The formation Manchester United must play
Football managers have long looked askance at the media, happy to belittle critics who know 'less than they do'.
Jurgen Klopp often uses this misdirecting tactic in post-match conferences, his fumbling gesticulation adding a comical cut to the inherently arrogant nature of dismissing those who question his tactics. Crossing the divide into rugby, Eddie Jones' launched a bemusing attack on a journalist in the aftermath of England's Six Nations win over Wales, then criticised the media in general for erroneously believing they know better. Now I find myself squaring off against the reigning heavyweight champion of the sport.
So, sorry in advance, Jose, but 4-3-3 is the formation you should be adopting to coax the best out of your players.
United was aimless against Newcastle on the weekend. It stumbled and meandered, devoid of a genuine understanding for how to proceed in the final third. The Red Devils looked like lost sheep, relying on individual skill rather than a collective effort. For a team that boasts so much glitz going forward, and has scored the division's third-most goals, it lacks any discernible thrust in possession.
Paul Pogba has, to a certain extent, been scapegoated. His withdrawal from both the Tottenham and Newcastle defeats will inevitably invite discussion, and thus criticism. While the debate rages as to how Mourinho should draw the best from his £89 million man the old cliche about team rather than individual should be at the fore.
The 4-3-3 suits Pogba. He thrived in this formation, operating on the left of a midfield three during his spell at Juventus. In Mourinho's narrow, two deep-lying-mids system, the Frenchman becomes counterproductive. Yet, this appeal for 4-3-3 is predicated on drawing the best from Alexis Sanchez, Anthony Martial, and Romelu Lukaku, while also finding a way to accommodate Ander Herrera's energy. Remember how good he was last season?
Mourinho favours stability, but this does not mean he has an odious relationship with attack. His initial spell at Chelsea produced some dazzling football. His Real Madrid side scored the most goals in La Liga history as they stormed to the league title. A 4-3-3 formation provides cover, but also liberates his creative players. Ideally, Nemanja Matic would operate in the centre of the midfield three, Herrera to the right, Pogba to the left.
Herrera's bit-part involvement this season is perplexing. He was arguably United's best outfield player last season. He performed with a tenacity and steel that Old Trafford revered. His commitment to the cause shaped him as an ideal Mourinho player. The United manager needs to find a way to incorporate the battling midfielder back into the side. This formation offers him a solution.
A three-man midfield does sacrifice one attacking option. Mourinho often elects to deploy a 4-2-3-1. In this system, the no.10 would have to be dropped. Currently, that would be Jesse Lingard. As with Herrera, that is unfair given his stellar season to date. But this is Manchester United. A player must have the quality to adapt. Ryan Giggs certainly did.
Lingard's natural position is supposedly on the wing. When United moved on Alexis Sanchez, Mourinho claimed it was to provide "competition" within the squad. Benching the youngster would certainly add spice to the battle between him, Martial, and Marcus Rashford.
Sanchez would operate on the left of the attacking trio, with Romelu Lukaku spearheading the attack. This formation would allow for the pressing game that United can so wonderfully execute. Cast your minds back to the Red Devils' ruthless 3-1 victory over Arsenal. Within ten minutes, Arsene Wenger's men were finished, a result of frenetic pressing from the front.
Alexis should be deployed on the left, despite it coming at Martial's expense. The Frenchman showed flashes of adapting to the right against Newcastle. He has the qualities to adapt. Mourinho could also employ the ‘wing swap’, which is not just a FIFA17 tactic. He can instruct his wingers to switch sides periodically to give each time on their favourite side.
The 4-3-3 would also allow Sanchez and Martial to develop a cohesive partnership with Lukaku. More space would open up around the Belgian in the number 10's absence. The wingers would be emancipated from rigid positioning and free to create the havoc that was on display to open the season.
Finally, Pogba would also enjoy that freedom to push forward on the left, further making up for the missing trequartista. What are you waiting for, Mourinho?