Manchester United continue to show tendency to attack down the right

March 7, 2010

Manchester United have tended in recent weeks to play a slightly lopsided shape, attacking primarily down the right-hand-side. The two wingers most frequently used in Premiership games in recent weeks, Antonio Valencia and Nani, both prefer to play on the right. When fielded together, Valencia tends to remain on the right flank and play a traditional wide role, whilst Nani looks to cut in from the left and drift across the pitch more.

This Chalkboard from the weekend game at Wolves shows how much more often United worked the ball into the final third on the right-hand side, rather than the left. (As with all five in this article, it is clearer if ‘hide numbers’ is selected at the bottom).

by Guardian Chalkboards

The effect can partially be explained because Valencia remained on the right-hand side…

by Guardian Chalkboards

…but Nani drifted in from his left-hand role, and often ended up close to Valencia on the right. (Both these Chalkboards are from 0-75 minutes, to give a fair comparison, as Nani was substituted at this point.)

by Guardian Chalkboards

Therefore, United always looked to build attacks down the right. This even had an effect on the passing patterns of their centre-backs. Playing on the right side of the centre-back pairing, Rio Ferdinand’s passes were generally directed to the right full-back, which is natural:

by Guardian Chalkboards

But whereas you would expect a mirror image from the left-hand centre-back Nemanja Vidic (for him to play the ball to the left-back, Patrice Evra), instead his passes were generally also directed right.

by Guardian Chalkboards

Is this cause or effect? Either way, it means that there is a clear bias towards that flank when United were building attacks.

Part of the reason for the lopsided shape, with the left-winger cutting in, is so Evra can motor forward from left-back, as he is a genuine attacking threat. The passing style of the centre-backs, meanwhile, can partially be attributed to the fact that Ferdinand is a better passer than Vidic, so the Serb naturally looks to give him the ball.

But United’s lopsided tendency poses an interesting question for opposition defences. Should they look to play a defensive-minded player on the left side of midfield to assist the full-back? Should they instruct their left-back to remain in position and not attempt forward runs?

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