In football, six months is a lifespan of time in which the entire world can turn upside down. Leicester City is the prime example of this, and, in the opposite, Chelsea. As for Manchester United, nobody would’ve believed that the Red Devils would have signed the likes of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the best players from three of Europe’s top five leagues, six months ago. Now, though, it almost seems inferable that United could very well sign the best player for both the Champions League and Euro 2016 finalists in Antoine Griezmann.
Griezmann, who sees David Beckham as his idol and is close friends with Pogba, could smash the transfer record with a move to United that would see the Red Devils inch closer to Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid on a football level. However, there is a rulebook based around getting the best out of Griezmann, who looked misused until moved to central areas by Didier Deschamps for France.
Griezmann tends to function in a central role alongside another forward, being allowed to do so due to his extraordinary work rate. The Frenchman is able to recover with tremendous pace and stamina, defying the odds of various French football coaches who told him he wasn’t tall enough to be an elite forward. In hope and honour of a truly wonderful player who could be wearing red next season, here are the three best ways in which United could set up with Griezmann on the pitch.
Option 1: 4-2-3-1
Griezmann’s arrival at United has been mainly spoken about in the context of a replacement for Wayne Rooney, and he would most likely play his best football if he slotted exactly the same way into the side. By joining the strikers and recovering into midfield to provide the numbers, Griezmann played his best football for France, and he could play a similar role for United.
In this system, similar to the one he played in for France, Zlatan Ibrahimovic would function as the big-man up top, allowing Griezmann to find himself in good areas and try and score goals with brilliant movement. However, Ibrahimovic’s United career will soon come to an end, as the Swedish striker is undoubtedly in the twilight of his playing career and, then, United will need to adapt systems.
Option 2: Hard-Working 4-4-2
Griezmann’s French compatriot, Anthony Martial, showed good defensive work rate last season for United, and they could form the perfect hard-working strike partnership for United in a 4-4-2, where the strikers and wingers share defensive responsibility and break with pace. Jesse Lingard would provide the width and work, while Henrikh Mkhitaryan would be the one to provide the spark. Marcus Rashford and Memphis could also benefit from this system, one in which they are not as much-needed for their presence but more for their running and goal-scoring ability.
Option 3: Diamond
Pogba played his best football on the left side of the diamond, and with wingers to stretch the pitch, Griezmann would have unlimited freedom as one of the strikers in the diamond. With Pogba on the left side of the diamond and Lingard in a deeper role on the right, Mkhitaryan piecing the talent together and Morgan Schneiderlin or, eventually, Timothy Fosu-Mensah at the base of midfield, United would boast considerable attacking prowess that would be nearly impossible to mark.
Option 4: 5-2-1-2
Daley Blind, Chris Smalling and Eric Bailly represent three elite defenders in United’s setup for the first time in years, and they could form the perfect trio in the centre of defence. This system, which would also bring the best out of Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia as wingbacks, would allow United to have six in midfield, six in defence and five in attack, so long as all the players are working hard.
Many fans are reluctant to see the 5-3-2 in the Premier League, and rightly so- it doesn’t work with English sides and quick wingers who tear defences apart. However, in the Champions League, where teams play very narrowly, it could be a useful option. Schneiderlin, Mkhitaryan and Pogba could attack without necessarily needing to worry about counters, Blind could overload the midfield and break the opposition apart, and Bailly and Smalling represent ideal sweepers to win the ball and quickly distribute to Young, Valencia and Blind- ideal transition footballers in defence, but not exposed by the lack of numbers. Then, Griezmann would have unlimited creative freedom alongside Ibrahimovic, completing a wildcard option that seems particularly intriguing.