Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Statman Dave: Why Ole’s tactical change was key

Monday 04 March 2019 21:30

It’s never easy to break down a five-man defence - Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Manchester United found that out the hard way on Saturday.

United supporters have become well used to visitors at Old Trafford getting ten men behind the ball and making it difficult for the Reds to break them down, but few execute that plan as well as Southampton did in the first half on Saturday.


Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side lined up with three centre-backs at the weekend and two full-backs who concentrated on defending more than the offensive side of the game. Ahead of them, the Saints had a four-man midfield and played with just the one striker, as they looked to hit United on the counter attack.

The hosts, on the other hand, initially set up in the 4-4-2 diamond and struggled to get into areas of the pitch that could hurt Southampton. When facing teams who play with three at the back it is essential to get in between the lines of defence and midfield, effectively the area that a no.10 would operate in.
Explained: Ole's tactical tweak against Saints Video

Explained: Ole's tactical tweak against Saints

Southampton caused us a problem that Solskjaer managed to solve, but how? Statman Dave reveals a key detail...

Unfortunately for United in the first half, there was no one in that space. Alexis Sanchez tended to drift out to the left, Paul Pogba was making a similar move and Andreas Pereira was looking to play wide right. There was no attacking the danger area in front of Southampton’s three centre-backs, a position teams must exploit when looking to break down a side that sits deep.

Often, Southampton’s shape forced United wide and meant no one was available to latch onto crosses sent into the opposition area. For a team with three big centre-backs, it proved just too easy to defend against.

Of course, when the Saints grabbed a goal though Yan Valery after 26 minutes it gave them even less impetus to attack and the visitors dropped even deeper, allowing United less space to launch attacks.


Then, on 52 minutes, Solskjaer made his tactical masterstroke. The Norwegian was forced to replace the injured Alexis Sanchez, and with it, he opted to change the Reds’ system.

Ole decided to introduce Diogo Dalot for Alexis, and the youngster was moved into a wide right position. Pereira then stepped forward into the no.10 role, Scott McTominay moved further up the pitch and played alongside Pogba in centre-midfield, while Luke Shaw was pushed on, creating a 3-4-1-2 formation for the Reds.

This shape allowed Pereira to dictate play in between Southampton’s lines of defence and midfield, while also becoming a passing option for his team-mates. The tactical change also meant that when Southampton’s two defensive midfielders pressed high up the pitch, United still had an out ball in the Brazilian that previously was not available. 

The shift in system had an immediate impact, as just a minute later Pereira found the space to fire past Angus Gunn in the away goal. What a finish by the way! And it all opened up from United playing between the lines.

Andreas: there's more to come Video

Andreas: there's more to come

The Brazilian reveals the secret behind his stunning equaliser...


The 23-year-old also played a big part in United’s second goal, as he turned provider for Romelu Lukaku. When Shaw got the ball in a wide left position he had options inside from Marcus Rashford, Lukaku and Pereira. He chose the latter, and found the Brazilian with an excellent pass, which Pereira controlled perfectly and then slipped to Lukaku, who duly curled the ball into the bottom corner. 

It wasn’t just the pass from Pereira that was excellent, but the space he occupied on the pitch pulled Southampton centre-back Maya Yoshida out of position and gave Lukaku the opportunity to unleash his shot.


The Belgian came into the game in good form and after playing well against Liverpool, he netted a brace at Selhurst Park on Wednesday night. Lukaku continued that form into Saturday and his movement, hold-up play and strength proved too much for the Saints’ backline to cope with. He was a nuisance all day for the victors and actually completed more dribbles than any other player on the pitch.

Highlights: United 3 Southampton 2 Video

Highlights: United 3 Southampton 2

Relive our fabulous comeback against Southampton at Old Trafford...

Lukaku's winning goal, two minutes from time, was just superb and he deserved nothing less after such a fine display. He managed to find a yard of space on the edge of the box and did what he does best, shoot!

With his weaker foot it really was an unbelievable finish from the big man. He allowed the ball to run across his body and used the momentum to strike it into the lower corner. That’s taken him to 12 goals in the Premier League this season, the same amount as Eden Hazard and Raheem Sterling have managed, and they have received a lot more praise than the United no.9 throughout the course of the campaign.


As well as Pereira and Lukaku, Dalot was also superb in Saturday's win. Despite naturally being a defender, playing in a more offensive area he offered two opportunities for the Reds, as he was comfortable dribbling down the line or passing inside to a team-mate.

How Dalot made an impact against Southampton Video

How Dalot made an impact against Southampton

Diogo Dalot played in an advanced position against Saints, and changed the game! Take a closer look at his impact...

Technically the teenager is just such a wonderful player and against Southampton, he showed what an excellent range of crossing he has from wide positions. Dalot also demonstrated fantastic work rate and fitness. Even in injury-time he was bombing down the wing and causing problems for the opposition.

Reading this in our app? If not, you might miss some exclusive features not found on ManUtd.com. Download the Official App here.