While 15 Manchester United first-team players represented their country during the European Championship, others reported back at Carrington for the preparations of the 2021/22 season. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic means the pre-season campaign would not be conducted abroad as usual – The Red Devils returned to the United Kingdom after their well-deserved holidays.
Players and staff reported for pre-season duty on the 5th of July, having little under two weeks before the opening game, away at Wayne Rooney‘s Derby County. Considering that the players present are no key players in the first-team set-up except for right-back Aaron Wan-Bissaka, it would only be fair to imagine the work done in those weeks was physique-oriented.
Premier League footballers haven’t really had a lengthy break ever since Project Restart commenced in May of 2020, and the physically draining season Manchester United endured in 2021 only added incentive to prioritise muscle injury prevention and restabilisation of fitness levels.
Hence, July’s schedule for the Red Devils presumably resembled the calendar below:
For better understanding, the following paragraph explains every training “block”.
Recovery days are quite self-explanatory – usually the recovery day comes second behind the off-day in a normal match-week cycle, but in pre-season the latter is often left out.
Acquisition days are broken down in Strength (tension), Duration (endurance) and Speed (velocity) days (in reference to the main muscular contractions used in football). These preventive trainings are combined with the tactical training of the game model – which we call tactical periodization.
The Activation days materialize the findings of the team’s video analysts – the players are put into short match situation which the staff envisage to be important for the upcoming game.
Reoccuring team tactics
Despite reports of Ole Gunnar Solskjær and the coaching staff opting to replace the 4-2-3-1 formation with a newfound 4-3-3, Manchester United were shaped in the usual double pivot formation for the opening game. As expected, the Red Devils stuck to their guns and did not alter their principles of play. Many tactical sub-principles also carried through, such as the in-to-out pressing runs from the wingers, the man-marking of the ball-side pivots (pictured below) and the 3-1/2 building shape in deep possession.
Carrington’s graduates put on a professional display in Derbyshire before heading to Surrey, where the team booked its training camp. In Surrey, first-team members returning from holiday would join the team to meet Queen’s Park Rangers at Loftus Road and later host Premier League opposition Brentford F.C. at Old Trafford.
Similar to the predecessing game at Derby County, the Red Devils played the next games in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Andreas Pereira and Nemanja Matić in the holding positions instead of James Garner and Dylan Levitt.
The aforementioned building shape appeared again in every game this month including many positional rotations – either full-backs joined the centre-backs in deeper positions if none of the pivots did so. On many occasions, one pivot would remain in the centre.
Further ahead, the wingers would come inside to occupy pockets between the lines, while full-backs would hold width. In that way, the central players enjoyed more time to receive and release the ball.
Manchester United has long struggled with spacing issues across both axes under Ole Gunnar Solskjær and his coaching staff, even with last season’s improved frontline movement which vertically stretched the pitch more – albeit a lot of runs were in vain due to mistiming or wayward passes.
Despite this slow yet steady progress, the Red Devils seemingly still let themselves down by not syncing the rotations timely. Positional rotations that are not coordinated well enough can indicate a lot of things, and as outsiders there is no way of knowing what is sure, yet, after a couple of years in charge, it is sure that this must not be one of the coaching staff’s main concerns and they don’t train on it frequently.
Next to July’s exciting arrivals of superstars Jadon Sancho and Raphaël Varane, Manchester United’s fringe players gave their all to raise their fitness levels and put on a good show for the fans at the stadium and at home. A few stood out doing so – especially Anthony Elanga across every game. Not only did he find the net expertly – Anthony has also shown great willingness to work and run in behind – traits Solskjær explicitly admires. Another honorable mention goes to Andreas Pereira, whose stunning volley rocked the Old Trafford faithful in Manchester United’s last game of July.Embed from Getty Images