Lisandro Martinez and Mason Mount in pre season jpg webp
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The 2 Players That Will Fix Man United for Erik ten Hag

Erik Ten Hag once said, “Some players are so important for the style of the team, and then it’s difficult to replace them.” This statement rings particularly true for Manchester United’s dismal season. But with the anticipated return of Lisandro Martinez and Mason Mount, could this be the turning point for a team that’s been setting negative records?

Mount Ten Hag

According to Transfermarkt, the pair have only spent 131 minutes on the pitch together in competitive matches this season. Both players were important cogs in Ten Hag’s philosophy, and it has caused a change in the quality of the setup that the manager initially wanted to play.

Manchester United welcomed the Argentinian defender back against Spurs on Sunday with a promising return. However, the Mason Mount’s return may not be too far off as well.

“Yeah, I think players are on the point to return on the grass, to return on the pitch. Like Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw, Tyrell Malacia, Mason Mount. There are players I think during January they will return back into the team”.

Erik ten Hag on injuries.

This could be huge for the manager’s setup from preseason and could give him the players to finally play the way he wants to.

The problem in Ten Hag’s current setup

Manchester United, most recently against Wigan in the FA Cup, has been set up in a 3-1-6 when building up. That meant Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Jonny Evans were used as the wide center-backs, giving Diogo Dalot the freedom to attack the half-space from the left-back position.

With this setup, Wigan exploited the weakened rest defence in transition, meaning United were always outnumbered in the middle. However, this might have been the Reds’ best match in terms of shot-creating actions from said setup.

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Wigan in transition

Against Chelsea at home, a lot of their counterattacks would’ve been quite dangerous if they were executed well. Manchester United had no control of the middle, as they had a lot going forward instead.

That makes it easy to play it in the wider channels while transitioning and either go for the shot or a cutback. This exposes the defensive midfielder and leaves a lot of space in Zone 5 and Zone 8 to cover for the already outnumbered #6.

Man United vs Chelsea

The tendency is that if it is a game going end-to-end, Manchester United loses the battle of the middle with the amount of space they give up.

The comebacks of Lisandro Martinez and Mason Mount could change the dynamics of this setup.

How the comebacks of two players will help the setup

Mason Mount is widely known for his contribution to the press. With 6.06 recoveries P90, the former Chelsea player ranks in the top 23% in the Premier League this season, and with the line-breaking passes of Lisandro Martínez, the pair could solve some of the issues that are causing the Ten Hag a lot of problems at this moment in time.

The pressing seen in the recent match against Tottenham was subpar. With Mount’s return, there is potential to revitalise it, leading to less space between the lines. This adjustment can soften the issue of the shape that has allowed numerous cutbacks for the opposition this season due to the late arrivals of the attackers after said press failed.

Press failing showcased

Being a front-foot defender like Martínez, who doesn’t give the opponents any time on the ball, makes the Argentinian defender very suited for the role of stepping into the pivot and helping shield the backline. He has his weaknesses when he’s isolated in the wider areas, but his contribution in the middle channel overshadows that.

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The best thing for Manchester United, having the World Cup winner back, is those devastating line-breaking passes that can take out three or four players in an instant. Martínez had 8.11 progressive passes per 90 and 73% accuracy last season, placing him in the upper quadrant for defenders.

Martinez Passing Stats jpg
Credit: Data.MB

The major problem right now for Manchester United is that the two centre halves do not possess the on-ball quality and pace required for the football Erik the Hag is trying to play. United’s defensive line has noticeably dropped deeper while Evans is in the starting eleven. To explain it simply, the team becomes spread thinner and creates swathes of space all across the pitch. The other problem is that the midfield is exposed in transitions, which makes it almost impossible for the defensive midfielder to track runners.

Martínez will instantly make the team more compact, as it’s possible to play a higher defensive line, allowing the midfield to initiate more duels because the lines are not stretched as much. While Jonny Evans has been an incredible backup signing, he came in as a 5th-choice defender. Not even in his wildest dreams would he have expected to play 13 Premier League matches and counting.

Martinez Ten Hag Antony

Martinez is widely regarded as world-class when it comes to ball-playing. The technical level within the team drastically improves by getting the pair integrated again. This will help with fast transitional play, vertical passes, and a more balanced passing network as the quality increases.

A potential change in Ten Hag’s setup in possession

The system could change to a 3-2-5 in the build up, with Martínez to the left and the 18-year-old Kobbie Mainoo to the right. This could help with the angle of vertical passes to runners in the half-spaces. Also showcasing how good Mainoo’s spatial awareness is when he can let the ball roll over.

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Mason Mount was very good in the right half-space when playing at his former club. Maybe the Dutchman selecting the team should try getting his marquee signing into those positions between the left-back and the centre-back, stretching the opponent’s backline.

Of course, the issues at Manchester United are never-ending, but one of the problems is having a rather slim squad to perform a high-intensity play style; it results in no-contact injuries and the need to abandon your ideas. However, the 13-time Premier League winners will benefit massively from having the two key players back, both in and out of possession.

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