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Swissquote Match Analysis: How Man United bounced back against Betis

UEFA's Technical Observer panel analyses Manchester United's resounding 4-1 defeat of Real Betis in the first leg of their UEFA Europa League round of 16 tie.

Europa League tactical analysis: Man United vs Betis

With their 4-1 success against Real Betis last Thursday, Manchester United put themselves in a commanding position ahead of this week's UEFA Europa League round of 16 second leg in Seville.

In this article brought to you by Swissquote, the UEFA Technical Observer Panel picks out several key tactical details from a highly positive display by United, including the clever midfield rotations they employed to create space for a spare man between the lines.

As it happened: Man United 4-1 Real Betis


1-0: Marcus Rashford (6)
Rashford's fifth goal of this European campaign was a brilliant strike after Luiz Felipe, stretching to intercept Bruno Fernandes' low cross, managed only to touch the ball into the striker's path. With Felipe on the floor, Rashford took one touch, then another, to round the prone defender, before smashing a shot high inside the near post with his third.

1-1: Ayoze Pérez (32)
Back in England, the man on loan from Leicester City scored his first goal as a Betis player with a low drive across David de Gea, having been picked out on the right corner of the penalty box by Juanmi. Pérez chested the ball down and, undeterred by the bodies in the box, produced a technically superb strike into the bottom corner.

Highlights: Man United 4-1 Betis

2-1: Antony (52)
A wayward ball by Luiz Henrique was picked up by Casemiro who fed Bruno Fernandes and he, in turn, supplied Antony some five metres outside the box on the right. The winger stepped inside on to his left foot and with Abner Vinicius unable to get close enough, he curled a magnificent effort high past Claudio Bravo, who remained rooted to the spot. Another goal against Spanish opposition for the match-winner against Barcelona in the last round.

3-1: Bruno Fernandes (58)
Fernandes' bullet header was the product of a well-rehearsed set piece. As Luke Shaw shaped to take the corner from the left, Fernandes was standing unmarked just past the penalty spot, directly behind Raphaël Varane, who was being marked by Luiz Henrique. As the United captain headed for the near post, Henrique was caught out by the 'soft block' from Varane. With Rashford and Lisandro Martínez each distracting one of the Betis defenders inside the five-metre box, Fernandes was free to meet Shaw's delivery with a header that flew in off the hands of Bravo.

4-1: Wout Weghorst (82)
Weghorst's first goal at Old Trafford followed fabulous work by substitute Facundo Pellistri, who had been on the field no more than 30 seconds, when Fernandes hit a corner directly to him on the edge the box. The Uruguayan immediately had two Betis players, Luiz Felipe and Abner Vinicius, barring his path yet found a way to get round them on the right, beating the latter down at the byline before his cutback teed up fellow substitute Scott McTominay. Bravo made the save but Weghorst slid in to apply the finish on the follow-up and earn United their fourth goal from corners in this campaign (joint-first with PSV Eindhoven).

Team formations

The Manchester United formation against Betis
The Manchester United formation against Betis

Man United
Erik ten Hag sent out the same 11 players who started the 7-0 defeat at Liverpool four days earlier. As the formation graphic shows, they set up in a 4-2-3-1 formation and the onus was on their wide players to exploit space on the flanks against opponents playing in a narrow shape.

Out of possession, United were very compact and showed a good attitude in recovery runs on transitions. Indeed, from last week's round of 16 first-leg matches, they were the team with the most recoveries (74) and Casemiro – No18 in the formation above – was the player with the most recoveries (16).

Real Betis
Manuel Pellegrini's visitors had the same 4-2-3-1 formation as their hosts and, without the ball, set up in a mid/low block, in a narrow, compact shape. Their starting XI included two mid-winter signings making their first appearances in this Europa League campaign – Pérez (21) at the tip of the attack and Abner Vinicius (20) at left-back for what was his UEFA club competition debut.

How Betis lined up against United
How Betis lined up against United


For the watching UEFA observer, the key tactical points to dwell on from this United performance were their interchanging of positions to find the spare man in midfield, and their efforts to play out wide against opponents with a narrow shape.

Yet before focusing on United, the video analysis at the top of the page begins with a clip showing Betis's high pressing. This warrants a mention as in the first half, Pellegrini's men squeezed up the pitch well; with short distances between the players who were pressing, they pushed United backwards and made it difficult at times for the home side.

In this clip, for instance, we see De Gea, with all avenues shut down, forced into an error as he kicks the ball straight to Juanmi, who feeds Pérez for a deflected effort against the post.

The analysis then turns to United's ability to find the spare man in their build-up play via clever rotations. In Clip two, they build up with three at the back and the technical point to consider is the way the midfielders switch positions, Fred dropping back and Casemiro drifting upfield between the lines. As the sequence progresses, Rashford's movement draws centre-back Germán Pezzella out wide, meaning there is space for Weghorst in the inside-left channel and he duly sends Rashford bursting into the box to set up a chance.

Marcus Rashford was once again key to United's performance
Marcus Rashford was once again key to United's performanceGetty Images

Clip three offers another example of United's rotations – this time between Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Fernandes, who drops into the right-back position, leaving Betis players with the dilemma of deciding who to mark.

It is also worth noting how Casemiro is the player who drops back centrally (a common ploy). The way the Brazilian scans the scene and then gestures to De Gea to calm down – that is, to not rush his kick – is instructive, as United want to invite the pressure and lure more Betis players on to them to free up space behind. As the sequence unfolds, Betis have six players squeezed up – cue Fernandes' pass from right to left to release Shaw into space, launching a dangerous attack.

Clip four begins with Betis well set up defensively, with short distances between their players to ensure they block the passing lanes, leaving Shaw with no option but to pass backwards. United's solution is another rotation as Fernandes drops back into his own half.

Although William Carvalho points to Juanmi to alert him to Fernandes's movement, Fred is left clear to step into space on the other side – unmarked as he receives a pass from Martínez and immediately supplies Rashford on the left. As the UEFA observer reflected, spaces appeared increasingly between the lines of the Betis midfield, allowing both Fred and Fernandes to pick the ball up and drive forward.

Bruno Fernandes was keen to drive forward at every opportunity
Bruno Fernandes was keen to drive forward at every opportunityGetty Images

The second main tactical point about United was the way they looked to attack in wide areas, getting around Betis's narrow shape. Clip five, showing the lead-up to Antony's goal, begins with one such switch of play to Shaw. Although United then lose the ball briefly, Luis Henrique gives it back carelessly to Casemiro. The video pauses here as we see the midfielder survey his options and recognise the spare man, Fernandes, who in turn works the ball wide to Antony who does the rest.

United also looked to go on the outside when they were counterattacking and their opening goal, showed in Clip six, follows a transition in which they work the ball outside to Fernandes and then back in for Rashford to strike.

Clip seven combines a couple of elements under the spotlight. From a congested area on the right, we see them work the ball across to Shaw on the left before some clever movement from Fernandes to create space. The Portuguese spots the room behind Carvalho and signals this to Rashford, who promptly steps into the space to receive the pass from Shaw and then return it to the left-back for a crossing opportunity.

United's efforts to play outside of Betis's shape also feature in the final clip, involving Jadon Sancho. They work the ball from the right over to Sancho in space on the left as red shirts pour into the box. Although there is no subsequent delivery on this occasion, only Arsenal on Thursday night managed more completed crosses than United's nine. That Ten Hag's men also had the most shots (25) and shots on goal (13) of any side in Europa League action last week was further evidence of a productive night's work.

Coaches' assessments

Erik ten Hag, Man United coach: "It was a good attitude from the start – front foot. We were good on the ball, finding the spare man in the midfield. We made good switches, we made good runs behind and created a lot of chances."

Ten Hag 'very pleased' with Man United win

Manuel Pellegrini, Betis coach: "We had two different games. One, the first 45 minutes that we played very well in – we equalised at 1-1 and even had another clear chance where the post denied us [the chance] to go a goal in front. In the second half the two goals in five minutes finished the game and gave the confidence to Manchester United to play very well."