What Formation Jose Should Use Next Season?
It’s safe to say that Jose Mourinho’s first season at Manchester United hasn’t gone to plan. On paper, it looks like a successful season, with 2 trophies and Champions League football guaranteed. However, a deeper inspection shows that a lot of change is needed, particularly in the league, where United finished 6th. Improvements have to be made everywhere, more so in the defence department.
United shipped in the second lowest number of goals last season, and the joint lowest in Van Gaal’s final season. That doesn’t quite explain the full story. United need at least a new centre-back and a left-back, with Shaw and Rojo out with longterm injuries. Smalling, Jones, Blind and Darmian are not the top level defenders around who Mourinho can build his defence. This could also shape United’s formation for the upcoming season, with Jose flirting with the idea of a 3 man backline last season, with varying degrees of success.
The 3 man backline became a trend in the English league last season, with Conte using it to devastating effect and winning the title in his first season, Pochettino using it to finish second and Arsene Wenger perfecting it in the glorious FA Cup final victory over the newly crowned Champions. Mourinho has rarely used the 3 man defence in his career, opting mostly for the conventional 4-2-3-1.
The only time I recall him using the 3 man defence was in his second stint at Chelsea when they needed a goal. He introduced a striker in the place of Azpilicueta, moving Ivanovic in as the 3rd centre-back alongside Cahill and Terry. He also used it this season, for the first time away at Rostov, to counter their 3-4-3. He ended up getting a decent 1-1 draw considering the pitch conditions. He tried the same against Anderlecht and Chelsea, and the results were mixed.
A narrow victory over the Belgians and a loss to Chelsea meant that it was still a work in progress. However, United’s best performance of the season, the 2-0 home victory over Chelsea means that Mourinho can make it work with slight changes being made.
At the moment, it doesn’t sound like the best idea to try a 3-4-3/3-5-2 formation simply because United don’t have the players of the required calibre. As seen in the success of the formation by Arsenal, Chelsea and Spurs, not only does the system need a good set of centre-backs, but also marauding full-backs and 2 excellent playmakers. Bellerin looked rejuvenated in a RWB role for Arsenal after a tough season and Ox made an impressive transformation as a wingback due to his energy and crossing ability. Moses and Alonso had excellent seasons as wingbacks, and Rose and Walker are superb players and so they made it tick.
Moreover, all the 3 teams had 2 creative outlets to take the load of creating the chances, in a 3-4-2-1, Alli and Eriksen for Spurs, Ozil and Sanchez for Arsenal, and Hazard and Pedro for Chelsea. The wingbacks and the 2 creative forwards are where United don’t have the personnel for a 3 back formation. While Valencia is an excellent RB/RWB, Blind and Darmian are simply not good enough to play that role at a high level over the course of a season.
Shaw is yet to overcome his injury issues so he’s not in the discussion for now. Also, apart from Bailly, United don’t have a solid centre-back. Smalling and Jones have been good in patches, and Rojo, who had an excellent season in the centre, is ruled out for a very long time. Mkhitaryan and Mata have supreme creative abilities but they’re best when used as central attacking units, with runners around them.
United are sure to buy players in the summer, with Mourinho sure to enhance the squad to improve next season. A 4-3-3 is still how United should be looking to line up next season, not only because of the aforementioned issues but also because a 3 man midfield should get the best out Paul Pogba. His attacking talent will be curbed in a 3-4-2-1, because of the defensive burden that the midfield role brings with it. Pogba has been at his devastating best when allowed to operate as a free central midfielder with 2 others ensuring he doesn’t need to come back to defend.
Apart from all this, 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 is how Mourinho became a world class manager and won a number of trophies. Considering the squad issues and his unfamiliarity with formation, along with getting the best out of Pogba, Jose should stick to his tried and tested 4 back formations.