Without a direct pass from Sanchez to Traoré, Ajax was left without any points of reference. They’ve passed the ball too slowly between players, who moved too little and couldn’t shake Manchester UTD’s man marking. Dolberg was so isolated that he touched his first ball of the match only for the kick-off after Pogba’s goal.
Winning the physical duels
The strategy of Mourinho’s players was to minimize risks even with the ball, trying, however, to maximize profits thanks to their rivals’ mistakes. With Bailly disqualified, Mourinho decided to play Daley Blind at the centre of the defence: a choice that was not without consequences.
Blind was the secret weapon of Mourinho’s strategy. Although touching the ball only 24 times (in other words, 84 times less than Sanchez), he attempted no less than 13 long passes, completing 7. Blind was the first source of essential game play that Manchester UTD put on the pitch: a long ball to Fellaini’s head and aggression of the second balls.
A strategy that Mourinho used to seek to maximize the advantage of his physical supremacy over Ajax.
In the images below, we can see Blind making a high pass without a second thought to Fellaini who then passes to Rashford who goes wide on Mata. At that point, Fellaini moves immediately forward to attack the penalty area.