After a disastrous Sunday for Manchester United at Stamford Bridge, the Reds face yet another strong rival in the form of cross town rivals Manchester City in the English Football League (EFL). The league football tie which generally is not given much importance till semi-final stages, has now garnered interest for fans and players, with a slump in form in recent weeks for both Manchester sides.
The debacle against Chelsea, when United lost 4-0, was largely blamed on defenders Chris Smalling and Daley Blind, who were unable to control Pedro’s run for the first goal and then completely shut down against an enthusiastic Chelsea attack. To add to defensive woes, Eric Bailly suffered a severe knee ligament injury and according to recent reports, is likely to stay out for more than a month.
With a weak back four, Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho is likely to find it hard to contain attackers like Kelechi Iheanacho and Raheem Sterling (not to mention Sergio Aguero, who most likely will start from the bench) with his favourite 4-2-3-1 formation against Guardiola’s typical False-9 formation in the EFL tie. To give United bit of a relief, Kevin De Bruyne has been ruled out with injury.
As football fans would call it, Manchester United can no longer “park the bus” against a tough set of attackers with a weak defensive line, precisely what happened against Chelsea.
What ‘The Special One’ can do is try to beat his rival at his own game and play with a 4-3-3 formation with possibly Zlatan Ibrahimovic as a False-9. The Swede would find it easier to drop into deeper role without a typical no. 10 restricting his movement, just like he did at PSG. Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Juan Mata could be the likely contenders to provide support to Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the front line. The speed of Martial/Rashford and Mata’s skills will help Zlatan to play through balls and one-twos with the wingers when he drops backwards.
The role would also suit the capability of Mkhitaryan, who played in a 4-3-3 formation for Borussia Dortmund as a right winger and was exceptional in providing scoring opportunities to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Maybe, with this formation, Mourinho can find a place for Mkhitaryan in the team and the Armenian can resurrect his career at Old Trafford.
This would also mean that United will employ three midfielders. Michal Carrick can take the central midfield position and play a defensive role, while Ander Herrera and Paul Pogba can play on right and left midfield and can move forward much more freely. With Carrick in the middle, the defensive line can also enjoy a little breather as the 35-year old is capable enough of containing the forward charges from Fernandinho and Jesus Navas and can also help the team with his ball distribution abilities, still being the most accurate passer in the Premier League.
The role would also suit Pogba more as he is used to it when part of Juventus. The Frenchman can easily rotate the ball and move to crucial attacking areas with another attacking midfielder to help him out just like Arturo Vidal and Sami Khedira did the previous season. Right now, paired with a defensive midfielder every week, Mourinho has put shackles on Pogba as he gets marred down by defensive duties.
With 4-2-3-1 being too predictable for opposition, maybe it is time for Mourinho to show his tenacity and experiment with a 4-3-3 formation with a False-9 against Manchester City in the EFL cup.