Manchester United will look to put their midweek Champions League disappointment behind them by securing a win away at West Ham this weekend.
The London Stadium hasn’t been the happiest of hunting grounds for United in recent seasons, with each of their previous two fixtures there ending in defeat. They suffered a 3-1 loss in the 2018/19 campaign under Jose Mourinho, and then a 2-0 defeat with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in charge last season.
The Norwegian boss will be hoping for a better result this time around, however, fixing the wrongs of those two most recent visits will be key. He had little influence on proceedings in the first match, however last season under his stewardship, one of United’s biggest issues was progressing the ball through each third of the pitch.
In that match, they set up in a 4-2-3-1 formation with a trio of Daniel James, Juan Mata and Andreas Pereira tasked with being the creative threat behind Marcus Rashford leading the line.
A big issue that these three players encountered though was that West Ham deployed a deep lying set-up meaning there was little space in behind to be exploited. The onus was therefore on each of the three to locate pockets of space in between the lines in order to receive passes from deeper teammates and progress United up the pitch.
This was something that on the day each struggled with though as we see here below. Taken from that match, Victor Lindelof is in possession of the ball in a deep position and signalling to his team-mates to present him with a good passing option.
No real progressive passing options open up, he therefore plays the ball to Ashley Young before receiving it back and firing it upfield where West Ham regain possession easily in defence.
Strikingly in this game, United managed a total of just 153 touches inside the attacking third. For comparison, in this season so far, they are averaging around 214 touches per 90 inside the final third.
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Their woes in progressing up the pitch in that match are further highlighted in the below passing network which highlights a high proportion of passes being made between the defence but fewer being made to players in more creative roles higher up the pitch.
A key difference this season compared to that match is that United have better suited players in these attacking areas, especially within the number 10 role through Bruno Fernandes.
Beyond his standout contributions in terms of goals and assists, the Portuguese international is arguably United's best player at locating and occupying spaces within the lines in order to connect the defence with the attack. He’s often like an advanced pivot for this side and we can see in the above passing network from Southampton last week how his presence creates many more attacking combinations higher up the pitch.
With him in the side, United shouldn’t face the same difficulties that they did last season, meaning that they can construct more flowing attacking moves which should result in more goalscoring opportunities and hopefully enough to secure them the three points they’ll be eager for.