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Five tactical changes Mourinho should implement to save Man Utd's season

Having overseen Manchester United's worst start to a league season since 1992/1993 amid a breakdown in communication with Ed Woodward, public belittling of his players, and constant whinging that threatens war with the media, Jose Mourinho is in pretty deep trouble.

Almost everybody is ready to accept things will end badly for the Portuguese at Old Trafford, so closely does this campaign resemble previous third-season capitulations. We've seen these antics before and Mourinho is historically incapable of coming back from such a position; he won't last the season unless he makes dramatic alterations.

Assuming that Mourinho's personality won't be changing any time soon, and that his relationship with the players is set in stone, here are five tactical things the United manager could trial to turn things around:

1) Settle on a centre-back partnership and stick with it

Mourinho dropped Victor Lindelof and Eric Bailly for the game against Tottenham Hotspur having started both in the opening two league matches, and yet Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, and Ander Herrera were considerably worse. All three made major errors in the build-up to Spurs' goals, their shaky performances presumably linked to the manager's public pursuit of new centre-backs and his constant chastising of individual errors.

Repeatedly telling a defender to stop making mistakes is a pretty effective way of ensuring they will continue to do so, not least when a single error will cost them a place in the starting 11 the following week. The United players are struggling to cope with this pressure, which is why Mourinho must pick a centre-back partnership for the season and stick with it – no matter what.

Lindelof simply isn't good enough for this level and should be dropped, while the same can be said for Jones, leaving Smalling and Bailly to lead for the foreseeable future.

2) Play Alexis Sanchez in central attacking midfield

Sanchez had started to go stale at Arsenal before Arsene Wenger switched him into a false nine role, a position that suits the Chilean's quickness of thought and ability to wriggle away from danger in tight areas of the pitch. Sanchez has performed badly since arriving in Manchester in January, and if United are to begin dominating matches again they need their number seven on top form.

Moving Sanchez into central attacking midfield could be the answer. From here, he can have a much greater impact on the game, receiving the ball in dangerous areas (and more frequently) while interacting directly with Paul Pogba. At the moment Sanchez is stuck on a flank that United don't use too often, while the Chile international cutting inside is a predictable move that defenders know how to counteract.

From the middle, Sanchez could also help apply pressure to opposition defenders. His constant pressing inspires higher tempo performances from his team-mates - or at least it would if he had a more prominent role in the team.

3) Trial a Conte-esque 3-4-2-1 to maximise Pogba's abilities

Perhaps a dramatic tactical shakeup is required, and Mourinho could do worse than look to the 3-4-2-1 formation utilised by Antonio Conte when he won the Premier League title in 2016/17. A third centre-back could solidify the nervous United defence; using inside forwards eliminates the need for the wingers Mourinho doesn't like playing; the deployment of wing-backs could release the attacking qualities of Antonio Valencia and Luke Shaw; and Paul Pogba could be reborn as an inside forward.

Pogba's defensive issues are well documented, his inability to play with discipline a cause of frustration throughout his career. However, in a more advanced position (alongside Sanchez) he would be released of structural responsibility. A back three, plus Fred and Nemanja Matic, would be enough to cover for the Frenchman's meandering runs, plus getting Pogba closer to Romelu Lukaku can only be a good thing.

4) Hire an attacking coach

It is well known that Mourinho doesn't coach attacking patterns, leaving it up to the players to improvise in the final third rather than teach "automisations" via rote learning of certain moves. This is a major distinction between the United manager and the rest of the top six coaches, and it is arguably the biggest reason why his teams tend to implode in the third season.

When confidence dips players need to fall back on muscle memory and let their instincts kick in. Low morale inevitably muddles decision-making and makes players more hesitant, which explains why United's attackers are struggling to create chances or play with a high tempo.

Mourinho needs to hire an attacking coach who can drill the players in the same way Jurgen Klopp, Pep Guardiola, and Mauricio Pochettino do. As the United manager's powers begin to fade, it is worth remembering that the key to Sir Alex Ferguson's longevity was constantly adapting with the times - something he achieved by refreshing his coaching staff and remaining open-minded to new ideas.

5) Give Ander Herrera an extended run in the side

Arguably the most talented midfielder in the United squad is Ander Herrera, a man who rarely starts matches under Mourinho and whose versatility frequently holds him back. The Spaniard's composure and positional intelligence can add a sense of control to the United team, not just in possession but without it too; there is no better player in the squad to cover for Pogba, or fill in across the back when the defensive shape gets disrupted.

Herrera was only given 13 starts in the league last season with another 13 off the bench despite making the most interceptions (2.4), the most tackles (4.0), and the second most passes (74.4) per 90 minutes among the United squad, per WhoScored.com. Those statistics suggest Herrera deserves an extended run in the starting 11.

Alex Keble
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Alex Keble

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