The PSG loss was the reality check that a lot of people expected for a Manchester United team that was on its honeymoon after the Mourinho breakup and Solskjær take over. After that match, the media flocked to jump all over the team in its performance and also Ole’s coaching chops. This Chelsea matchup in the FA Cup was the perfect bounce-back game that United needed.
The biggest worry was the team losing two of its staples in Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial in the PSG matchup. This forced Solskjær’s hand in diversifying the lineup. A formation resonating the 4-1-2-1-2 diamond was featured with Juan Mata and Paul Pogba, both adaptable in freelancing and moving around the channels. Nemanja Matić and Ander Herrera served as the backbone of the midfield. This setup was able to overload Chelsea’s midfield in multiple ways.
The best way to expose Chelsea, as displayed by almost every team after November, was to harass Jorginho. His role in the Sarriball system is instrumental, and it is proven to not be that hard to take him out of the game. The most surprising factor, though, is Solskjær moving Mata back into a more central position as an attacking midfielder. It was not expected from me that even someone like Mata can provide that much disruption to the system, but the deception factor does help his case. Solskjær has been hung up on the 4-3-3 and he kept the Matic-Pogba-Herrera line intact. Mata would usually be accounted for as the right midfielder in most cases, and it could be possible that the CAM role caught Chelsea by surprise. Kante and Kovacic were always effective, but then they can only do so much with the lack of creativity from the team.
Another thing United took advantage of is the height they have on the pitch. They forced the blues out to wider positions by stacking their players in the middle, and that allowed the Red Devils to minimize the defensive threat. Chelsea never had a reliable center forward throughout the season or much of an aerial threat up from the midfield onward, while United has the likes of Pogba, Smalling, Matić and Lindelöf to track back if necessary.
Ander Herrera undoubtedly is the man of the match. The captain for this United side put in a spirited performance, leading the pitch in stats like interceptions and regaining possessions, also with a goal to show for. In my opinion, he should stay as the captain of this team and the team should prioritize a contract extension with him (and obviously David De Gea). Solskjær’s trend was to allow his players, especially some of his midfield pieces, to roam and look for spaces. That tactic in accentuated on the break where the defense won’t be able to set up and get back in position. That was how United were able to secure both goals, with Herrera’s being more of the counter goal with him running right behind Marcos Alonso with everyone’s eyes locked on to Marcus Rashford.
For an FA Cup game, this matchup has revealed and showed a lot of true colors. United being able to bounce back from a rather ugly lost against a truly quality side in PSG is one of them. This also serves as a momentum-builder for a huge match against Liverpool over the weekend. For Chelsea, it continued the exposure of their ineptness in defense and over-reliance on Jorginho.