Manchester United are firmly in deep water after a historic defeat against Liverpool in front of home fans. They now trial league leaders Chelsea by 8 points and that is no small margin in the Premier League. United’s problems this season are merely an extension of the tactical issues they have faced throughout Ole’s reign. To his credit, Ole has enjoyed his share of highs but his version of United has lacked consistency in all departments. In this article, we will take a look at formations that United can play which will help them achieve balance and consistency.
First, let us dive deep into Ole’s best season at Manchester United, 2020/21. Despite finishing second, United were clearly a level below Pep’s Manchester City. United scored 73 goals but they had the fifth-best defense in the league. In comparison, Liverpool conceded lesser goals than United in 2020/21 despite ending the season with their fifth and sixth choice center-backs.
It is clear that Ole’s 4-2-3-1 formation leaves a lot to be desired in terms of defense. His first choice double pivot of Fred and McTominay is repeatedly getting exposed this season. Both are box-to-box midfielders whose strength lies in their forward runs. Hence asking them to remain composed and alert for 90 minutes to cut-out any opposition attack is a lot to ask.
In modern football, 4-2-3-1 formation will work well only if the forwards are ready to press high. But Ole has failed to create a coordinated pressing strategy, which has resulted in United players pressing randomly. The cohesion between the midfielders and the forwards is almost non-existent, resulting in abject passages of play where United look hapless.
All of the above-mentioned inherent flaws in United’s game stem from their formation. Hence, now we will look at two different formations that United can play which will help them climb up from the abyss.
Among all the formations that United can play with their personnel, 4-3-3 will lend them crucial balance between midfield and attack. But one player is responsible for Ole not deciding to play a 4-3-3, Bruno Fernandes. Ever since joining United, Ole has clearly seen that Bruno Fernandes thrives in a central role with freedom to roam around.
Hence in a 4-3-3, Bruno must play in a positionally astute left or right midfield position which deprives him of freedom to attack. He also cannot play as a winger as players such as Rashford, Sancho, Greenwood offer more pace and cutting edge from the flanks. Hence, the best position for Bruno in a 4-3-3 is the to play in the center of attack, but not as a traditional marksman.
Already Bruno has been compared by many with Eric Cantona. The comparison is justified as both of them score loads of goals despite not playing as a poacher. Hence, Bruno can be employed as a center-forward in a 4-3-3 with Ronaldo and Rashford on the flanks.
Bruno will drop deep regularly, much like a false nine, and try to play in Ronaldo and Rashford. In this formation, a defensive midfielder is necessary and hence Matic has to start. McTominay and Van de Beek can play alongside Matic as they are both energetic and box-to-box midfielders.
In the current situation, a 4-3-1-2 is arguably better than other formations that United can play. First and foremost, it ensures United midfield will not be over-run because of the numerical advantage it offers. Secondly, it allows United’s best player Bruno Fernandes to play in his most preferred position. Last but not the least, it provides Ronaldo the comfort of playing alongside a hard-working number nine such as Edinson Cavani.
Ronaldo is not suited to play as a traditional center-forward as he is not known for holding-up play and physically engaging center-backs. He has played some of his best football alongside selfless strikers such as Benzema and Guedes. Hence, with Cavani pressing and harassing the opposition defense, Ronaldo can play his natural game. The only disadvantage that comes with this formation is that all of United’s star wingers will be forced to sit on the bench.