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Manchester United’s new system has presented Solskjaer with a fresh challenge – Liam Corless


It is difficult to glean too much from 90 minutes of football but Sunday was certainly a step, if not a leap, in the right direction for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at Manchester United.

During the torrid run of form United have experienced since the 3-1 reverse of Paris Saint-Germain in March, it has frequently been levelled at the Norwegian that he is tactically inept.

But that was clearly not the case as his system shuffle against Liverpool proved his flexibility and helped render two of the visitors’ main threats impotent for the majority of the match.

Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson were penned back for large spells as United’s wing-backs, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Ashley Young, pressed high in the knowledge that they had the safety net of an additional central defender to provide cover at the back should Liverpool manage to break through.

The three-at-the-back formation is something Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho both trialled (even Solskjaer dabbled towards the end of last season against Wolves, Barcelona and City) but one never felt as though United quite had the personnel to suit the system.

Tyler Blackett, Paddy McNair and Michael Carrick were among the players Van Gaal played in back threes during his first season in charge before he eventually settled on a 4-1-4-1 formation to secure a fourth-placed finish in the 2014-15 run-in. The Dutchman would deploy a back three just twice over the course of the following campaign.

Looking back, Mourinho‘s options appeared slightly better after the 2016 acquisition of Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof’s arrival the year later, but neither player impressed during their only full season together under United’s former manager. Ander Herrera and Scott McTominay were both used in a back three at the start of last season before Mourinho was axed.

The summer arrivals of Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Harry Maguire, though, as well as Axel Tuanzebe’s return from his Aston Villa loan spell, boosted United’s prospects of succeeding in a 3-5-2 system.

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Aaron Wan-Bissaka was a key summer addition to the United squad

In Maguire, Tuanzebe and Lindelof, United have three solid defenders, each comfortable with the ball at their feet and each with their own individual strengths. Maguire is the best out-and-out defender of the lot, Tuanzebe is the quickest and Lindelof is the calmest, although the Swede’s level has dipped below the high standards he set last term of late.

Wan-Bissaka is the buccaneering right-sided full-back United have been crying out for since Rafael was dumped by Louis van Gaal. On the opposite flank, Solskjaer awaits Luke Shaw’s return from another injury but he has Ashley Young in reserve as well as Brandon Williams, the blisteringly quick 19-year-old who has just signed a new contract with the club.

One suspects, going forward, United’s midfield two will be comprised of Scott McTominay and Paul Pogba. Fred has his work cut out to prevent that from being the case, despite his positive showing against the Scousers.

The No.10 role has always been Andreas Pereira’s preferred and best position, though he, like Fred, has plenty to do to convince Sunday’s performance wasn’t an anomaly after an awful start to the campaign on a personal level.

Further forward is where things get a little tricky as far as Solskjaer‘s future selections are concerned; the addition of an extra body in defence means there is one less position up for grabs in the forward line.

Marcus Rashford, Daniel James and Anthony Martial will all expect to start when fit and supporters have been desperate for the Frenchman to return of late given United’s struggles in front of goal, but Solskjaer will be hard-pressed to leave either Rashford or James out going forward following their superb performances against Liverpool.

By the same measure, Martial remains the only genuine, experienced centre-forward in the squad and United have still not scored more than one goal in a game since the 4-0 victory over Chelsea at the beginning of August.

Solskjaer may have solved the Liverpool conundrum but he’s now got another one in his lap.



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