This is in continuation to our previous article where we were discussing a probable tactical solution for Manchester United which is practical, will be relatively easy to implement, mask potential weaknesses as well as highlight their strengths. Let us take a look at the proposed formation again for clarity of discussion which is somewhat of a 3-4-1-2 formation based on loose positionings.
As mentioned earlier, formations does not mean to put out one’s favourite players in random positions.It’s much deep than that and its intricacies has been dealt in our previous article. Formations are like chess moves, a large chain made out of various pieces, where a particular movement of one piece decides the movement of the adjacent pieces and creates a domino which ultimately decides the movement of the entire chain.Hence, it goes without saying that, this is a generic formation only defining the macro duties and roles of the players. The micro duties, responsibilities, tactical positions, zonal structures will vary from match to match depending on the opponents.
At present, United is suffering from defensive lapses or errors. There is no problem in their defensive structure in their current 4-3-3 on paper , but lack of mobile and consistent full backs means United is suffering from lack of width as well as providing adequate cover in the flanks if the attacking play pushes forward. This in turn is forcing Jose to instruct his full backs to be mindful of their defensive duties which is hampering their attacking play as well as creating defensive pressure since the full backs staying back means no attacking outlet, which in turn is enabling the opposing team to attack via channels and heap pressure on United defence, thereby forcing defensive errors from their CBs due to sustained pressure. The best solution to the problem is playing a three men backline with Lindelof in centre due to his ball playing skills. United have five CBs in their roster and they have the experience of playing three men backline earlier (like under LVG ) and with their National Teams (Rojo,Lindelof). Three men backline provides extra cushion to the back as well as the three CBs can effectively cover both the flanks (two CBs will cover the flank where attack is happening while the other CB will guard the centre keeping an eye on the opposite flank in case of switch of play, classic modern Catenaccio). Also the playmaking CB will work in tandem with the two CMs as well as the No 10, thereby forming the diamond which suddenly opens up myriads of passing options through out the field. Lindelof’s ball playing abilities will be imperative for the role.
Now let us take a look at one of the most important aspects of this formation, the wide channels ( wing backs or ball carriers ) and the midfield. Valencia ,when he comes back, will be a shoe in for the right sided ball carrier role. But we can also propose another interesting option for this position, Ander Herrera. For decades now, technical full backs have been pushed into midfield and vice versa by clever tactical managers depending on situations. We have seen Dani Alves playing in midfield in tandem with Maicon at RB for Brazil.Also in Barcelona, Alves has played RB/RWB/Box to Box etc positions. Philip Lahm has been used in midfield, as RB ,as RWB and various other positions at Bayern by Pep. Currently we see Sergi Roberto, a midfielder, playing as RB and sometimes as RWB for Barca. We have seen Rafinha Alcantara playing as RWB too for Barca. The master was of course one and only Johan Cruyff who regularly used Eusebio, a technical energetic midfielder, as RWB. Ander Herrera has the technical abilities, the passing, the touch, the stamina as well as the tactical discipline to play in that role.Not only can he drop into midfield during helping the RCM or drop deep to help out the RCB, but he can provide crosses from midfield as well as produce attacking plays in the final third out from the flanks. He can truly succeed at that tactical role. The LWB can be slotted by both Shaw and Young, but a natural left footer is always preferred on LWB , since he needs to provide width and put in crosses too. The midfield pairing which will best suit this system is Pogba and Matic. Both are technical players, can hold the ball, can drive up field, can dribble, have wide range of passing, can shoot,are strong aerially, a dream combo in our view. Also they can form a passing triangle with Lindelof thereby opening up channels and attacking angles. Until matic comes back from injury, either Fred or Perrera can carry out the role.
In attack, we think, that United will best suit from two men front pairing. Lukaku and Rashford can provide a lethal two striker partnership with their speed, strength,power and finishing. Also, not many people remember, but the best Alexis Sanchez has played in his career was at Udinese where he lit up Seria A in the false 9 role and roaming Central Striker. He had a horrendous first half for Udinese at right wing, but then he was shifted to False 9 and he lit up Seria A. Also for Barcelona, he played his best football when Leo Messi was out with injury for a month or two and Sanchez was shifted to false 9. This is his best position and with Chile too , Sampaoli paired him up with Vargas and he played a roaming ST from left, and Chile won back to back Copa America. Sanchez can rekindle his old self, can play in tandem with lukaku and rashford , can run towards opposition team during counters (who can forget his famous goal against Real Madrid in a 2-0 victory where he countered and chipped the ball over Varane and Lopez), will have adequate supply from both wings as well as his two CMs and CB. With structured pattern of play, understanding and proper synchronised movement between the front three, United can have sufficient attacking sting and dimensions. Not to mention, Sanchez can shift at LF, Rashford can play as ST, Lukaku can shift to RF or ST, Martial can come in at LF/RF , depending on situations and tactics, thereby providing United with enough depth and variety.
Of course the system will need careful implementation, understanding between the various partnerships on field (Front Three, Back Three, Midfield three, RWB & RF, LWB & LF, CB & two CMs etc). They will need to introduce structured and practiced patterns of play to destabilize opposition defence as well as keep their own defensive structures. All these things cant happen in a day and needs hours of practice, planning and training. But we are sure that Jose Mourinho is thinking on various probable solutions, and who knows, he can come up with this solution too since it is primed to catapult United into a well functioning machine if properly implemented.