BREAKING: Manchester United showed off their new identity with a 10-second eight-pass move
The Leicester win was a progressive performance for Man United, who peaked in the first-half and, specifically, the 26th minute.
Martinez finds Fernandes
An impromptu verse in the Manchester United fans’ raucous playlist at Leicester was the “ole”ing. That is unusual in a 1-0 win, particularly in the 26th minute.
United merited it for the sudden and surprising sequence as the matchgoers glimpsed a snippet of the identity Erik ten Hag is working to implement in an eight-pass, ten-second move played entirely inside United’s third.
Anthony Elanga eyed the dropping ball, eased Luke Thomas away, turned towards his own goal and laid it off to Diogo Dalot. From that touch onwards, United played as though their kits were Dutch orange.
Dalot pushed the ball forward first time to Christian Eriksen, who switched it to Lisandro Martinez to loft into Bruno Fernandes for a quick flick (that is when the “ole”ing began) to Tyrell Malacia. One touch back to Eriksen, then again to Martinez and through Malacia’s legs to Fernandes.
Martinez’s pass bypassed five Leicester players and Dalot, a growing character in the United squad, raised his hands and put them together.
Leicester only regained the ball when Eriksen’s shot was gathered by Danny Ward. United had the ball in their possession for 38 seconds and worked it from back to front with an authority they have seldom mastered in years.
It is not a coincidence three of Ten Hag’s signings were involved in the six-man routine. Martinez was favoured over Pau Torres by Ten Hag partly due to his distribution and he and Malacia have ousted England internationals who were the standout centre-back and left-back at last year’s European Championship.
“Yes, I have seen some good stuff,” Ten Hag said of United’s progressive play. “It’s more than details. I see structures are coming. We are constructing and that’s good to see.
“We have to do that and improve from game to game. That’s work on the training ground, work on the video and work in the games.”
Dalot and Eriksen were quality at Leicester
“It’s about formation, about creating lines and making the right decisions. The decisions on the ball. But also out of possession, we are making good steps. We have a base but there’s still a lot of room for improvement.”
Eriksen earned the man of the match accolade and the privilege of watching him live consistently serves as a reminder why Louis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer contacted attempted to entice him to United.
It was apposite Eriksen, the Dutchified Dane, was at the heart of United’s Total Football, signalling to Martinez to find Fernandes and adjusting his positioning to find space to receive the ball from Malacia.
United were at their most threatening at Southampton with Eriksen on the ball and he was more heavily involved in a more progressive performance against Leicester.
The standout starters were defenders again. Raphael Varane, described as “immense” by Ten Hag last week, has been imperious and nigh-on impregnable since his recall. United have conceded one goal in 315 minutes with Varane on the pitch.
Varane and Dalot celebrate at full-time
His effect on Martinez is patent. Ten Hag erred in selecting Martinez and Harry Maguire at Brentford, where the former was hooked at the interval and Ivan Toney took that as a “compliment”.
Ten Hag was not pragmatic enough with his selections in the opening defeats, experimenting idealistically in a strikerless formation and exposing Martinez to Brentford’s punishing power players. Varane is the best centre-back to play for United since Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic. That has been particularly apparent in the last fortnight.
Maguire’s demotion for the Liverpool win was planned as early as five days before the fixture, ample time for Martinez to form an understanding with Varane. Martinez can speak good English but Varane’s fluency in Spanish is believed to have aided their promising partnership.
Dalot started the move Jadon Sancho finished at the King Power Stadium and wheeled down the wing in celebration. The Portuguese also forced the scrappy own goal against Brighton and assisted Fernandes at Southampton.
In the first four games, Dalot created the most goal chances per match of the Premier League’s right-backs with an average of two chances per game and his key passes average matched Trent Alexander-Arnold’s.
Dalot, Martinez and Varane have been in form since they first started together against Liverpool
Defensively, Dalot recovered an average of six balls per match, winning 3.5 aerial duels. His improved fitness in the last two years is reflected by the number of sprints he clocked (46 in the first three fixtures).
Although not obvious in his first season while still a teenager, Dalot’s personality is aligned with defensive characters Jose Mourinho has valued throughout his career and the Roma coach wanted to loan Dalot last season. Dalot is as pumped-up in warm-ups as in games, now celebrating goal kicks with Martinez.
“Lisandro Martinez is a pit bull, he’s going to give his life and that’s what we need,” Patrice Evra said. “I’ve played with Gabriel Heinze, Carlos Tevez, Paulo Dybala, Lucas Bernardi, and South Americans play with passion and they give everything, it’s like they are going to war.”
“Collectively, I see the whole team is defending and that makes it easier for our defenders,” Ten Hag explained. “I think what they do well is cooperate. They do it together, they support each other and have a good performance. It’s difficult for opponents to create chances and I think this is what we’re seeing on the pitch.”
United fans certainly like what they are seeing.
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