The Man Utd manager should make the following tactical changes to get his team back on track
Solskjaer needs to abandon his favoured 4231 system for a 433 much like Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City team if they are to resurrect their season.
As the October 5th transfer deadline drew near, it always looked as though the Norwegian boss would be left frustrated with the board’s lack of investment this summer.
It did indeed play out that way as even though United managed to pull off some last-minute deals (Edinson Cavani, Alex Telles, Amad Diallo and Facundo Pellistri), it was reported that the club ‘failed to sign any of Solskjaer’s targets.’
Among those on Solskjaer’s wish list were Jadon Sancho, Jack Grealish, Dayot Upamecano and Nathan Ake.
Consequently, the already under threat manager will have to make changes from within to help improve his team.
A catastrophic 6-1 loss to Tottenham before the international break only highlighted this further.
Freeing up the number 8’s
One of the key problems with the current tactical shape is that Paul Pogba is playing out of position in a deeper midfield role.
After the Premier League restart last season, the Frenchman averaged 0.13 goals per 90 minutes and 0.13 assists per 90 minutes too. This is a stark contrast to his world-class numbers when played as an attacking midfielder during Solskjaer’s spell as caretaker manager two seasons ago – averaging 0.57 in both categories.
Playing Pogba slightly further up the pitch would allow him to showcase his outstanding talent in a more impactful manner and not to the detriment of his Portuguese teammate Bruno Fernandes.
Manchester City have proven over the last few years that it’s possible to play two creative players – typically Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva – in a midfield three with an ‘anchor’ sitting behind the pair.
This could create a lethal ‘front five’ of Pogba, Fernandes, Rashford, Martial and Greenwood – one that can compete with the other superb attacks across Europe.
Deadline-day addition Edinson Cavani will also feature in United’s exciting attack, but having not played competitive football for over six months it will take time for the Uruguayan striker to get back up to speed. PSG’s record goal scorer will likely be used as a substitute when he returns from quarantine.
As for the ‘anchor’ role, United already have suitable options to play there in Scott McTominay, Nemanja Matic and Fred.
However, it’s essential that Solskjaer doesn’t try to fit a square peg in a round hole by implementing a midfield trio of Pogba, Fernandes and new signing Donny Van De Beek.
Van De Beek is a great addition to the United squad as a rotation option for the playmaking role mentioned and having real quality options off the bench is something that United have lacked as of late.
The highly sought-after Ajax academy graduate is not well suited to the more defensive role, despite winning possession 2.7 times per 90 minutes in the Eredevisie last season.
Van De Beek has an immense work rate which could be a real asset to Man Utd in a more advanced position as he presses opponents that look to build-up play. However, as a defensive midfielder, this work rate can lead him to stray out of position to close down opponents at the wrong time, leaving spaces behind.
The role of the ‘anchor’ is instead to be disciplined and screen the defence while the more advanced players look to regain possession quickly.
The introduction of inverted fullbacks
Unlike more traditional, overlapping fullbacks, inverted fullbacks still push up to assist with build-up but rather come inside towards the middle of the pitch. This creates a second line of defence in front of the centre-backs with the two players flanking the defensive midfielder.
A numerical advantage is then established in midfield which not only helps when regaining possession but also when playing out from the back. If employed correctly (like Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City) this approach should lead to extreme attacking pressure – often penning teams in their own half.
Current fullbacks Luke Shaw and Aaron Wan-Bissaka are well suited to this role as the two are not the most predominant in the final third. The pair’s lack of attacking prowess can be displayed by their number of crosses per 90 minutes last season, just over 4.5 between them, in comparison to Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnolds’s 7.5 crosses per 90 minutes – not including corners.
The arrival of Brazilian left-back Alex Telles further complements this tactical switch.
Telles is a playmaking left-back with exceptional technique, highlighted by his passing range. The ex-Porto player is comfortable playing short passes into the feet of the forwards, but also long switches of play out wide to the other flank.
Telles will presumably be favoured over Shaw in the coming weeks but clearly, whoever lines up in those fullback positions, it would be more beneficial to have the them covering for the two number 8’s, in Pogba and Fernandes, who are then able to move up the pitch and influence attacks without leaving the team open defensively.
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