It is safe to assume that Manchester United under Jose Mourinho has a less than expected start to their PL journey. They had a more or less forgettable pre season and after their EPL opening day victory, yesterday’s loss to Brighton was a lackluster affair. While media will be busy in pointing fingers towards who is responsible between Jose and Management for the current affair of events, let us quickly look at what are the options available to Jose to quickly cater the problems as well as maximize the resources available as per the resources available to him.
Any tactical solution needs months to implement since its not merely positioning of players which decide a formation. In modern game , formation is nothing but a number which loosely represents the role of the players. Actual formation and tactics is represented by the actual roles of the players, roles within roles, for ex. a RCM can be instructed to mark a particular player in tandem to his play making or perhaps get in interlink with his RB as well as help in channeling possession via providing passing options etc etc, zonal positioning, playing style in a particular role according to the strength and traits of the players. For example marcelo, jordi alba and felipe luiz are all wonderful LBs, but they all are distinctive and have their own styles and the playing styles of the left flank of their teams depend on the individual ability of these players. Hence the left flank of barca, real and atletico plays entirely different though on paper they are the same positions. Also every manager have their own set of plays, both in build up as well as defensive plays, which he drills in his sides in hours and hours of practice. The entire playing style of the team is dependent on this style of play which needs to be implemented through practice and understanding of the players. That’s why a modern professional team have scouts who produces dozens and dozens of pages describing the pattern of plays of opposition so that the manager can come to a solution so as to cater to the strengths of the opposition nullifying their threats and pose maximum damage to the opposition via his own ideas and system.
A managers job is to instruct and train his players so that they can reach in structured positions from where the end result is dependent on the execution of the player. For example, suppose a manager like Pochettino has got a scout report about a side who plays a compact 4-3-3. Their CB’s never leave the box and one of their CM drops deep to provide extra cushion thereby packing the central channel. Their fullbacks move up only during counters to provide crosses to the CF and drop back to form a five man back line in defence. Let us assume that their two wingers are inverted who protect the flanks as well as cut inside during attacks. This makes the defensive central channel congested as well as packs the centre of midfield with four players. So what can the manager do in such case? He has a variety of options, but he has to choose one which suits the playing style as well as the players he have. Spurs have a lethal finisher plus play making CF in Kane. Plus they have two fullbacks who can provide crosses as well as beat the opposition player in dribble and are confident on the ball. His favoured formation is a 4-2-3-1 on paper where he deploys only one CF and two attacking FBs . So he would naturally choose to attack via half spaces since the centre is packed and he has the arsenal to exploit the channels. He would instruct his CF to drop in the hole between two opposition CBS and roam in the box to keep them occupied.He will instruct his team to counter press on channels to stop their FBs from going up. Since their FB’s are pinned down, hence they can keep possession in the midfield to control the run of play and provide quick switches to destabilize the opposition. So he needs two tricky players in order to pair against the opposing FBs in order to create imbalance in opposition defensive frame. Also depending on the opposition counters , he might decide to go with three CBs at back so that the defence never becomes a 2 vs 3 situation since opposition plays a three men attack , and the FBs can act as wings backs to run through the channels as required without much defensive drawbacks or to drop into midfield in order to provide support to the CMs. Hence his preferred 4-2-3-1 will become a 3-4-2-1 or 3-4-3 due to change in personnel to suit his strengths as well as cater the style of opposition. Via pressing on flanks using wing backs and his CF occupying the hole between two CBs, his two wingers will come 1 Vs 1 against their two FBs. Now it depends on the wingers/wide forwards to pose threats by beating their respective man.
All these schemes are easy to write on paper, but these are like dominoes, one action triggers another. If the CF is not good in link up, then he cant occupy the central channels against two CBs. Had the ST been some one like Aubameyang who specializes in pace and catching the opposition CBs off guard,instead of Kane, then the system needs to be different. Since Spurs have two tricky FBs as well as two good skillful players in Dele Alli and Moura, hence they can devise the scheme of two wing backs and two wingers to load the half spaces. If they had defensive fullbacks who cant drop infield, their complete approach changes. Since the opposition plays compact 4-3-3 without high press, hence all the action needs to be practiced in series of inter plays on the training ground before being used against the team on field. The possibilities are endless and depends on the team and the manager and what system he devises.
Keeping the above discussion in mind, we think that a 3-4-1-2 formation will match the current profile of the United players as well as mask their current problems and maximise their attacking prowess. Of course roles and interlinks will change every match depending on opposition, but this current profile of United players suits the scheme as well as will be quick to pick up the formation changes within a few weeks. How it does so, the detailed player profile, the playing style etc shall be discussed in second part of this article.The rough formation is given as follows with probable backups to the main players.