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Solskjaer Needs To Decide His Best Formation At Manchester United

Solskjaer Needs To Decide His Best Formation At Manchester United

By Billy Brake.

Two convincing wins for Manchester United using the 4-2-3-1 formation seem to indicate that this is the way forward for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his side, but these victories against lesser opposition mean the Norwegian manager shouldn’t ditch the 3-4-1-2 just yet.

It was the formation used against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, and for all their fortune in leaving London with a clean sheet and three much-needed points, United looked a reliable outfit in this shape, one that actually had a game-plan.

It’s been a pattern of Solskjaer’s team this year, beating a competitor for the top four after losing against a team languishing in the bottom half of the table. They have since drawn with Club Brugge, albeit scoring a valuable away goal, before seeing off Watford with ease, doing similar against Brugge in the second leg.

Against Chelsea, Solskjaer deployed the 3-4-1-2 formation, dropping Luke Shaw into a third centre-back role. They were buoyed by Fred and Nemanja Matic in midfield while Brandon Williams and Aaron Wan-Bissaka provided width in attack.

Bruno Fernandes slotted into a number No. 10, finally offering a creative spark in midfield the club had been longing for, with Antony Martial and Daniel James ahead of him to complete the outfield.

Quite simply, this formation is the one that makes United click. It allows the team to be greater than the sum of their parts, which their game against Chelsea proved and is perhaps more of a measure of their quality than an easys wins at home to Watford and Club Brugge.

While Fred and Eric Bailly had tremendous outings versus Chelsea, the latter now pressuring Victor Lindelof for a place in the lineup, it was the performance of the group that really made a mark in that game.

Outlets found themselves in varying degrees of space, overlapping support was frequent and Fernandes’s creativity was bolstered by the security of who was behind him.

True, United’s performance was far from faultless. Chelsea’s press put United under pressure far too often for comfort, while Martial still seemed to lack the striker’s instinct the club needs, regardless of his goal and how fine a header it may have been. When it came to the final third, the team slowed and the attack stagnated.

The shape Solskjaer set his team up in was the same against Liverpool October, when the visitors snatched an 85th-minute equaliser through Adam Lallana in a game the home team will have been frustrated not to win.

He used it again when United beat Chelsea at home in the Carabao Cup. Days later, away at Bournemouth, he reverted to a 4-2-3-1 and lost 1-0.

But it was a 3-4-1-2 which saw defeat at Anfield, and a 4-2-3-1 which saw victory against Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City in the same week, so there is far from a yes-no discussion of what works.

The formation of Solskjaer’s teams are far from the only reason behind the club’s inconsistencies, but the chopping and changing of the set-up doesn’t help.

Against Brugge away, it was altered slightly to a 3-4-2-1 — an attempt to accommodate both Jesse Lingard and Juan Mata. It didn’t work, Martial was too often isolated and it would have made more sense to start Martial and Ighalo, sticking with what had worked earlier that week.

Shaw looks reinvigorated in the 3-4-1-2, able to press forward with cover from Williams but assured with Harry Maguire’s presence by his side. When deployed properly, the side has more options and the overlapping runs take away attacking strain off the forwards, particularly now that Wan-Bissaka seems to have decided he’s willing to cross the ball.

Watford proved a curious test for United. They were unfortunate to have a goal ruled out and regularly caused trouble.

A 3-0 defeat seems harsh on the Hornets, but Fernandes ran the show once again. It saw another change in formation for Solskjaer’s team, an inconsistency which could still be unsettling.

While the attack seems to manage, United’s defence looks far more vulnerable when they play four at the back and without the cover of wing-backs Williams and Wan-Bissaka, and it’s the leaking of goals against smaller opposition which has been the club’s bane this season.

Switching to a 4-2-3-1 in the reverse fixture against Brugge worked superbly, Odion Ighalo remoulding the centre-forward role at United and Fernandes playing with flair the club hasn’t seen in years.

But it’s dangerous ground for United, they’ve been lured by false dawns before this season and Solskjaer has to decide what his base is, if he wants to build.


  • comment-avatar
    Ashilee Paul Scozzy 4 years ago

    I think united should stick with the 3412 formation that works better