Is This Manchester United’s Best Starting XI to qualify for Europe?
If there is one thing that became clear from the humiliating 2-0 defeat at Olympiakos, it is that Manchester United are currently some way off the quality required to compete at the highest level. The ineligibility of Juan Mata to play in the UCL hurt them dearly in what was expected to be perhaps the most straightforward encounter of the Champions League knock-out stages.
Given how crucial Juan Mata is to United’s chances of securing European football next season, it is only fair that going forward, manager David Moyes forms the starting XI to build around the strengths of the Spaniard. They are currently 11 points of Liverpool in fourth place, so a Champions League spot seems too farfetched at this point of time but they certainly have the capability of overturning the 5 point gap they are trailing Tottenham by.
Previously, I had talked about the possible setups that Moyes might use to incorporate Mata upon his arrival at Old Trafford. While I had said that the most likely formation he was going to use was a 4-2-2-2 with Mata and Jnauzaj playing as the two attacking midfielders and Rooney dropping into the hole to get more involved, playing in that formation has meant that Mata has been shackled by his responsibility to track back when needed.
In order to maximize the potential of Juan Mata, it is about time Moyes decided to adapt his tactics and setup to the players at his disposal rather than decide on the formation and then look for possible options to fit in. Which brings us to the question- which is United’s best midfield pairing? It is difficult to say since no one apart from Carrick has impressed on a consistent basis.
However, both Darren Fletcher and Marouane Fellaini have been impressive since their respective returns from injuries. So, rather than using one of them to partner with Carrick, it wouldn’t be the worst decision to play both of them in a bid to beef up the midfield and take more control of games. United play narrow in midfield any which way given the propensity of both Mata and Januazaj to drift into central positions, requiring the fullbacks to provide the necessary width.
While United’s fullbacks are more than capable of this task, doing so on a consistent basis leaves them vulnerable at the back as Carrick on his own isn’t always able to cover for them. Playing three midfielders in Carrick, Fletcher and Fellaini in tandem would mean that there would be ample cover for the full backs when they go forward.
At the same time, this would allow Rooney to play in a more advanced role beside Robin Van Persie and make space for Mata to move into a central role a la a Trequartista, where he would be best able to use his vision and creativity to find not one, but two strikers. This would best utilize the talents of United’s offensive trio as they would have sufficient defensive cover not be worried about tracking back.
While it is easier to say rather than implement it on the pitch, this approach would not only utilize the best resources available to Moyes but it would also provide something different for opposition sides to contend with. After all, how much worse could it get?