Insights: The impact of potentially changing Manchester United’s formation to 4-3-3

Paul Pogba

The arrival of Paul Pogba at Manchester United is the epitome of change- a shift in the gears of English Football, a striving effort to reverse the tides of a European football landscape firmly against them. The extrinsic value of Pogba’s arrival is a domino effect that comes with the intertwined integration of European football, so much so that many have ignored the intrinsic value of the Frenchman at Manchester United. Countless analysts have a microscopic eye on the number of pounds United paid for the Frenchman and not the qualities he brings to Manchester United on the football pitch.

Because the events on the football pitch determine the business value of the game to enough of an extent, the sport has remained intact. Clubs are able to focus on monetary value and have it directly coincide with impact on the football pitch. This means that, ultimately, the events on the football pitch still play an integral role in determining the operations carried out in a football club.

Therefore, it can be determined that Pogba’s arrival and the impact it has on the pitch will be an integral factor in the club’s decision making during his tenure at the club. The reason I focus on Pogba is because he is now the most tactically relevant footballer at Manchester United, and Pogba is both qualitatively and quantitatively more effective from the left of a midfield three. Therefore, it is logical to presume United could face the conundrum of switching to a system in which three men are deployed in midfield- more specifically, a 4-3-3.

Obviously, this involves stumbling blocks along the way- what happens to other players who function more effectively, or solely, in the current 4-2-3-1? How could this change the way United’s wingers play football? What could it mean for United’s future in the transfer market? Because United is chasing success, it is firmly arguable that the future of the club on the pitch is in a 4-3-3 formation. What could this mean for United’s squad?

Wayne Rooney

What becomes of the club’s chief attacking midfielder when there is no place for them in the side? Jose Mourinho bluntly blasted any painful suggestions that Wayne Rooney could be a midfielder in any way. Therefore, there will be no room for Rooney. Changing to 4-3-3 will ensure that Rooney’s place in the side is even more forced than in a 4-2-3-1 if he is even included. The result is the wonderful end to the inhumane favouritism of Rooney around the club. Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic have replaced him as the faces of the club already, representing the first step.

However, the change to 4-3-3 can bring the best out of all of United’s other creative midfielders- Ander Herrera, Pogba, Juan Mata and even Marouane Fellaini. In a midfield where their creative freedom is increased in favour of fluid football, Mata could find a home on the right-wing, unless he chooses to leave the club. Mata on the right of a 4-3-3 against a 4-2-3-1 was day and night, and the same goes for Fellaini in the midfield roles. The only exception to the rule is Henrikh Mkhitaryan, but the Armenian is a technically gifted footballer who works hard- he will likely find success in any role he plays. 4-3-3 will bring the best out of United’s players, instead of a static system hampered by an ineffective attacking midfielder.

The most important beneficiary of this change would likely be Anthony Martial, who could play a Messi-esque role on the left side of attack. Cutting in and finding room to finish while having a position for his own technical brilliance will accelerate his growth into one of the world’s most threatening attacking footballers.

Youth Development

A settled 4-3-3 system will make it easier for youth players to play senior football. Andreas Pereira will enjoy the ability to float left like Pogba with the support of a midfield, while Adnan Januzaj can be both a midfielder and a forward on either side of the attack. Timothy Fosu-Mensah’s adjustment to playing midfield in the Premier League, should he choose to do so, will be far easier. Joe Riley and Cameron Borthwick-Jackson will have extensive support at fullback, while Axel Tuanzebe will be guarded by three midfielders will have the defensive support of a midfielder and a winger. The fluidity of a 4-3-3 allows players to share responsibilities and change positions. The likes of Rooney and Fellaini will slowly be replaced by younger footballers who will grow into more technical, intelligent footballers than their lethargic predecessors.

Template for Future Signings, Squad

4-3-3 was the beginning of Total Football at Ajax, which presented a tactical variety that added too much study work for defenders. United won’t play Total Football, but they could do the same, and these players are available in football. United won’t be signing veterans, but young, vibrant footballers who will allow them to scramble opposition with a seemingly unlimited budget and a brand of youth football.

The defensive template is there- destructive defenders and, situationally, ball-playing defenders. Chris Smalling, Eric Bailly and Daley Blind all offer something different, the former two in the same role- and the fourth could be Bilbao’s young man, Aymeric Laporte, or optimistically Ro-Shaun Williams/Axel Tuanzebe. Joe Riley or Tyrell Warren could eventually displace Antonio Valencia and provide the energy to Matteo Darmian’s discipline. Cameron Borthwick-Jackson is a dangerous crosser while Luke Shaw possesses searing pace. World class defences are built, not bought, so United shouldn’t splash big money on a defender every window.

Expect squad depth to be increased in midfield. Blind, Carrick, Schneiderlin, Herrera, Fellaini and Pogba would stand as United’s current options in midfield. Carrick will likely leave at the end of this season, leaving United with four midfielders. United would want six-seven midfielders to choose from for a 4-3-3 system, with an influx of youth players closely behind- hopefully, Fosu-Mensah and Pereira will be part of the first set, but United won’t be afraid to dip into the market if Schneiderlin and Herrera don’t meet Mourinho’s expectations of a Champions League midfielder

With Martial, Ibrahimovic, Rashford, Lingard and Mkhitaryan in advanced areas, and if Mourinho’s Januzaj idea goes to plan, the only replacement in the near future will be for Ibrahimovic. Many hope it will be James Wilson with Rashford in the first team, but I feel less optimistic. Mourinho will have to dip into the market for this one. United needs to create squad depth without a big squad, therefore allowing youth opportunities and balanced playing time. Therefore, options deemed unreliable will be out as fast as others will come in. The likes of Lingard and Mkhitaryan would be able to play midfield roles.

Football is forever evolving, and this summer, it seems United has finally caught up. It needs to be set in stone that they don’t fall behind, and United WILL fall behind if they don’t prioritise players like Pogba and Mkhitaryan and favour Rooney again- I cannot stress that enough. Time is ticking, and United needs to make the final statement that they are not trying to prevent that from happening. By evolving beyond the past successes while adhering to the club’s youth strategies and being ruthless in the transfer market, United will make a mountainous statement- nothing, no one will hold United back.

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