to quickly eliminate players.


This is a reoccurring theme with Maguire’s drives into the middle third, it’s never exploited even though it creates opportunities.


Some wall passes here could eliminate the fullback and get Lingard into space.


A quick use of wall passes might have seen that Sancho’s run had a chance of being found, it’s admittedly very optimistic. I don’t think it's that good a run by Sancho because he can't be found without something elaborate like himself, Shaw and Fernandes spontaneously being on the same wavelength. If this was a pattern or principle at Manchester United it would be more expected.


A run into the small depth by Lingard would have put him in a position to cross or drag the FB away from Sancho giving him space to drive into the box.


Mason Greenwood makes a clever run into the space requiring a long-range through ball. A first-time pass here could have crucially put Greenwood in the position to help United avoid a draw and clinch all 3 points. We’ve seen Pogba’s excellent weight of pass before so it’s a shame that he couldn’t quite see this run or reward it with a pass. In his defence, the angle is a bit tight and he might have been fatigued after playing 95 minutes of Premier League football.

There were attempts to facilitate movement out wide

Sancho makes a clever run but nothing comes out of it. But look at where all of Greenwood, Lingard and Fernandes go. They all ask for it to be cutback to their feet, not one of them make a run to the posts. If Fernandes had moved to the far post Sancho might have put a weak-footed effort across the face of goal instead of checking back to make a cutback. This is big issue for Solskjaer’s United. In crossing situations all the players (except for Cavani) want it to feet 12 yards out; there’s not enough dynamism to attack the posts or the 6-yard box. Like:

McTominay creates a crossing opportunity from a throw-in but there's no one there to attack it. This is forgivable maybe because it came from a throw-in and you don’t expect to have many players in the box but, it is perhaps a larger symptom of bad penalty area-attacking at Manchester United.

To conclude:

In this Manchester United team the strikers, wide forwards, fullbacks and midfielders have to work to do on being more dynamic and understanding and trusting of each other. The ultimate goal should be becoming an unrelentingly penetrative team that never allows opposition breathing room because of the constant threat in behind. Fullbacks constantly overlapping, Wingers constantly underlapping, crosses galore, cutbacks galore, chances galore. Lots of through balls, runs into small depth, and needle passes that ultimately elevate this team from a 1.40 npxG team to a 1.70 npxG and above team.

If not to create more chances and to improve the team’s xG difference then to create space for teammates. If not to create space, then to pin opposition back and create sustained attacks and pressure to the effect of more territory for the team and less possession for opponents. You might think this is a tangent but it’s all interconnected, running in behind from the wing and providing more threats from wide areas will have numerous positive effects for this team.



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