Here are five improvements the side have to make ahead of the knock out stage.
Defensively United looked a lot sharper in the match against Braga which is important going forward. Key defenders are about to return and they will help the discipline and organisation of the United defence which has looked a little stretched at times so far in the tournament. The gaps between defenders need to reduce because better possession sides will find a way through these gaps as they apply pressure.
United have to be more willing to play a wider formation across the midfield. The diamond is very good for tucking everyone inside and keeping the midfield areas busy and bogged down. However, when United counter attack they need wide men on the pitch who can exploit the space. They had this against Braga with Nani playing on the winger and Antonio Valencia making forward runs from right back. The problem with a narrow formation when United counter attack is that it’s easier for the opposition defenders to snuff out the danger.
United had 60% of the ball in the away match at Braga and they won the match 3-1, this has to continue. An improvement in terms of possession stats is needed when United come up against better teams who themselves like to dominate the ball. It’s an old cliché in football but you can’t score when you don’t have the ball and this is why possession domination works so well for Barcelona. United need to retain the ball, make it very difficult for the opposition to win it back and press hard themselves when they do lose the ball.
It would be positive to see a little more aggression all over the United side. This doesn’t mean players racing around, committing fouls and picking up yellow cards. It means announcing presence in the defence and midfield and subtle things such as goalkeeper David De Gea flying out of goal to clear a bunch of players and catch the ball. This will send an instant message out to United’s opponents that they will not be pushed around and that they mean business.
United need to show a slight improvement in terms of their versatility in the middle of games. Sir Alex Ferguson is a master when it comes to changing tactics in the middle of a game but individually the players need to be versatile. This means things such as covering for others out of position, using initiative and playing differently to aid the team, telling others they’re making mistakes or about to do so. The team seems very close so expect to see plenty of this versatility over the coming weeks and months.