Manchester United were unsurprisingly victorious against a Burton Albion side which from the outset looked to play expansive attacking football. The teams lined up as follows:
United opted for a full first team with Rashford leading the attack supported by an attacking midfield trio of Martial, Mata and Lingard. Lining up in a 4-2-3-1 formation they were approaching the match as if it were a Premier League fixture. Burton did not approach the match in the way that many would have thought they would. Traditionally the smaller team in a cup game would line up in a way which looks to limit the space for the opposition and look to attack on the break. This was not the case for Burton. Manager Nigel Clough decided to set his team out in the 3-5-2 formation using the wing backs to create a back five when United had the ball. This was a bold strategy against the current holders of the competition.
From the beginning, it was clear that United’s movement across the front four would be key in winning the game. Lingard playing as an inside forward made the run drawing the left centre back toward the centre of the pitch creating space for Rashford to receive the ball. At this point Rashford was in enough space to comfortably place the ball over the goalkeeper and into the net. This use of movement to create space was one of the key aspects of the win. The image below shows the space created by Lingard as he dragged the
José Mourinho once famously said he preferred his team not to have the ball as the team who has the ball is most likely to make a mistake. This looked to be true last night when Burton were in possession. With the wingbacks positioned high up the pitch, vast areas of space were created in behind these players for either Martial or Lingard to break into. This looked to be an extremely effective tactic for United. Patiently waiting for the correct moment to break up an attack and then counter attacking into these wide spaces. At one point, I felt sorry for the LCB Turner, a player bereft of pace, who often found himself trailing behind Lingard at several moments in the match.
United’s impressive movement was most noticeable in the first half. When attacking down the left Rashford and Lingard would drive into the box creating large swathes of space in front of the back three for Martial to either cut into or run into (to receive the pass of the overlapping Blind). On other occasions Rashford playing as a false nine would cut back from a position in between two centre backs to create space for himself, this successfully allowed him to confuse and disrupt the back three.
Burton in attack used the full width of their midfield in attack quickly switching the play from Lund on the right to Dyer on the left. Dyer being the Burton player with the most to offer throughout the whole game. Switching the play meant that the United defenders were less settled. Burton looked their most dangerous when switching quickly to Dyer and putting Darmian under pressure.
The other two first half goals were moments of either individual brilliance or luck. Rashford scored his second when he let a pass run across his body and blasted it into the top corner. Lingards goal was less spectacular, his shot deflecting off of a defender and sending the keeper the wrong way.
The second half was less spectacular than the first. At half time united substituted Mata, a player who had been pivotal in starting the attacks of the first half, for Luke Shaw. As a result, United shifted their formation to equal more of a 4-4-2 with Martial joining Rashford (and later McTominay) upfront and Shaw becoming the left midfielder. Burton also made substitutions: Allen and Turner coming off for Warnock and Murphy respectively. As a result they played more of a 4-5-1 also with a holding midfielder dropping back to at times create a back 5 when pushed back into their own box.
The second half left very little to write home about. Everyone knew that the game had essentially been won within 16 minutes and the performances of the second half showed this. Rashford linked up nicely on the edge of the box with Martial to allow him to calmly fire past Ripley on the hour mark. Mourinho decided to substitute Romero to give Pereira a short run out. He had very little to do, yet still managed to fumble a cross in the dying moments of the game, giving Dyer a chance to score a conciliation goal in injury time.
Overall a pretty comfortable win for José Mourinho’s team against a side whos quality (or lack of) was evident throughout. The gulf in talent means that its very difficult to draw any major conclusions from the game and United spent the second half in a lower gear. They go away to Swansea in the next round who are likely to be a more testing opponent.
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