Martin Keown salutes Manchester United's long-ball approach

Former England international Martin Keown believes more 'top teams' should be adopting the direct approach favoured by Manchester United.

Last week, HITC Sport brought you the numbers suggesting that Manchester United have tweaked their tactical approach this season, with more long balls being played under Louis van Gaal.

Becoming more direct has helped to fire the Red Devils back into the Premier League title picture – or the top-four battle at least.

They are the only leading club to be adopting this style, with the likes of Manchester City and Arsenal refusing to waver in their belief that intricate passing is the way forward.

United are showing, though, that positive results can be generated when going from back to front with one swing of the boot, rather than picking a route through the midfield minefield.

Former Arsenal and England defender Martin Keown believes Van Gaal should be praised for looking to keep things simple and playing to the strengths of those at his disposal.

He wrote in the Daily Mail: “Louis van Gaal has Manchester United doing something that none of the other top teams are - playing long balls.

“Time and time again his central defenders will bypass the midfield and aim straight for the front and I applaud it. Van Gaal is playing to his strengths. His best outfield players are Angel di Maria, Wayne Rooney, Radamel Falcao, Robin van Persie and Juan Mata and he needs to get them on the ball as much as possible. There is no real need to pass through the compartments, especially when Michael Carrick is the only conventional midfielder in his team.

“Being direct gets his danger men on the ball in danger areas. It happened time after time against Tottenham Hotspur so it is no surprise that only Burnley have played more long balls this season. What is interesting is that United are not even that worried about whether Van Persie or Falcao win the initial header from the ball upfield - they just make sure that Rooney or Mata are there to pick up the knockdown, ready to cause problems in the final third. They can suffocate you with so much quality.

“It suits United’s defenders too. Paddy McNair, Phil Jones and Jonny Evans are happier playing long balls as they are not confident enough to pick out more intricate passes.”

  Total Long BallsAppearances
Burnley 1,483 19
Man Utd 1,437 19
QPR 1,403 19
Leicester 1,352 19
West Brom 1,348 19

A direct approach has often been the calling card of struggling sides, with greater emphasis placed on getting the ball as far away as possible from their own goal.

It is, however, a tactic which can pay dividends if used correctly – as United are proving.

There would appear to be little need for Van Gaal to tinker with things further, with results all that matter at the end of the day.

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