Wayne Rooney thinks Erik ten Hag should let his forwards cheat in defence to put Manchester City out of their comfort zone
In his latest piece on the Times (subscription required), former Manchester United star Wayne Rooney has suggested Erik ten Hag emulate Jose Mourinho’s tactics to beat Manchester City in the FA Cup Final on Saturday.
Rooney revealed that Mourinho would let his attacking players stay slightly higher up in the defensive setup to allow them to cause problems to the opposition on counterattacks. The former United captain is suggesting ten Hag to let Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial stay forward and defend with the other eight players against City.
While that is all good, we know Pep Guardiola has an answer for most tactical tweaks from opposing managers. To be fair, ten Hag did play a defensive game in the previous Manchester derby and won the match through two excellent counter-attacking situations.
Here’s an excerpt from Rooney’s article regarding the suggestion (h/t Times):
“Well, I think Erik ten Hag has to gamble a bit. What City have had so much of during the incredible run they’re on is control. Teams have put 11 men behind the ball against them, hoping to keep it tight, but that has meant City not having to worry too much about what the opposition may do with the ball. It has allowed them to play the game they want to play.
“I’d try something similar to a tactic José Mourinho sometimes deployed in his first spell at Chelsea, where he would get the likes of Joe Cole, Arjen Robben and Damien Duff to take up ‘half’ positions where they didn’t come all the way back and defend when Chelsea were out of possession but instead cheat a bit and wait higher up the pitch in areas from which they could counterattack as soon as Chelsea won the ball back.
“United could do similar using Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial: defend with eight players and have those two waiting in counterattack positions. That would ask City different questions.”
It should be an intriguing contest irrespective of the tactics deployed by both managers. Ten Hag has shown that he is no slouch when it comes to delivering under pressure.
The Dutchman would know that it will be almost impossible to dominate possession against City, hence the setup has to be to defend and be brave whenever the ball is turned over.
Rooney talked about leaving Rashford and Martial up the field. It is something these two players do all the time anyway. Even when the former starts on the left wing, he does not fully track back and rather looks to exploit the space left by the opposing right-back. Martial is a striker who likes to play on the shoulder of the last line.
So, if ten Hag tells them to do what Rooney is suggesting, it would be nothing different from the norm. Now, the hope is that it works and United win the final. Jose Mourinho was a master of getting results in big games at whichever club he went.
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Be it Real Madrid, Inter Milan, Chelsea or AS Roma, he isn’t too proud of his team to consider parking the bus as a lowbrow tactic for his team. Ten Hag perhaps has to accept that as well and ensure we don’t become overzealous against Man City.