After a week of intensive pressure, Manchester United managed to respond to the shocking 5-0 defeat against Liverpool with an impressive, albeit, comfortable 3-0 victory against Tottenham Hotspur. Many had suspected United would have had a different manager in charge this past weekend, however Ole Gunnar Solskjaer retained confidence from the club despite a large outcry from certain fans against him.
Solskjaer made a good decision to adjust United’s formation into a 3-5-2, making the team look far more comfortable defensively. With the impressive display against Tottenham, it seems this setup could be the way forward for United.
It’s not the first time United have effectively deployed the 3-5-2, Solskjaer’s side recorded a very impressive 2-1 victory against Paris Saint-Germain last season using the same system. Aside from this game there have been victories against both Manchester City and Chelsea in the past using the 3-5-2, which cements it as a formation that can be used to thwart the higher quality teams.
Across his tenure at United Solskjaer has largely played more of a counter attacking game, although this season it looked as if Solskjaer had shifted away from that slightly. Games against Leicester and Liverpool recently highlighted Solskjaer’s desire to use a 4-2-4, a formation that saw United played off the park in both games, conceding nine in total across the two games.
It may be that the addition of high-quality players such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Raphael Varane has fooled Solskjaer into thinking he can get away with playing a more offensive game with less focus on defensive structure, however, it just doesn’t work like that.
The issue with the United team is a large contingent of attacking minded players who when deployed in more offensive formations leave the defence totally exposed. United have looked like trying to deploy more of a press in recent weeks, however, it’s not the same as the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City, who have perfected their systems over the last few years to work flawlessly.
Additionally, Solskjaer doesn’t possess the right set of players to deploy aggressive presses like some teams, Ronaldo and Mason Greenwood may be exceptional finishers, however they aren’t players who will press effectively.
In the game against Tottenham, the inclusion of three centre-backs with two wing-backs meant United had a much more secure shape and were less susceptible to being played through in the middle. Ronaldo also had a strike partner in the form of veteran striker Edinson Cavani, who scored a wonderful goal in the second half set up by partner Ronaldo.
In recent weeks Ronaldo has had the tendency to look a little isolated at times, so the change of formation could be hugely beneficial for the Portuguese forward, allowing more direct link up play to occur. Another facet of the change meant United looked like they were a lot more compact and closer together, Bruno Fernandes occupying a slightly deeper role than he usually does.
There were no more gaping holes in midfield and both Scott McTominay and Fred looked far more comfortable marauding the midfield with three defenders securely behind them.
One of the issues that arises from switching to a formation with three at the back is in regard to the reduced roles it affords to United’s more offensive players. The club secured Jadon Sancho in the summer for a hefty fee of £73 million, but unfortunately the young winger has had limited opportunities to impress thus far.
Sancho is still finding his feet and worryingly a formation change could mean he has even less of a chance of breaking into the team this season. The drawback of 3-5-2 is the lack of out and out attacking wingers, which for United is problematic considering the depth and quality available in that position. Marcus Rashford, Greenwood and Sancho are just three of the several wingers who possess top level quality at the club, meaning there’s no chance all of them get into the team at the same time.
While both Rashford and Greenwood could occupy the striker role next to Ronaldo, it’s unlikely Sancho would play in such a role considering his ability as a natural winger; giving Solskjaer something to think about in regard to accommodating all of his players.
United face two difficult upcoming games in the next week, one against Atalanta in the Champions League and a derby against city rivals Manchester City. It’s very likely that Solskjaer will stick with the 3-5-2, or some variation of it, and the Norwegian will hope United can pick up further clean sheets against two difficult sides.
Despite the comfortable win against Tottenham, United will have to work to perfect a new system if Solskjaer chooses to stick with it, but further wins in the next week could gift Solskjaer a new lease of life on his team and more importantly, offer a new way to play going forward.
Written by Sam Wilson