Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag has explained that Wout Weghorst occupying a deeper ‘number 10’ position against Barcelona was a decision intended to make more space for others.
Weghorst was brought in last month following the November departure of Cristiano Ronaldo and has consistently led the line as a ‘number nine’.
Although the Dutchman hasn’t been a prolific goalscorer himself – one goal in eight appearances in all competitions – his presence and unselfish style has been beneficial to other players.
But there was surprise on Thursday night to see a few changes to the attacking unit once the Europa League playoff first leg got underway at Camp Nou.
Marcus Rashford was leading the line as a central striker, with Jadon Sancho drafted in on the left, Bruno Fernandes pushed to the right and Weghorst sitting behind Rashford in the middle.
Fans were left scratching their heads as to the reasoning, which helped United come away with a 2-2 draw to take to Old Trafford next week, with Ten Hag giving an explanation after the final whistle.
“It’s not only about Wout, but he did well in that position,” the boss told BT Sport.
“It gives a lot of variation but I also want Jadon and Bruno getting in the half spaces and get them on the ball and also make runs from deep. With the full-backs joining in, we had a lot of chances and a lot of opportunities and we should have won this game.”
Barring a spell in the first half, Ten Hag was largely pleased with what he saw from his team. He did, however, feel let down by the refereeing after Jules Kounde was allowed to stay on the pitch for a last-man foul on Rashford on the edge of the penalty area.
“I was a little bit disappointed that at half-time it was 0-0 because we should have scored and the opportunities they had, we created ourselves,” Ten Hag explained. “But I think it was a great game. Two attacking teams. I think it was a Champions League game, even more than that, so I really enjoyed the game. In the end…2-2 and we have to finish it in Old Trafford.
“Then we turn around when are down, and I also think the refereeing had a big influence in this game. I think it’s a clear foul on Rashford. You can discuss if it’s in or outside the box, but then it’s a red card because he was one-on-one with the goalkeeper. It’s a big influence, not only on this game but in this round, and referees can’t make such mistakes.”