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Could Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United be successful playing 3-4-3?

At times last season, Manchester United looked short of options in the final third, with many of the attacks becoming congested in the centre. In the 4-3-3 formation Jose Mourinho adopted in the final few games of the season, much depends on the willingness of the full-backs to get forward. Although Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia were willing runners, they’d have been far more effective had they been overlapping options rather than the only outlets from wide.

Such a system can only really work when there are two central midfielders, as a three-man midfield automatically results in the ball being forced through the middle rather than out wide. As Mourinho is highly unlikely to play two up front, could a 3-4-3 system work with the players United have got?

Currently United may be one quality centre-back light to have three at the back, though there is still considerable depth, with Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof arguably the best two. Chris Smalling ended the season well and although he is not as good on the ball as the other two, he could easily fill in as the third centre-back whilst United seek a better option. This may come in the form of the transfer market, with reports suggest Toby Aldeweireld may be on the wishlist, or it may be as United develop the qualities of Axel Tuanzebe and Timothy Fosu-Mensah. Either way, the formation fits our defensive options.

It appears Mourinho is also in the market for full-backs, with reports of Diogo Dalot being on the way in as a future successor for Valencia. Ashley Young and Luke Shaw provide strong options at left wing-back, and a more advanced position would give the wing-backs greater license to get forward.

As for options in central midfield, United have a wealth of options and it appears there may be a couple of additions to that. The problem in midfield lies with Paul Pogba; he has easily performed at his best for United when playing on the left of a midfield three rather than in a two, as it gives him greater freedom and allows his creativity to flourish. However, if he plays alongside a more defensive midfielder, such as Nemanja Matic, there is plenty of cover for him to roam forward and be a creator, as he does often for the French national side when playing with N’Golo Kante. If this system was to be implemented, Mourinho has to drill a more attacking mindset into Pogba.

As for the attacking options, the wing-backs would give the option of playing genuine wingers or playing slightly more centrally to account for the one less central midfielder. If the latter option is still resulting in a lack of width, the former can be reverted to in order to best maximise the talents of Romelu Lukaku. Last season there were far too few quality crosses towards the towering Belgian, and those which he got he generally made the keeper make a save or converted. The only slight issue here is the lack of genuine wingers at the club. Although there are many attacking options going forward, almost all of them are converted strikers or number 10s, which results in them naturally cutting inside. This was one of the major reasons why the middle of the pitch often became congested last season.

Although playing wing-backs partially solves the problem, a 3-4-3 formation may need a genuine winger. United currently lack that, though Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford could be moulded into the position, and Mourinho may once again look to Ivan Perisic.

At this moment, United may be one or two players short if they were to play in a 3-4-3 formation, but with potential additions this summer, it could result in a much more fluid style of football in the final third.

Written by Rob Potter

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