When Ole Gunnar Solskjær rejoined the club as an intern-manager, he utilises a 4-3-3 formation. However, a switch to a 4-2-3-1 at the start of 2019/20 has been apparent ever since.
Ahead of pre-season, there are multiple reports that the Norwegian is looking to revert back to the 4-3-3 for the following season. James Ducker has said that Solskjær has told players who have already returned to pre-season that he is eager to implement a more adventurous 4-3-3 formation and that the manager considers the pursuit of a centre-back to be important in this formation change.
A lot of supporters have wanted this switch in shape so here is a line-up that we could potentially see if Solskjær choses to go ahead with it and whether it would be effective with the players that we will have going into the campaign.
Starting XI (433)
Henderson, Wan-Bissaka, Varane, Maguire, Shaw; Matic/New DM, Fred, Fernandes; Pogba, Cavani, Sancho
A new centre-back
As mentioned previously, Solskjær reportedly feels that a new centre-back is important if the team is going to make this switch and it is widely known that United are looking to bring in Raphael Varane.
The Real Madrid centre-back would be a good partner for Harry Maguire, who is the aggressor in the defence. Varane would be able to cover the space in behind of the defence with his solid reading of the game and athletic ability, as he did next to Sergio Ramos for a number of years.Embed from Getty Images
This would ultimately allow United’s backline to operate on a higher line when in possession and would likely lead to more turnovers when a loss of possession happens and more territory in the match – something important if Solskjær wants his side to dominate games.
The defensive midfielder situation
Perhaps the most important role in this switch of formation is who is placed as the defensive midfielder of the three man midfield.
The only suitable player that Manchester United currently have for the role is Nemanja Matic, who in his pomp, would fill the spot perfectly for The Red Devils. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that the 32-year-old will be able to play regularly for the side and that brings us to the transfer market, where United will need to buy a defensive midfielder if they’d like to operate in this formation/shape.
They’d need a player comfortable at dropping into the backline and progressing the ball. Eduardo Camavinga and Declan Rice are two midfielders that have been linked with the club.Embed from Getty Images
While Rice is very solid out of possession, he’d need to make improvements on the ball if he is to join United and even though Camavinga is a very exciting prospect, the idea of an 18 year old starting a majority of fixtures in the Premier League is always going to cast doubts whether the club can challenge for the title.
This is definitely the position which makes me feel that a 4-3-3 might not work at United. Solskjær needs to make the right acquisition if it is going to work though, as neither Scott McTominay or Fred can operate in the role for the majority of the season.
The two eights and what changes
Let’s address the elephant in the room then — my XI doesn’t include Paul Pogba in the midfield, but on the wing instead. This is simply because I don’t believe that him and Bruno Fernandes can be the two eights alongside each other. There could be times where it could work, such as in games where United should dominate the entire game (i.e. vs Burnley at Home).
For the most part, it will likely be one of them alongside Fred or McTominay, this is fine as Pogba has shown that he can operate to a very high level on the wing.
Fred would be my first choice in the midfield alongside Pogba/Bruno, as he would be able to offer his incredible pressing with cover behind him, something he hasn’t had in the two man midfield.Embed from Getty Images
While Fernandes would have the biggest change in his game if he was to drop into the midfield rather than be a number ten who operates high and has the majority of the creative load.
He would not need to have such high creative numbers with the introduction of Jadon Sancho, who is a world class creator himself. This would mean that the Portuguese midfielder could afford to play slightly deeper. He has shown to be able to do this when he plays for his country and has done similar at Sporting Lisbon, but it’ll be a first during his tenure in Manchester.
Would it work?
It’s entirely possible that this formation change works, but it relies on two major factors. Bruno adapting to a completely different role and a new addition in the defensive midfield position. For more analysis on this, read this thread from UtdArena.
It could allow great stability in the middle, but it could also lead to the complete opposite if we don’t have the right personnel in the three positions in midfield. It will be interesting to see if this formation is implemented in pre-season and whether Solskjær does look to continue using it into the Premier League campaign.