Tactical Watch: Targeting United's shortcomings


Sam Tighe previews Southampton’s Premier League meeting with Manchester United at St Mary's on Saturday. It's the latest edition of Tactical Watch, in association with

It certainly felt like it. Beating your arch rivals is always huge – but to do so after experiencing the two weeks they have made it a truly special moment.

Blockbuster new signing Casemiro watched on as his new teammates finally kicked into gear, producing a display full of heart and determination to defeat Liverpool. It was night and day compared to what we saw against both Brighton & Hove Albion and Brentford.

The biggest one came at the back, with goalkeeper David de Gea abandoning the short passing brief given to him upon Ten Hag’s arrival and opting to kick it much longer on Monday. After the dangerous, costly turnovers against Brighton and Brentford, this felt like a pragmatic and sensible adjustment.

The personnel changes in defence worked a treat, as Raphaël Varane stepped into the heart of the defence and produced a masterful showing alongside Lisandro Martínez, while Tyrell Malacia’s full Premier League debut could barely have gone any better considering he was marking Mohamed Salah. Diogo Dalot matched his energy on the other flank.

The play style in general felt much more direct than in the first two games. United had a 3-4-pass routine to get in behind Liverpool that they tried often, attacking either the space behind Trent Alexander-Arnold or the gap between he and Joe Gomez.

The same direct threat in behind should be a concern to Southampton, with Marcus Rashford’s speed the chief focus of it. He can make the runs from a central striking position or cutting inward from the left, depending on where he’s fielded and who Ten Hag selects to accompany him.

Liverpool suffered greatly at the hands of this run, which was also executed by Anthony Elanga at times, due to their very high defensive line. Southampton’s press can draw the defensive line up the field in a similar manner, meaning they’ll need to be on red alert for this movement.

The first order of business should be to apply pressure to De Gea on the ball and test how willing he is to go long again. If United do want to revert to short build-up play, Southampton can pounce upon it à la Brentford.

Defending set-pieces has been a big problem for the Red Devils so far as well; they’re a team on the shorter side, and while that doesn’t always equate to aerial weakness, they struggled to clear their lines efficiently against Liverpool and were dominated by a big Brentford team.

James Ward-Prowse’s whipped deliveries cause carnage wherever he goes, so a United side with pre-disposed nervousness from dead-ball situations could be an effective target.

De Gea; Dalot, Varane, Martínez, Malacia; Eriksen, Casemiro; Sancho, Fernandes, Elanga; Rashford.

- Casemiro’s Man Utd career is barely a week old, but given his pedigree and price, he might just walk into starting XI

- That could create a headache for Ten Hag as to who to drop for him, as it’s arguable none deserve to after Monday night’s heroics

- After repelling Liverpool, the defensive personnel seem unlikely to be changed