Manchester United seemed a shadow of their former self under the regime of David Moyes and Louis van Gaal, but the aura of invincibility seems to be returning to the club. United are starting to dominate matches aided by the enigmatic Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The Swedish striker has had an excellent start to his life at Old Trafford, but José Mourinho will be aware that the 34-year-old cannot carry on with the same form throughout the campaign. He has made numerous tactical adjustments to United’s game and these have had a profound effect in terms of results.
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Long Balls at United
Louis van Gaal’s United were heavily criticised for keeping the ball and not doing much with it. Last season, United came out on top in terms of possession more often than not. However, they were so intent on keeping the ball that the team rarely went for a cross or a long ball. Teams found it easy to defend against United by just having more numbers in and around the penalty box. Mourinho, though, has set out his team with one objective – to score goals. He is not worried about the style of the team.
Wayne Rooney is now making more long balls (4.5 per game) than last season (3.6 per game). It means that the team is taking advantage of Ibrahimovic’s physical presence up front. Last season, there was limited height in the forward positions with the likes of Anthony Martial and Wayne Rooney leading the line. Ibrahimovic has brought a new dimension.
More Direct Approach
It appears that players have also been asked to shoot more often than last season. Van Gaal’s tactics often had the idea that the team was trying to pass the ball for a goal. Anthony Martial lead the highest shots per game statistic with 1.8 shots per game. There is already a substantial difference with Zlatan Ibrahimovic (2.5), Rooney (3), and Martial (2.5) all trying their effort at goal. Even Juan Mata (1.5) has been chipping in with the efforts of his own. Mourinho seems to be about that teams make their own luck and this direct approach has been working with more goals per game already.
Allowing Players to Express Themselves
Mourinho is rarely known to allow players to express themselves, but the number of dribbles per game has gone up significantly (12 vs 9.8 per game) since the arrival of the Portuguese.
All the subtle changes have had a direct impact on the pitch and United seem to be back to their best.