Jamie Carragher believes Manchester United ended a few myths with their win over Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday.
Looking for a reaction to their 5-0 defeat at Liverpool, which had put fresh pressure on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as manager, United bounced back with a 3-0 win that ultimately cost Nuno Espirito Santo his job in north London.
Solskjaer switched his system to a 3-5-2 in order to inspire a turnaround in their fortunes. It got the desired results and may be the way forward as a tricky run of fixtures continues.
Questions had been raised beforehand about how some of United’s players have been pressing. But Sky Sports pundit Carragher thinks they got their approach in that regard spot on against Spurs.
“There was talk that Manchester United cannot press high, that they don’t have the players to do it. I don’t necessarily agree with that; a team should be able to press high at times and drop off at others. That is what Manchester United did really well at Spurs,” Carragher said on Monday Night Football.
“In the first half, before they took the lead, United were aggressive, on the front foot, and pressed high. Second half they dropped off because the goal changed the game, and they go their other two on the counter from a deeper position. But in the first half Manchester United pressed high.”
After the change in system, Carragher believes the effects were plain to see from the first minute for United.
He also claimed they prove they are not just a team built to defend deep.
“United changed the system at Spurs. You expected them to be more organised and the respond, after all, this was a team that had faced a ton of criticism. Instantly you could split the two in two; they had seven players back organised, and three attackers pushed up,” he continued.
“With less than a minute on the clock you could see the reaction straight away. Edinson Cavani was outstanding, his decision to go and engage the press was aggressive and he sprinted, and it was followed up by Harry Maguire. United were on the front foot, right on top of Spurs.
“Inside the opening minute, there were six Manchester United players in a 12×12 area, together, compact, aggressive – everything they were against Liverpool. There was no doubt they wanted to make that fast aggressive start and put Spurs under pressure.
“There was talk that Manchester United can only defend deep, but they were not deep at Spurs. They played on the halfway line. The front three were pushed right up on the edge of the Spurs box, and when anything went long, Maguire, Raphael Varane and Victor Lindelof gobbled it up.”
Carragher compares United to three sides
So impressed was Carragher, that he went as far as to compare United’s performance to one that could have been seen from three memorable sides of recent years.
“This was not a team defending deep. It was a team on the front foot, high and aggressive, and also narrow and compact,” he continued.
“It was almost like watching Manchester City, Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham, Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool, on the front foot with all 10 outfield players together, compact.”
United are next in action on Tuesday night when they visit Atalanta in the Champions League.
It remains to be seen what their approach will be against another aggressive side. Solskjaer said in his pre-match press conference that they have a range of options tactically.
“As I said, we’ve got players to play many different systems. A back three, a back four, a back five,” he said on Monday.
“We’ve got wide men and wingers, can play 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1. We looked at the Tottenham game and we felt that to get more control in that game, we played that system and it worked.
“What we’ll do tomorrow night I can’t say here of course. But the execution within the role is more important than the system.”
But the 3-5-2 served them well against Tottenham. It may be the way to go again, against another side who generally operate with a back three.