In our tactical preview of the Manchester derby, we looked at how Erik ten Hag’s could set up his team with a fluid structure to best defend against City’s threat while retaining United’s preferred offensive shape.
But there is another trick to be found from the Dutchman’s past which he may revisit in a bid to get one over on Pep Guardiola.
During his time at FC Utrecht, Ten Hag was often faced with opposition dead-set on possession-heavy 4-3-3 systems.
They may not have all had the quality and intense positional play elements of Guardiola’s City, but with Utrecht often underdogs against the top Eredivisie sides, Ten Hag developed a solution to them.
Typically, teams that build short from a 4-3-3 will look to play from their goalkeeper out to their centre backs, who will then have short options wide and central, via the fullbacks and pivot.
In these situations, Ten Hag has often set his team up to press in a 4-4-2 diamond shape.
The obvious benefit of having a player in the number ten position – directly opposed to the 4-3-3’s pivot player – limits the opposition’s capabilities in building short through the middle.
It also congests the midfield further, with neither eight able to drop in and offer the central defenders a passing option without being tracked by their direct markers.
The more interesting tweak to the diamond shape is the angle at which the forwards press the opposition centre backs.
Rather than close down directly or press ‘in to out,’ they press ‘out to in.’
In doing so, the forwards are able to put direct pressure on the central defenders while also blocking the passing lanes out to the fullbacks.
It is a high-energy approach that demands concentration, but when successful it can result in the opposition struggling to create anything more than ponderous possession at the back.
While the tools available to Ten Hag may still be more suited to the fluid counterattacking setup outlined in our earlier tactical preview, it should not come as too much of a surprise should Ten Hag revert to an old trick.
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