José Mourinho’s Manchester United tactics have come under the microscope lately, following two Premier League defeats in three games. After losing to Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle United, with record signing Paul Pogba failing to impact either encounter, many feel a change is needed.
A report by the Daily Record claims that Pogba, too, is frustrated with Mourinho’s current tactics, longing for the Portuguese boss to switch to a formation that would allow for three midfielders, as opposed to the 4-2-3-1 system the former Chelsea manager has preferred since arriving at Old Trafford in 2016.
With many fans calling for United to utilise a 4-3-3 shape, allowing for Pogba to start in his preferred position on the left of a midfield three, some tactical tinkering would be required in order for Mourinho to strike the right balance, making room for his best attacking players while augmenting the middle third.
While 4-3-3 appears to be the formation that best suits United’s most gifted stars, it would, however, throw up a selection dilemma of sorts, with the 20-time champions’ options for the third midfield role alongside Pogba and Nemanja Matić all coming with notable caveats.
Here, we’ve taken a look at five players who could fulfil the role, weighing up the pros and cons of each.
Voted fans’ player of the year last season, Herrera appeared to have made himself a fixture of the United line-up for years to come, leading Premier League midfielders for interceptions per 90 and being the Old Trafford club’s joint-highest assist maker.
But the arrival of Matić from Chelsea in a £40million deal last summer saw Herrera relegated to a back-up role, starting only eight of United’s 27 league games so far this term.
And when he has played, Herrera’s performances have fallen well short of the standard he set last season, often sloppy in possession and adding little of worth when brought into the team.
Stylistically, though, Herrera remains United’s most suitable fit for a box-to-box role on the right of a midfield three, where he would be required to provide energy and positional discipline to counter-balance Pogba’s enigmatic creativity on the opposite side of the trio.
As things stand, however, Herrera’s form does not merit a regular starting berth. The Spain international must first demonstrate that he has recovered from the slump that saw him fall down the pecking order.
Club captain Carrick would be the romantic option for a starting role in a new-look midfield, with the long-serving playmaker set to retire at the end of the current campaign.
But age and a heart condition have severely restricted the 36-year-old’s playing time this term; Carrick’s first Premier League appearance of the season came as a second-half substitute against hometown team Newcastle United last weekend.
Stylistically, Carrick would occupy the central position at the base the midfield triumvirate, conducting play from deep, shielding the defence and allowing Matić to move into a shuttling role more analogous to the one he starred in for Chelsea last season.
With just 24 minutes of Premier League action under his belt in 2017/18, however, asking Carrick to take up a regular starting role would be a bridge too far for the veteran midfielder.
A favourite of Mourinho, if fully fit and firing, Fellaini would likely be the manager’s top pick for the third birth in midfield, with the former Real Madrid and Inter Milan coach valuing the Belgian’s physicality and willingness to carry out his instructions to the letter.
But Fellaini has spent much of this season injured. After replacing Pogba during January’s 2-0 defeat to Spurs, the former Everton man lasted less than ten minutes before having to then be substituted himself as a recurring knee problem flared up.
His return date is unknown and his current contract situation – the 29-year-old’s Old Trafford deal expires at the end of the season, with reports suggesting he could soon move to Turkey – Fellaini’s candidacy is least suspended, if not ruled out altogether.
After making his senior bow last last season, Scott McTominay has become a semi-regular feature of United’s match day squads this term, making 12 appearances in total.
When Mourinho decided to drop Pogba for the recent visit of Huddersfield Town, it was the 21-year-old who took the Frenchman’s place in the line-up.
At 6ft 4ins, McTominay ticks the physical boxes for Mourinho, while also displaying a technical competency and poise on the ball which bellies his tender years.
With academy products prized so highly inside Old Trafford, many United fans would revel in seeing McTominay assume a regular starting berth. However, the youngster’s inexperience is likely to count against him as the crunch stage of the season approaches.
One wildcard option for a role on the right of a midfield three would be Lingard.
The 25-year-old England international has made huge developmental strides this term, becoming somewhat of a fan favourite thanks to his ability to produce the goods in key encounters.
He has, however, featured as either a winger or, more often, in the No.10 role within Mourinho’s 4-2-3-1, meaning his is accustomed to a much more attack-focussed remit.
But one of Lingard’s defining characteristics is his tactical discipline, often the man tasked with leading United’s pressing efforts or doing a marking job on an opposition’s deep-lying playmaker.
With his energy, technical quality and workrate, the former Birmingham City loanee’s skillset matches up well with a box-to-box midfield role.