The hot topic at this moment in time involving Manchester United is José Mourinho and Paul Pogba. Mourinho has persistently utilised the 4-2-3-1 throughout this season, although other formations such as the 4-3-3, 3-4-1-2 and others have been put into place, but not on a consistent basis. 4-2-3-1 is clearly not a go-to formation for Mourinho however, for some reason or another he hasn’t decided to alter the current formation which has been heavily criticised. The current formation is not getting the best out of Pogba and consequently, the team is suffering.
4-3-3 is United’s immediate alternative. This would enable Pogba the license to roam in his preferred LCM role, released from his defensive duties where you will get the best out of him. This way United as a team are stable defensively. Nemanja Matić would play as the defensive midfielder sitting in front of the defence requiring him to break up opposition attacks, read the game well and acquire positional awareness. Whereas on the right-hand side, Scott McTominay (who is evidently one of Mourinho’s personal favourites), or Ander Herrera would do the job mopping up for Pogba.
However, during the summer United need to be on the look out for Sergej Milinković-Savić as a recruitment to play at RCM allowing him to act as the ‘box-to-box’ midfielder, the all-rounder. Milinković-Savić has made 32 appearances for Lazio this season and has contributed towards 12 goals in all competitions. He would be one who plays a similar role to Pogba but will also have to track back equipping his defensive abilities. Milinković-Savić would be an excellent addition to the squad, although it all falls down to whether to club would be happy to splash out on the 22-year-old Serbian.
In the first game of 2018 against Everton, Mourinho played Pogba in a midfield three along with Matić and Herrera which evidently worked out well. The Frenchman provided the assists for both goals alongside a MOTM performance after a much more influential display taking over a more advanced role in the second half. Pogba has previously operated in a midfield three, during his experience which lasted 4 seasons at Juventus between 2012 and 2016, alongside Arturo Vidal and Andrea Pirlo. Pogba and Vidal undertook the more advanced roles acting like a spine with Pirlo being the regista.
Another ideal alternative for United would be the 3-5-2. This would consist of three centre-backs who could be, Lindelöf-Bailly-Rojo with Shaw and Valencia covering as full-backs, a midfield three and either Anthony Martial or Alexis Sánchez partnering Romelu Lukaku up-front.
This would result in there being more width in the centre of the park, allowing wing-backs to remain further up the pitch but they could also transition into a back five still maintaining a midfield three – it’s essential to have wing-backs who can run the wings for 90 minutes to persevere with 3/5 at the back. Being able to start off in a 3-5-2 and transform into a 5-3-2 would be suitable for Mourinho.
The final recommendation would be the 3-4-1-2, a formation we rarely use but managed to beat Arsenal with despite their numerous attempts at goal. You could say United as a team played very well and each individual performed. Arsenal attempted to build-up their attack but our third goal came from a Pogba and Lingard lethal counter-attack catching out the high line in Arsenal’s defence. As the game gradually went on, United absorbed too much pressure and were exposed at the back resulting in Arsenal’s 33 shots but David De Gea was sensational as per.
Heading into a tough set of fixtures and a season defining week is crucial for Mourinho in particular. Three at the back would be something to mainly consider playing against the top six sides such as the Manchester City’s, Liverpool’s, Chelsea’s etc. It enables superiority in key areas, an effective way of pressing the opposition without the ball also suiting Sánchez. The realistic approach generally would be the 4-3-3, a fine example is Manchester City this season who have consistently stuck to the 4-3-3, the formation has paid off for them. Going into the game vs. Huddersfield Town, United played the 4-3-3, the midfield three wasn’t perfect but it gave them more balance and with Pogba’s absence it wasn’t the easiest.
Pogba should be in the mix again for the game against Chelsea this weekend after making an appearance off the bench against Sevilla on Wednesday night, but the big question is, what formation will he be utilised in?