The new Manchester United formation Ole Gunnar Solskjaer could trial after international break
Jose Mourinho, as he often does, got it right tactically.
This time he was in the studio talking about Manchester United but he was prescient as ever following the 4-0 opening weekend destruction of Chelsea. That win wasn’t a formula for success against ‘lesser’ teams, as United’s results against Wolves, Crystal Palace and Southampton have shown.
Speaking on Sky Sports, Mourinho summed it up: “Chelsea were not compact defensively, too much space to play, not enough aggression on the ball — the defensive line, the midfield, the attack — they were not compact.
“I think United will find it much more difficult to play against teams with low compact blocks. If the blocks are low blocks, it will be really difficult for them without a pure striker.”
Even then it was glaringly obvious that Solskjaer needed a Plan B. Now, it is certainly the case.
But could it be that the system played by former United boss Louis van Gaal could work for Solskjaer?
Using a 3-5-2 system would hide United’s obvious weaknesses in midfield, utilise the dangerous Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial in a double-pronged central attack, bring a promising youngster into the side (Axel Tuanzebe) and have no need for a right-winger — when United have so few natives in that position.
Here’s how it would work:
Goalkeeper: David de Gea
As long as he can cut out the errors that have become all-too common in his game, the Spaniard is a shoo-in.
Back three: Axel Tuanzebe, Victor Lindelof, Harry Maguire
Tuanzebe has played at right-back and in the centre, so should be able to play on the right side of a back three, while Lindelof might enjoy some extra protection after a shaky start to the season. The Swede and Maguire both like to bring the ball out and with the latter having played on the left of a back three for England in last year’s World Cup, the defensive shape should suit everyone.
Wing-backs: Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Luke Shaw
The back-ups would be Diogo Dalot and Ashley Young, both comfortable further up the pitch due to their crossing ability.
And while Wan-Bissaka is not a natural wing-back, he is a former winger and can certainly offer more going forward. He possesses the ability on the ball, while a wing-back position has always looked to suit Shaw, too.
Midfield: Scott McTominay, Paul Pogba, Juan Mata
United’s midfield has looked thin in recent weeks, with just two occupying traditional central roles. So a back three would give them that extra layer of protection that would allow Pogba freedom to roam forward and create chances, as he likes to do. McTominay is also more comfortable as a ‘shuttler’ rather than a pure holding midfielder.
The 3-5-2 also needs a No.10 to create chances for the forward players, with Mata the ideal man to play this role. He’s always more dangerous playing centrally than shipped out wide and this winger-less system would suit him.
Front two: Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial
Rashford struggled to impose himself as a central striker against Southampton, but he tends to dovetail nicely with Martial.
There is no doubt the Frenchman is more effective down the middle, but there’s an unexplored partnership between the two that could certainly be developed.
A straight 4-4-2 would expose those problems in midfield, so a fluid, high-energy 3-5-2 — played quite differently to the stodgy football we witnessed under Van Gaal — must be worth a try. As Mourinho said, Solskjaer needs another option.
Other options for the side would be Daniel James and Mason Greenwood, who could both play the forward roles.