Manchester United is in an interesting place in world football, with the fact they’ve missed out on Champions League being somewhat cancelled out by the fact they’ve just hired Jose Mourinho. From purely a footballing perspective, though, it seems United is on a great path back to success because Mourinho is looking to obliterate any attacking problems United had last season. Attack, known to be United’s greatest struggle during Louis van Gaal and David Moyes’ tenures at the club, is now reportedly being addressed by the signings of three top-tier talents Paris Saint-Germain’s veteran striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Dortmund’s classy attacking midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and James Rodriguez, arguably the biggest product in Colombian football since Radamel Falcao.
Ibrahimovic’s contract at PSG expires at the end of this month, and he’s been linked with United more than with any club. After playing for Sweden at Euro 2016, he decided to retire internationally, and most believe his last major move will now be to United. Ibrahimovic let out a massive grin when asked about United before Euro 2016, which is believed to be a massive hint. Ibrahimovic has represented Malmo, Ajax, both San Siro clubs, Juventus, Barcelona and PSG in his illustrious career, with his moves between these clubs forming the most expensive combined fee of all time. Sources believe his agent, Mino Raiola, is expected to complete a deal within the next week.
Another player represented by Raiola is Borussia Dortmund’s spectacular Armenian Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who is fresh off a world class season that saw him score 23 goals and provide 32 assists. Dortmund seems to be in the middle of somewhat of a clear out with Mats Hummels and Ilkay Gundogan leaving the club already this summer. With Mkhitaryan’s contract reportedly expiring next year, Dortmund is looking to offload him to make some profit, and Manchester United is reportedly his dream club. Raiola has been more than vocal about Mkhitaryan’s desire to move to United and the negotiation of a deal despite the fact Dortmund is still reluctant to let him go.
Finally, United has been long linked with Real Madrid’s ridiculously talented James Rodriguez, who, though still young, does not fit in with the likes of Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema at Real Madrid. Now, more than ever, sources are saying United could finally complete a £50 million deal to see James Rodriguez move to Manchester United. It was Rodriguez who arguably forced Angel Di Maria out of Real Madrid, and now Real is not satisfied because Rodriguez has not lived up to those lively expectations.
Nobody knows what to expect with these transfers last week it was just Ibrahimovic who looked like completing a deal to move to United, but then Mkhitaryan and Rodriguez rumours surfaced out of nothing. United fans would have expected to see one of these transfers completed, but now we could potentially see two of these deals completed in the next week. I’d like to imagine a world in which all three of these players signed for United- how would they fit in? It would most likely be in one of the following four ways.
Option 1: 4-4-2
As arguably the two most overachieving clubs in Europe right now, Leicester City and Atletico Madrid have used a hard-working 4-4-2 system to elevate themselves to the top of football. With a slight lack of players in midfield, Eric Bailly would start in the centre of defence instead of Blind, who would be perfect to play alongside Morgan Schneiderlin in midfield. I’ve also included Timothy Fosu-Mensah at right-back, because, though Darmian is a good choice, Fosu-Mensah is a better crosser of the ball and would allow Mkhitaryan to cut inside.
The most obvious option would be to include Rodriguez and Mkhitaryan on the wings, but Rodriguez may be a defensive liability, so I’ve gone for the Riyad Mahrez-esque Anthony Martial on the left of midfield and Mkhitaryan on the right. Rodriguez played as a second striker in a 4-4-2 during the World Cup when he played his best ever football, so Rodriguez would line up just behind Ibrahimovic. With Rodriguez representing Ibrahimovic’s mobility.
Option 2: 4-2-3-1
In 2015-16, United played a 4-2-3-1 for most of the season and struggled moving forward until they switched to a 4-3-3/4-1-4-1 formation and found more attacking freedom. Dortmund also played 4-2-3-1 last season, and it brought the best out of Mkhitaryan, who found creative freedom on the right. With Mkhitaryan, Martial and Rodriguez switching around behind Ibrahimovic, United would probably become quite the attacking force. Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger would most likely anchor that midfield, with Ander Herrera and Mata forming a rotation.
Option 3: 4-3-3
United’s best football since Louis van Gaal retired came from a 4-3-3 formation, where two of the three midfielders had the freedom to roam and cause problems. With Herrera and Mkhitaryan in front of Schneiderlin, United would have the creativity to cause serious problems, and Rodriguez would be in the right-wing role where he found success at Monaco and Porto. With Martial on the other flank, there would be a more direct threat to balance the pitch.
Option 4: 5-3-2
United’s 5-3-2 did not work in van Gaal’s first season because there was no direct runner to break defences down at the top (Di Maria being the horrible solution). Now, however, United has Martial, Memphis, and Marcus Rashford, and with one leading the line alongside Ibrahimovic (or eventually the three of them together), Ashley Young and Matteo Darmian/Antonio Valencia could service the wings properly.
Blind is perfect to dictate play from deep, and Schneiderlin would anchor the creative talents in midfield. It would also be interesting to test Timothy Fosu-Mensah at wingback- perhaps it would be too wide for him, but there is also a chance he would be able to have the pivotal influence he should always be able to have on a football pitch.