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Why stubborn Mourinho must scrap his 4-2-3-1 system to ensure Man Utd success

COMMENT: If there is one coach who has experienced a successful managerial career by using the 4-2-3-1 formation, it's Jose Mourinho. The Portuguese tactician has deployed this setup since his days at FC Porto and although it limits his side from playing to their potential, it has not stopped the 54-year-old from winning a league title in every country he has managed in.

However, the formation has become ineffective and old fashioned as Europe's well-known clubs now use the 4-3-3 system or the back-three/five setup. Even in the Premier League, Manchester United are the only top-six outfit that still play within the 4-2-3-1 system.

As the Red Devils' style of play still remains quite predictable and frustrating to watch from time to time, it would be better late than never for the former Chelsea and Real Madrid boss to consider a change to a new formation in order to get the best out of his individuals along with making sure the side's tactical fluidity for the big games is more than balanced.

Despite having the best defence in the league alongside Antonio Conte's Chelsea, conceding only 16 goals in 24 games, United's non-penalty expected goals against their side is a figure of 28.16, proving that a lot of their defensive brilliance has come from shot-stopper David De Gea who has bailed out his team-mates on many occasions. This proves that the double pivot in the 4-2-3-1 system will more or less be overran by a three-man midfield, which is always the case for when an opposition comes to Old Trafford.

Up till now, central midfielder Paul Pogba has done well to adapt to the duty he covers in a double pivot within the middle of the park, where he has to play as a deep-lying playmaker instead of his favourite role as a box-to-box midfielder. The fact the he importantly dictates play as well as instruments the side's attack consistently as Nemanja Matic is seen as the team's destroyer in front of the defence, leaves a lot of space in the centre for the opposition's midfield to break into.

On the other hand, this situation would not have occurred if United were playing within a three-man midfield. The Frenchman is the club's most expensive signing of all time and it would be a huge shame if he is not used higher up the pitch, where the side need him the most.

Against Everton a few weeks ago, Pogba literally ran the show when Mourinho played a midfield three at Goodison Park, with Ander Herrera and Nemanja Matic playing alongside the 24-year-old.

Furthermore, a midfield of three individuals would help to distribute the defensive and attacking responsibility evenly, thus allowing the midfielders to save up some stamina.

On top of that, one of the key benefits of having three central midfielders is that there are many types of passing routines the side can create in terms of using the full size of the pitch towards the team's abilities and making the ground look small when you're aiming to retrieve possession.

With that being said, the recent arrival of Alexis Sanchez to Old Trafford should increase the chances of Mourinho utilising the 4-3-3 system, given the squad possess the ideal attackers to either be ruthless in the home games or break on the counter effectively in the fixtures away from home.

Since Pogba likes to roam forward as well as both Sanchez and Anthony Martial having the tendency to cut into the middle from the flanks, a number ten is not needed within the side's formation.

If the manager makes it happen very soon, the three-man midfield should include Pogba on the left side, Matic as the more holding player whilst either Herrera or Marouane Fellaini providing the late runs into the final third and making up the numbers in the middle of the pitch from the right area.

This would lead to unlocking the potential of Pogba, who currently has the most league assists (9) and most key passes completed per game (2.1), compared to the rest of the players at the club.

Overall, the 4-2-3-1 system was used by the likes of David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal, in the end, they left Manchester United with no success in the league or in Europe.

The situation is different with Mourinho for sure, though, as moving to the 4-3-3 setup will guarantee him and his team success in the long run.

About the author

Asif Norat

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