Manchester United’s post-Ferguson era has been tumultuous, to say the least, but to say the glory days are on their way back would hardly be an overstatement. For the first time in ages, Jose Mourinho has the Red Devils playing fluid, interchanging football, with chances created and proper defending. However, United still doesn’t score enough goals to take Europe by storm, and according to multiple media outlets, Mourinho’s solution is to smash the transfer record by signing Antoine Griezmann in the summer. Griezmann seems to be angling for a move to United, but there are many questions as to how he would fit in the side.
Starting his career on the left-wing, Griezmann has since developed into a world class central player, but he doesn’t pose the same level of threat on the wing, where he is far away from goal and unable to use his incredible aerial ability. Placing Griezmann in the centre of the pitch would be vital to unlocking the best out of the Frenchman and Manchester United, but Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba are going nowhere, and it would be interesting to speculate as to how United will set up with all three in the side.
The Dream Scenario: 3-5-2 Formation
Advantages: Fitting with recent developments of Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur, arguably the two best sides in the division, United could switch to a 3-5-2 and deploy themselves in a formation that brings the best out of the majority of United’s players. Marcos Rojo would be able to play in the channel between centre-back and left-back, with Eric Bailly mirroring him, Daley Blind could function as a proper centre-back (or wing-back), and Chris Smalling and Phil Jones could be handed a lifeline at the club.
Paul Pogba played in a 3-5-2 successfully for Juventus, transitioning the formation to a 3-4-3 by joining two forwards in attack. Ander Herrera could play in the deeper midfield role and make surging runs into midfield, allowing Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Paul Pogba the freedom to supply two forwards (likely Griezmann behind Ibrahimovic). This system would allow for the rotation of Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford in well-suited roles for them, Jesse Lingard could play in a variety of positions to suit United, and Juan Mata would no longer be shoehorned out to the right side.
Disadvantages: This system possesses the potential to be unplayable, but United has famously struggled with three-at-the-back systems.
The Realistic Scenario: 4-2-3-1 Formation
The likely scenario, which is less likely, would be playing Griezmann in the centre of attacking midfield and deploying Pogba in a defensive midfield role. This role could bring out the best of his physical attributes and allow him to control the game, effectively allowing him to develop weaker aspects of his game if there are any. With a strong defensive midfielder alongside Pogba to replace Michael Carrick, Pogba would also be able to move forward and open up defences, creating key moments from the side in Frank Lampard-esque fashion. With two pacey wingers in the form of Anthony Martial and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, United would create a free-flowing, electric, frightening attack that could break any defence in world football effortlessly in this formation.
Disadvantages: United could still struggle with the fluidity of the 4-2-3-1 system, one that is seldom successful and limits attacking football. Griezmann’s rigid position would either require him to drop into deeper areas when Pogba gets caught in possession or to prevent Pogba from running beyond his close compatriot.
The Wildcard Scenario: 4-4-2 Formation
Still the most successful formation in football, United could produce a phenomenal 4-4-2 formation with Paul Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitaryan as hard-working, narrow wingers, transitioning the side to a diamond when Ander Herrera leads United’s press. This type of 4-4-2 could also initiate Timothy Fosu-Mensah’s rise to prominence as a central midfielder, allowing him to play a deep role and cover ground as the most important player in the side, and also keep the potential for Michael Carrick to slot in when needed in the side. 4-4-2 would feature overlapping fullbacks, passionate midfield performances, the reinvention of Paul Pogba, dogged central defenders, risk-taking, and youth debuts.
Disadvantages: Pogba’s inability to play on the left side of midfield could throw the side out of balance, and the side could struggle with a lack of pace without Anthony Martial. Pogba, Fosu-Mensah, Herrera, and Mkhitaryan all offer pace, but none is an outlet with an abundance of pace.