Heading into this season, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was always going to be fighting a losing battle. After years of turbulence during the post Sir Alex Ferguson era, the club has not established a solid platform for any manager to succeed on.
The road back to the top is undoubtedly a long and bumpy journey, and many had already written this season off before a ball had been kicked. Instead of aiming for silverware or getting ambitious hopes up about a Champions League spot, the Norwegian’s tasks for this campaign was about putting the small building blocks in place to lay out a successful route for the club in the future.
To some extent, United have taken a step in the right direction this season off the field, with their direct recruitment of young exciting talents, plus the removal of figures that were not seen as part of the club’s long-term plans. Where the side is currently lacking though is, however, their improvement on the field.
Finally found a successful system?
The main criticism of United this season has been from their lack of attacking prowess, with the team continuously failing to carve open chances. In fact, since the opening day victory over Chelsea, the Red Devils have not managed to score two goals in a game.
Operating in a 4-2-3-1 formation, Marcus Rashford has been starved of support up-front this season, with the team lacking an efficient plan to get the best out of their attackers. It can be argued that some of their players simply aren’t good enough for this level, but when United are being outscored by the likes of Wolves, Aston Villa and Burnley, it’s too simplistic to solely blame individual talent.
Against Liverpool on Sunday though, the team operated with much more belief and energy in the final third in a 3-5-2 setup, with more men committing themselves forward. One man who certainly flourished in such a system was Rashford, who was continuously finding space to attack in and around the Liverpool defence.
With Daniel James offering closer support to the Englishman, the forwards looked to have more freedom to roam and create chances for one another. Such a statement is supported by United’s goal in the game, with James flying down the right-flank and delivering a dangerous ball into the box, which Rashford successfully converted.
Andreas Pereira was another figure that looked much more rejuvenated on the weekend, with the Brazilian’s movement causing issues in the first half. There were plenty of encouraging signs to take from United’s attacking plan in the opening 45 minutes, particularly in comparison to their recent, lethargic performances.
Foundation at the back
Despite conceding late on, a 3-5-2 formation can not only help the Red Devils from an attacking stand point, but from a defensive one too. Solskjaer has made it clear that he wants his central defenders to play out from the back and maintain a patient approach, hence the continuous pairing of Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof.
Both central defenders are figures that will be comfortable in such a system, as they are two defenders that enjoy distributing from deep. It’s also interesting to see that the Norwegian manager was prepared to start with Axel Tuanzebe on Sunday, a youngster that is certainly deserving of his chance in the first team.
The Englishman unfortunately pulled out of the XI due to an injury, but this formation would allow all three of United’s best center-halves to play at once. Conceding goals hasn’t necessarily been the main concern for the club so far this season, but operating with three at the back can help solidify a strong foundation for Solskjaer to build on.
Implanting a blueprint
Not many were expecting a miracle from Solskjaer this season, but instead, fans want to see an improvement on the field and step in the direction of implanting a successful and new philosophy for years to come.
Establishing a system on the field is arguably the beginning point of such a rebuilding job and the manager simply has to try and elaborate on this performance at the weekend. The players looked much more comfortable with the security that more bodies across the middle of the park offered, plus the dynamic options up-front.
Could this be the system that helps reinvigorate Solskjaer’s team? After such a poor start to the season, it would simply be naïve to not try and experiment further with this encouraging formation.