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Manchester United

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

The Boot Room



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 .


The Boot Room is a football analysis website, bringing original and creative content to the fans of the English Football League.

Manchester United

“Imagine thinking Phil Jones is better”: Newcastle fans react to Jamaal Lascelles omission

Newcastle fans can’t believe Jamaal Lascelles is not going to the World Cup this summer.

Max Cohen



Jamaal Lascelles
Photo: Getty Images

Chelsea narrowly defeated Manchester United in Saturday’s FA Cup Final, thanks to Eden Hazard’s first-half penalty.

United centre-half Phil Jones conceded the spot-kick, felling the Belgian in the box and drawing the ire of Twitter in the process.

Newcastle United supporters were baffled at Jones’ poor cup final performance and criticised England manager Gareth Southgate for selecting the 26-year-old defender ahead of Jamaal Lascelles in the World Cup squad.

Against Chelsea, Jones made headlines for his high-profile mistake 20 minutes into the match.

The defender was caught flat-footed just inside his own half when Cesc Fabregas played a lofted ball in the direction of Eden Hazard.

The Belgian’s first touch was excellent and left Jones for dead, putting the Englishman on the wrong side of the ball.

(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Hazard then cut back across Jones, before the defender lunged into an ill-timed challenge that got nowhere near the ball.

In a cup final of such importance, mistakes such as Jones’ can prove immensely costly. And as United lost the match by the solitary goal, the centre-back’s error was devastating.

And the Manchester United defender’s poor showing incensed English supporters, who were furious at his inclusion in Gareth Southgate’s 23-man team.

In particular, Newcastle United fans felt aggrieved that Jones was selected in front of their captain Jamaal Lascelles.

Lascelles has been superb all season for the Magpies, marshaling the Newcastle defence while leading the club to an impressive tenth-placed finish.

Unlike Jones, who has been an inconsistent feature in United’s side, Lascelles featured in 33 Premier League matches this season – ten more than the United defender.

The Newcastle United faithful expressed their discontent at the England manager’s defensive team selections, arguing Lascelles would have proved a far more effective option in Russia.

And as one intrepid Twitter user noted, when Newcastle United played host to Chelsea just one week ago, Lascelles kept Hazard in check and held the Blues scoreless. Jones, on the other hand, capitulated in the face of the Belgian’s skills.

England face Belgium on 28 June in their final group stage match; Newcastle and Three Lions fans alike will be praying Phil Jones does not feature.

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Manchester United

Luke Shaw must seek Mauricio Pochettino reunion to revive floundering career

Max Cohen



Luke Shaw
Photo: Getty Images

The latest disappointment in a dreadful season for Luke Shaw came on Wednesday, when the Manchester United defender was left out of England’s World Cup squad.

Limited to just 11 league appearances this season, amid a falling-out with Jose Mourinho, the full-back must seek a move to Tottenham Hotspur this summer and reunite with ex-Southampton boss Mauricio Pochettino.

It is easy to forget that Shaw is just 22 years of age, as the left back burst onto the scene as a 16-year-old back in 2012.

Once considered one of the world’s finest young defenders, Shaw played in the 2014 World Cup for England and was signed by Manchester United for £30 million – the world record fee for a teenager at the time.

However, the Englishman’s time at Old Trafford has been a troubled one. Filled with injuries and managerial bust-ups, Shaw appears a shadow of his former self and is desperately short of confidence and playing time.

(Photo by Lindsey Parnaby/Getty Images)

A transfer to White Hart Lane to link up with old boss Mauricio Pochettino would be the ideal switch for the left back.

Shaw still has time on his side to revive his career, as at only 22 years old, he has many playing years in front of him.

The Argentinian would be the perfect manager to coax the best out of the fullback, due to Pochettino’s impressive knack for getting the best out of promising youngsters.

The two spent a year-and-a-half together at St. Mary’s and Shaw has since spoken glowingly about his respect and adoration for Pochettino in Guillem Balague’s book Brave New World: Inside Pochettino’s Spurs:

“I do hope that I can play for him again one day. And I think he really wants me to play under him again.”

In order to save his floundering career, Shaw must leave Old Trafford and make the switch to Spurs to rekindle his relationship with Mauricio Pochettino.

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English Premier League

Four Premier League ‘flops’ that have gone on to excel in Europe

There are some exceptional former Premier League disappointments now excelling abroad.

Martyn Cooke



Photo: Getty Images

Mohammed Salah has emerged as one of the leading performers in world football this season after having an incredible debut season with Liverpool.

The 25-year-old has scored a combined total of 44 goals for club and country this campaign and was subsequently voted as both the PFA Player of the Year and the Football Writers’ Footballer of the Year.

However, it was only two years ago that Salah was being branded as a flop following a short, unsuccessful stint with Chelsea.

The Egyptian made only a handful of appearances at Stamford Bridge and had to rebuild his reputation in Italy with Fiorentina and Roma prior to emerging as one of the best players in the world this campaign.

Here, The Boot Room looks at four other Premier League flops that have rebuilt their careers in European football.

Memphis Depay

(Photo by Jeff Pachoud/Getty Images)

There was considerable excitement when Manchester United signed Dutch prodigy Memphis Depay for £31 million in the summer of 2015.

The 21-year-old had been the Eredivisie’s leading goal scorer in the previous campaign with his pace, technical ability and unpredictability helping PSV Eindhoven to a first Dutch title in almost a decade.

However, Depay failed to find his feet in England and was unable to secure regular first-team football.

His inconsistent form on the pitch was further emphasized by his reputation for being something of a flashy, egotistical playboy off it.

He was subsequently sold to Lyon for an initial fee of £16 million in January 2017 having failed to impress Louis van Gaal or Jose Mourinho that he was worthy of a starting role.

The Dutchman has subsequently excelled in France and has exploits have helped Lyon to qualify for the Champions League next season.

He has scored 19 times in all competitions this campaign and is one of only a handful of players who have reached double figures for both goals scored and assists this campaign.

Furthermore, now 24 years of age, Depay has also begun to mature and lose his former bad-boy image.

Andrej Kramaric

(Photo by Daniel Roland/Getty Images)

When Leicester City broke their transfer record in January 2014 to purchase Andrej Kramaric for £9 million, it was widely considered to be an excellent piece of business.

The forward had been prolific in Croatian football where he was averaging over a goal a game with Rijeka and had already secured a regular place in the international team.

All of the signs indicated that The Foxes had bought a young, prolific goal scorer.

Ultimately, Kramaric failed to replicate his previous form and had a diminutive impact at the King Power Stadium.

He started just six games for Leicester before being loaned out to Bundesliga side Hoffenheim in January 2016, mid-way through Claudio Ranieri’s title-winning season, and he made the move permanent when the campaign concluded.

Now, 26 years of age, the Croatian has rediscovered his goal scoring touch in Germany netting 30 goals across all competitions over the previous two years.

He hit a hat-trick against Hannover at the end of April to fire Hoffenheim towards Champions League qualification and was hailed as a ‘top striker’ by his team-mate Havard Nordtveit.


(Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)

In the summer of 2013, Tottenham Hotspur broke their record transfer by purchasing midfielder Paulinho for a fee believed to be around £17 million.

Spurs had just sold Gareth Bale to Real Madrid and the Brazilian was one of a number of high profile and expensive signings that the club made as they reinvested the money.

Paulinho made a solid, if not spectacular, start to life at White Hart Lane and was a regular feature in his first season, making 30 appearances in the Premier League.

However, in the summer of 2013, Mauricio Pochettino replaced Tim Sherwood as manager and the midfielder simply never featured in the Argentinian’s plans.

He made just three starts and was subsequently sold to Chinese Super League side Guangzhou Evergrande for £10 million.

It was initially thought that the Brazilian’s top flight career in Europe was over until Barcelona made the surprise move to sign him in the summer of 2017.

Paulinho has emerged as a key feature at the Nou Camp this season, making almost 50 appearances across all competitions, to help the club secure a domestic league and cup double, leaving Tottenham supporters wondering if they sold the midfielder too soon.

Iago Aspas

(Photo credit should read PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/AFP/Getty Images)

Liverpool signed diminutive Spanish forward Iago Aspas in the summer of 2013 for a £7 million as Brendan Rodgers continued to remould the playing squad at Anfield.

The striker’s arrival was something of a surprise considering he was uncapped at international level and was not widely perceived as being a prolific goal scorer.

The Spaniard struggled to find his feet in the Premier League and made only a handful of appearances before returning to La Liga with Sevilla at the end of the campaign.

He scored only once, a solitary strike in the FA Cup against Oldham Athletic, and his most noticeable contribution was producing one of the worst corner kicks of all time against Chelsea.

However, Aspas is now flourishing with hometown club Celta Vigo and is regarding as one of the most prolific strikers in La Liga.

He has scored 21 goals across all competitions this season in 35 appearances and is the leading Spanish goalscorer across all of Europe’s top flight leagues.

He has a genuine chance of leading Spain’s forward line this summer at the World Cup.

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