Manchester United have undoubtedly had a perplexing season. Jose Mourinho has factually made progression, but has failed to play attractive football and pose a title challenge to Manchester City. These problems come from a lack of identity in the way Manchester United play. Heading into next season, it is vital Manchester United develop a set formation and a set way of playing.
Throughout the season, Jose Mourinho has mainly employed two different formations: the 4-3-3 and the 4-2-3-1, although he has experimented with variants of a 3-4-1-2. Here we see the 4-2-3-1 and the 4-3-3.
Consistency in performance level and the quality of football have been lacking with these two formations. This stems from a multitude of different issues.
For one, this both these systems use very little width. Mata, Sanchez and Lingard are all wingers who like to cut inside, playing in central areas regardless of where they start.
Martial and Rashford have started periodically throughout the season, but neither provide natural sources of width on the left and their strengths do not necessarily lie in their ability to cross the ball.
Moreover, our full backs are aged ex-wingers who are on the decline and need to be replaced.
Another problem with both systems is how our two best outfield players, Pogba and Sanchez, constantly get in each other’s way on the left side of the pitch. With Sanchez showing a lack of discipline on the left hand side, Pogba is forced to go deep or go wide in order to make an impact.
Therefore, it’s crucial that we implement a system that can get the best out of Paul Pogba and Alexis Sanchez while also providing us width.
If we analyze the history of Jose Mourinho, he has predominantly used two formations in is career. He used a 4-2-3-1, which we have already seen at Manchester United, and a 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield.
This is the formation that Mourinho used to conquer Europe with Porto, dominate England with Chelsea in his first tenure and with the treble with Inter. While he is an incredibly adaptable manager and used formations such as the 4-3-3 and the 4-2-3-1 at times, his staple was this 4-4-2 diamond.
In this picture, three changes have been made to the starting eleven: Andreas Pereira in midfield, Alex Sandro at left back and Timothy Fosu-Mensah at right back.
This formation, while not currently used in the Premier League, could give Manchester United several advantages.
One, it enables Pogba to play on the left side of a midfield three, giving him licence to make runs forward.
It also enables Sanchez to play centrally, the position most United fans think he should play.
Moreover, Martial and Rashford can play in their preferred position: as a central forward.
However, the one glaring problem with this formation is that is uses minimal width.
And with so many players who are good in the air; Lukaku, Rashford and Pogba to name a few, width and natural crosses are crucial and could unlock a whole new dimension to Manchester United’s attack.
But upon further analysis, we can see how this system can provide Manchester United with the width it needs.
In this picture, we can see how United can attack in possession using the 4-4-2 diamond.
With Lukaku leading the line and occupying the center backs, Martial can drift into the wide and half spaces on the left.
Sanchez can play more centrally and Pogba plays more advanced, and most importantly, Sandro can bomb forward and give us natural width on the left.
However, this causes an imbalance, as the attack is mainly focused on the left.
Therefore, Andreas Pereira will have to perform an unorthodox role in this system, occupying the wide spaces on the right when starting in midfield.
While this could be a midfield signing who can cross, such as Toni Kroos, the important thing is having some source of natural width on the right.
Fosu Mensah or an aged Antonio Valencia playing at right back is not a good source of width, and therefore, a midfielder needs to provide with in this system.
In addition, Nemanja Matic and Fosu Mensah will perform a crucial role in this system. With Sandro bursting forwards, teams can break fast through the expose left side. This would cause Matic to play more towards the left.
This leaves no players in the center circle area, leaving United somewhat exposed.
This poses a possible problem for this system, but, Fosu Mensah and Antonio Valencia are capable of playing as a defensive midfielder and could easily step into the midfield.
While the addition of Sandro and a midfielder to the lineup would aid in United’s success, the investment in a right back who can go forward could be the solution to United’s problems.
In this scenario, Herrera would play the same role as Matic, covering his full back while still remaining somewhat central.
With two sources of natural width in Sandro and Meunier, this system can be the answer for Manchester United’s identity crisis.
We can get the best out of our top class players while making use of the height of our team with two players who can cross the ball.
Additionally, signings such as Milinkovic Savic and Fabinho could easily be implemented in this system.
Other players in the squad like Lingard, Mata and Mctominay could also be used in this system quite easily.
This formation would take time to implement, as it is quite technical and the players are probably not used to it.
We would also need to invest in another central forward, which we are currently not linked with.
It’s also entirely possible that Mourinho will not believe this can work in the modern Premier League and will stick with a 4-3-3, which could work very well.
But judging from Mourinho’s past and the players we have at United, don’t be surprised if this is the system Mourinho uses to lead Manchester United to a Premier League title.
By: Vishnu Anandraj