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Is 3-5-2 the way forward for Manchester United?

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Since it’s rise to fame in the 90’s after two world cup wins with Brazil and West Germany, the 3-5-2 formation has since been on decline. However, in the 2014 World Cup wing-backs were much more common and Juventus have won back-to-back Serie A titles for the last 3 years with the 3-5-2 formation. It has never been employed consistently by multiple clubs in the English Premier League, largely down to the English fans conservatism. Despite this, it now seems as though Louis Van Gaal has his heart set on the 3-4-1-2 variation that was used successfully for Manchester United in pre-season. Is the resurrection of the 3-5-2 on the horizon?

Last week, Sam Allardyce accused Louis Van Gaal of adapting his players to his system, rather than adapting his system in order to get the best out of his players. This was interesting statement to me and one that I think is slightly unfair. With Manchester United’s squad being so unbalanced, you wonder if there really is a perfect system for their current squad. For example, Louis Van Gaal will want to see Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie both playing up front, he will want to play Juan Mata in his preferred central role in behind, and he will want to do this without being forced to play three centre-backs; an area United seriously lack strength in depth.

Atletico Madrid won La Liga last year and Manchester City the English Premier, both with a 4-2-2-2 variation of the traditional 4-4-2. This saw the wide men being operated as the main creative outlets for the teams, since the traditional winger is a dying breed. In my opinion, the 3-4-1-2 would be an excellent counter to the 4-2-2-2, which is growing in popularity.

If Louis Van Gaal opted for the 3-4-1-2 against Manchester City this season, I would back the Red Devils to win; provided we see genuine top level players brought in over the next few weeks. This is because the three centre-backs would be dealing with two strikers, therefore two could man mark and the other would be a spare man able to cover. They could press high up the pitch with the wing-backs being able to mark Nasri and Silva tighter than usual as they wouldn’t have to worry about leaving space in behind due to the extra defender.  The two central midfielders would cancel off leaving the linking midfielder; presumably Juan Mata, space in between the midfield and defence, with two world class strikers in front of him in Rooney and Van Persie when fit.

Manchester United v Manchester City, how they could line up:

Man City vs Man Utd - Football tactics and formations
When in attack the 3-4-1-2 also has benefits. The players will have many passing options on the ball; in front, behind and to the side of them. This means that quick passing can be used easily to unlock tough defences. Glimpses of this have been seen in the friendly against Inter, and on Saturday against Swansea when Phil Jones forced Fabianski to tip the ball out for a corner. They have two men up front which means if a striker loses his marker there is no cover in behind the defensive line as both centre-halves are occupied. There is a playmaker in the hole which there is a link between midfield and attack, leading to fast transition plays.

Despite what’s been said so far, when coming up against your average Premier League team; by which I mean one that plays 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1, 3-5-2 will cause you more problems that it will provide benefits. This is because, as we saw against Swansea, when the opposition wingers push high and the full-backs support the midfield, the 3-4-1-2 becomes a 5-2-1-2, and space appears. Also when the opposition play with only one striker there are two defenders just marking space at the back, and the team are forced to pay the price further up the pitch. Therefore the team finds themselves defending much deeper than they would have hoped. This is exactly what happened for Ki Sung-yueng’s goal on Saturday. Swansea made the pitch big, the full-backs were able to roam forward since United’s wing-backs were occupied with Routledge and Dyer. Swansea had time on the ball as they strung several passes together they found the defensive line deep in their own penalty-area, Swansea’s midfield (who outnumbered United’s) pushed forward and Ki found himself with time and space just 18-yards away from goal. It should be noted that Gary Neville blamed Juan Mata’s poor marking for Ki’s goal during Monday Night Football. However when United lined up against Inter during pre-season they defended in 3 banks; one of 3, one of 4 and one more of 3. This meant that Juan Mata will have been dropping back much deeper than usual into unfamiliar territory.

                                                                         Manchester United v Swansea City, First Half

Swansea vs Man Utd - Football tactics and formations
It was also a struggle for United to provide width in their attack against Swansea. If the wing-backs decided to push forward they would be susceptible to a counter-attack. Also with the linking man(Juan Mata) in between attack and midfield almost being a designated playmaker it is easy for opposition to mark him out the game and remove United’s main creative outlet.

Many of the Manchester United fans will have noticed an improvement in the second-half at Old Trafford last Saturday. There was an improvement in the pressing game due to the fact that wingers put pressure on Swansea’s full-backs. Adnan Januzaj was given more freedom run at the defence and cause problems for the away team. Had they started the game in a 4-3-3 with an experienced and talented defence, Man United would have 3 points going into next weeks game.

                                                                                         The Alternative, 4-2-2-2.
When it comes to alternatives there isn’t really any other option than the 4-2-2-2. Although we saw United play a 4-3-3 in the second half against Swansea I doubt it’s a formation they will stick by, due to the fact that when Van Persie returns surely Van Gaal will want him and Rooney as a striking partnership. And unlesa we see Rooney play on the left wing again, 4-2-3-1 isalso unlikely. So, we are left with 4-2-2-2.

The 4-2-2-2 would allow Herrera to play in midfield with Fletcher, or a  new midfielder that may be brought in. It would allow for Rooney and Van Persie to partner each other up top. Wonder kid Adnan Januzaj would be able to fit in on the wing, a player who doesn’t quite fit in the 3-4-1-2, another one of it’s major shortcomings. Juan Mata could be used as a wide playmaker. Also there would only be a need for two centre-backs, a department Man U are not particularly strong in. Not only that, but it’s one of the more successful modern formations leading Atletico Madrid and Manchester City to domestic league titles.

Given the players Louis Van Gaal and Manchester United have been linked with in recent weeks it appears he is going to stick with his 3-5-2 which has brought him past success, for example the Champions League in 1995 with Ajax. It should have occurred to Van Gaal that this success was achieved in the 90’s when most teams lined up with two strikers meaning three at the back was feasible. I think Manchester United are going to struggle against most teams this season with this formation. I don’t believe that 3-5-2 is in anyway a weak formation, just that it has limited application. Although, if Louis Van Gaal gets the big money signings he craves, they may go on to prove me wrong…


Do you think Louis Van Gaal should stick with his 3-4-1-2 formation that was defeated in Manchester United’s first game of the Premier League season? Will this tactic make a wider impression in the rest of the league and across Europe? Let us know in the comments or on twitter @TBRFootball .

 

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Paul Pogba defies critics as his incredible Manchester United record marches on

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Photo: Reuters

There is no denying that Manchester United’s Paul Pogba is a footballing enigma.

There is nobody in the Premier League more talked about and, either for better or for worse, his name has plagued each and every leading sports publication since returning to Old Trafford last year.

His £89 million price tag has followed him around like a shadow ever since the then-world record fee was announced, with journalists and pundits alike using it as a means of leverage as soon as he puts one foot wrong.

Add this to the fact that he is a footballing purist’s worst nightmare and there is even more leverage to use.

His ever-changing hairstyles, his constant attempts at audacity on the football pitch and his inventive celebrations perhaps lend him more towards a younger breed of fan, rather than those that have presided in the Stretford End since the pre-Premier League era.

But say what you want, he doesn’t half know how to play football.

Monday night’s comfortable 3-0 victory over beleaguered Stoke City increased Pogba’s incredulous personal unbeaten run to 35 Premier League games – a record unmatched by anyone in the division.

Has this run come about through luck? Is it a coincidence? Or is it just his brilliance?

On balance you would have to say that it is the latter option.

His brace of assists against the Potters took his tally up to nine for the season from just 13 league outings, taking him level with Manchester City’s duo of golden boys Kevin de Bruyne and Leroy Sane.

To try and gather a sense of perspective on just how impressive a feat this is, there are six players across Europe’s top five leagues on nine assists at the time of writing (including Paris Saint-Germain’s Neymar) and the Frenchman has reached the mark the quickest – it makes for impressive reading among esteemed company.

His creativity can’t be disputed in the Manchester United midfield and, even though he missed ten league games through a combination of injuries and suspensions, he is still the third-most creative outlet in their side.

Over 13 appearances he has crafted 27 clear-cut opportunities, only narrowly behind Juan Mata’s precedent of 33, and you can bet your life he will have trumped him by the time January is done and dusted.

To reach the nine-assist mark in 967 minutes less than De Bruyne, who has unequivocally been the stand-out player in the league this season, is merely a marker of how good the 24-year-old really is.

However, naturally there are those that will still criticise his every move.

They may have a point – after all, at least four of Pogba’s assists this season have come virtue of individual brilliance from his teammates (Anthony Martial vs Swansea City/Stoke City, Antonio Valencia vs Stoke City and Jesse Lingard vs Everton) – and compared to the type of defence-splitting pass that a number of De Bruyne’s assists have come from there is a lot more skill and finesse on show from the Belgian.

Yet, what those nay-sayers fail to acknowledge is Pogba’s ability to find pockets of space between midfield and defensive lines to play those short passes into his teammates. And there’s little coincidence that his increased impact on matches and his upheaval in form has come since Nemanja Matic stepped through the door.

Jose Mourinho’s ability to lure him out of Stamford Bridge and over to Manchester has evidently given Pogba a new lease of life, and more importantly the sense of freedom to be a creative force that he so often was at Juventus.

When he was playing in Serie A he had the comfort of knowledge that Claudio Marchisio was marshalling the defence behind him, and this is something that United didn’t have in 2016-17.

Last season, part of Pogba’s struggle to impress was, in part, down to this constant need to help out in defence, and he was often playing in a deeper role than he would have liked. Yet this season Matic’s holding role offers the defence that protection, freeing the Frenchman to be more elaborate in attack.

To see just how instrumental he has become to this Manchester United side you only have to look back to his time spent side-lined by a hamstring knock, where they suffered their only three defeats of the season to date.

These – which came against Huddersfield Town, Chelsea and Manchester City – were games that were crying out for Pogba’s assertiveness in midfield, but that spark, which he has in abundance, was found missing.

Whilst both Juan Mata and Ander Herrera are good Premier League quality players in their own right neither possess the box-to-box drive, the physical power or the pace that Pogba himself does, and it showed as they failed to replicate the Frenchman’s energy and endeavour in defeat.

This season alone Pogba’s completed 33 of his 46 attempted dribbles, achieving a 72% success rate, and it is this ability to maraud into the opposition territory that United sorely missed in his absence.

There are those that will say that his return to the side saw United bow out of the Carabao Cup to Championship side Bristol City and then draw three successive Premier League fixtures.

And, once again, they have a point.

But when taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture there aren’t many players in the English game that can conjure up a piece of magic to turn a game around, nor consistently reach a high-level week-in, week-out, and Pogba’s one of them.

He makes everything look effortless on the football pitch – whether that be spraying a raking pass across the pitch to someone’s feet or muscling an opponent off the ball easily to turn over possession – and it is fair to say Manchester United would look a worse side without him.

Whilst this may sound like a glowing review, it has not always been good news, of course.

Pogba will be the first to admit that he struggled to reach his extremely high standards during 2016-17 – despite leading United to two pieces of silverware – and he will have felt the pressure of his price tag as the season went on.

And, while he has come out ready to impress this time around, there are still parts of his game that frustrate – not least his wastefulness in front of goal, often attempting to shoot from 30-yards out.

But that is just the player he is, and don’t expect it to change anytime soon.

At the end of the day, his demeanour both on and off the football field will always get him talked about, and the only thing he can do is continue to rack up the wins to keep his harshest critics at bay.

Whilst Manchester United’s early season hopes of a title challenge have been diminished due to Manchester City’s brilliance, Pogba’s enjoying a fine run of personal form that is catching the eye.

Should he stay fit there is no reason as to why Mourinho’s men cannot sustain a challenge for the Champions League and the FA Cup long into the year.

And you never know, should Pogba extend his unbeaten run to 60 Premier League matches come the end of the season then there may even be a chance of the unlikeliest title in top-flight history – although I wouldn’t book a day off work for the United trophy parade just yet.

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Why renewing Jose Mourinho’s contract is a risk for Manchester United

Jake Jackman

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Mourinho
Photo: Reuters

Manchester United are close to reaching an agreement with manager Jose Mourinho over a new contract, according to BBC Sport. There have been ongoing talks with the Portuguese manager and it is thought to be only a matter of time before the new deal is officially announced.

Mourinho’s current contract expires at the end of next season and both parties will want more security heading into an important summer for the club. There have been rumours regarding his long-term future as some in the media suggested he is unhappy at Old Trafford, but he was quick to shoot those down, as shown by the following quotes reported by The Guardian:

I can’t find a better word than garbage to define the [recent] talk. If you want to ask me directly, I see myself next season at Manchester United. I will leave when the club wants me to leave; at the moment I have no intention to leave at all. I want to stay, I don’t see any reason not to stay.”

Mourinho is a difficult manager to read in press conferences, as he often says one thing but means another. Although his words can’t always be trusted, it appears that these sentiments were genuine as he is set to commit his future to the club. For the former Chelsea and Real Madrid manager, the next stage of his Manchester United career will be interesting.

Despite being one of the most successful managers in the history of football, Mourinho isn’t known for delivering long term success to a football club. His longest period in charge of a team came during his first spell at Chelsea, during which he lasted just over three seasons. The Blues sacked him in September of his fourth year after some poor results and friction with the hierarchy.

As he is a divisive figure, it can be difficult for him to maintain success over a long period. Either the players or the board will grow tired of his antics and that will result in a parting of ways.

Manchester United are known for wanting stability and it doesn’t suit them to change managers every couple of seasons. In Mourinho, they see a manager that can continue to deliver success and a figure that the supporters can get behind. The fans had difficulty believing in either Louis van Gaal or David Moyes, but that isn’t a problem that the current boss has had.

In terms of results, Mourinho has done a decent job since taking over at Old Trafford. In two of the three seasons prior to his appointment, Manchester United had failed to qualify for the Champions League.

The Portuguese manager brought the club back to Europe’s premier competition during his first season and did it by winning the Europa League. Although supporters would have expected a top four finish, it was a lot more satisfying to achieve their goal by winning a major competition. In addition to that, they found success in the League Cup.

The winning mentality was being built again within the club.

This season has started well for the Red Devils and they look set to challenge for trophies, even if the Premier League title is likely out of their grasp.

Manchester City have a 12-point lead at the time of writing and that is probably one of the motivating factors behind a new deal for Mourinho. He has been a long-time rival of Pep Guardiola and he will want to get one over on his adversary during their time in England.

The next task for Manchester United is to win their first Premier League title since Sir Alex Ferguson retired and they see Mourinho as the man to deliver that.

The club will be hoping that he has matured and is now ready to lead a club for longer than three years. Although there have been issues since he was appointed, they are making progress and will want that to continue for years to come.

However, it is a huge risk to renew the contract of Jose Mourinho for the reasons alluded to above. He has never been able to deliver sustained success and there have been worrying signs of decline this season. H

is war of words with Antonio Conte has been pointless and nothing more than a deflection tactic as his side were dropping a lot of points at the time. The United boss invites controversy and that can be problematic for a club, especially one of their size.

In addition to that, his tactics in big matches are negative and not suited to a club with Manchester United’s history. They have always been a team that attack their opposition, but that hasn’t been the case under Mourinho.

Against Liverpool earlier this season, they had 38% possession and managed to get only one shot on target. Considering the frailties of the Reds’ defence, this was a disappointment and the decision saw them accept a point.

Their recruitment has been high-profile, but it is difficult to see the joint-up thinking from the manager as he seems intent on signing big name players rather than building a team.

Since he was appointed, the club have spent big money to secure Romelu Lukaku, Paul Pogba, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Nemanja Matic and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Meanwhile, they are determined to sign Alexis Sanchez this month. There is a lot of talent coming in, but it is difficult to see how they fit into the same system.

The Mourinho of the past could build a team. His Inter Milan team of 2009/10 was superb and was custom built to suit the style of play. During his first spell at Chelsea, he had his finger of the pulse and could spot a player before they made a name for themselves. Didier Drogba is a great example of this.

Now, the Portuguese manager relies on having big money to sign players that already qualify as world class and he expects name value alone to result in victories. He has become lazy and that is a worry for Manchester United in the next few years if the trend continues.

During his first 18 months, Mourinho has done well at Manchester United and the team have progressed back to the top. However, it would be difficult to state he is doing a great job as he has had a lot of money to spend. There is certainly room for improvement and that is why this new contract is a risk.

History shows that a decline in the third season is likely and considering the club are far from secure in the top four of the Premier League, missing out on the Champions League would be a real possibility.

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Manchester United 3-0 Stoke City: Three talking points from Old Trafford

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Manchester United
Photo: Reuters

Newly-announced Stoke City manager Paul Lambert watched on from the stands as two stunning first-half strikes helped Manchester United condemn the Potters to defeat at Old Trafford on Monday night.

The former Norwich and Aston Villa manager was named as Mark Hughes’ successor in charge after his sacking following the Potters’ FA Cup defeat to League Two Coventry City last weekend and he was at Old Trafford to see his new team in action for the first time ahead of taking over officially on Tuesday.

But it wasn’t to be a winning start for Lambert, who watched his side go behind early on when the returning Antonio Valencia fired a thunderous left-foot strike high into the net to put United ahead.

The visitors had chances to get themselves back into the game, with Stephen Ireland – making his first Premier League start since April 2015 – twice spurning clear-cut chances from inside the penalty box.

Stoke’s wastefulness came back to haunt them when Anthony Martial doubled the hosts’ lead before the break in fine fashion, meeting Paul Pogba’s pass with a first-time finish high into the net.

David de Gea was forced into a fine reaction right save on the brink of half-time to push Xherdan Shaqiri’s effort away and keep United’s two-goal lead in tact and from that point on United completely turned the screw and dominated, with Romelu Lukaku’s shot saved at the front post.

The Belgian got his rewards shortly after though when he held the ball up and fired low past Jack Butland, before Marcus Rashford came close to a fourth when his deft heel-flick was held.

The hosts then comfortably saw out the remainder of the game to close the gap on leaders Manchester City to 12 points, whilst Stoke City remain a point adrift of safety down in 18th.

Lambert watches on as Stoke fall to defeat

There are no illusions that this job will be easy.

Paul Lambert – arguably Stoke’s third or fourth choice of manager in their pursuit of a replacement for Mark Hughes over the past week – was well and truly thrown in at the deep end on Monday evening as he travelled to Manchester with the Potters to see his new side in action for the first time as manager.

Earlier in the day Lambert’s arrival on a two-and-a-half-year deal was announced to a somewhat muted reception from Stoke fans, with his managerial CV not one containing too much Premier League pedigree other than respective spells at Norwich City and Aston Villa.

It may not be the most eye-catching move from Stoke’s board of directors but the same has been said this season about David Moyes and Roy Hodgson – and those two have started in fine fashion and completely turned the tides for their respective sides.

The sole objective for Lambert will be to haul Stoke away from any relegation trouble, and he’ll know the magnitude of the job at hand with the Potters sitting in the relegation zone in 18th place.

In truth, there’s not a lot he would have learnt in defeat to Manchester United.

It was never the sort of game that Stoke were expected to get anything from considering their current predicament and neither will it be the sort of game that will help them avoid relegation.

Instead, it’s the upcoming run of games against Huddersfield, Watford, Bournemouth, Brighton and rivals at the bottom Southampton – all of which take place in the next six league games – that may well define Stoke’s season and Lambert’ll know the job really begins when 15:00 comes on Saturday.

Potters defence in need of tightening up

That said, he’ll be fully aware that it’s the defence that’s in dire need of tightening up.

In conceding another three goals on Monday night Stoke have the unwanted title of having the Premier League’s worst defence – and by a long margin – after conceding 50 goals in 23 matches.

It may have been two fine strikes in the first-half that got United up and running but the defending leading up to the goals was questionable at best. For the first, Antonio Valencia was allowed the time to shift the ball onto his left-foot before putting an unstoppable effort into the top corner, whilst for the second nobody in a Stoke jersey tracked the run of Anthony Martial to the edge of the area before he fired home.

And after the break they were fortunate to keep it to just three – largely indebted to Butland for making some smart stops – as Pogba, Lukaku and Martial found regular space far too easily.

Their attacking play showed signs of positives during the first-half in a much-changed side under caretaker boss Eddie Niedzwiecki, and they arguably should have scored at least one before half-time had both Stephen Ireland and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting found the back of the net.

There are more than enough attacking options in the squad, who have enough proven prowess in front of goal, to avoid the drop this year, but they need help from their worryingly leaky back-line before things start to get truly ugly for the Potters.

Mkhitaryan left out as Sanchez waits in the wings

What a roller-coaster week it’s been for Manchester United.

For a side that rarely does its business in the mid-season transfer window shockwaves were sent through the Premier League when their interest in Arsenal’s talisman Alexis Sanchez was first reported by Sky Sports Italia, and it seems increasingly likely that they’ve hijacked Manchester City’s proposed move for the Chilean.

In fact, as Monday’s match was going on against the Potters fresh reports suggested that Pep Guardiola is out of the race for Sanchez – leaving the door wide open for an Old Trafford switch.

And, despite comfortably winning on the night, it was clear to see where he will slot in.

Juan Mata and Anthony Martial were the designated wide outlets for Monday’s clash but neither pride themselves on being out-and-out wingers, and at times United were crying out for an attacking player that can hug the touchline and deliver consistent balls into the box.

At times Romelu Lukaku went out onto the right-wing himself to try and get in the game such was United’s lack of crosses into the area, and as a striker he shouldn’t be the one forced into delivering.

Ultimately it mattered little as a result of two top-class individual strikes but, going forward, the looming arrival of Sanchez could not only add quality on the flanks but improve Lukaku’s play too and enable him to rekindle the sort of prolific form he showed at Everton last season.

But whilst one player looks to be moving ever closer to arriving, one looks equally close to an imminent exit as Henrikh Mkhitaryan was once again left out of Jose Mourinho’s matchday squad.

The Armenian’s fall from grace has been well-documented this season – despite starting the year firing – and reports claiming that he could be included as part of the deal to bring Sanchez to Manchester will only gain traction after comments made by the United manager prior to kick-off.

Asked about Mkhitaryan’s omission on Monday, he told Sky Sports:

“I would lie if I said it was just a tactical decision. Just a choice of the players that we know in this moment they have 100% their heads in Manchester United and no doubts about the future.”

Should Sanchez indeed arrive before the end of the month then there’s a very high probability that Mkhitaryan won’t be a United player come February, and he’ll be hoping that his next career move will help re-ignite the form that attracted Mourinho in the first place back in 2016.

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