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Manchester United: 3 formations

Posted: Jul 6, 2022

Manchester United, inspired by Erik Ten Hag, seems to have woken up in the transfer market. The activity thus far seems like a welcome change from previous seasons. The change is, of course, along expected lines. There has been major shifting in Manchester United's hierarchy this season. In every possible way, the Erik Ten Hag era is fresh start. No more of Ed Woodward and his entourage. Richard Arnold and John Murtough now govern transfer market activity and functioning of Manchester United. Ten Hag, one believes, runs point on vetoing or giving the green light to player movements, in and out.

And it is becoming increasingly evident that the manager - as it should be - has a major say in the squad composition. That smacks of a long-term vision. One which the club has seemingly lacked since Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement in 2013. That is not to say that the club has not spent in acquiring players. Paul Pogba, Angel Di Maria, Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan Bissaka, Bruno Fernandes and the list goes on. However, a cursory glance at even these names forms a quizzical statement. What is the vision? Each player represents a different style of football.

Hopefully, the current entourage will correct this trend. The overarching theme at any football club should be of stability. The one overseeing should have the 10-year vision. It was easy with Sir Alex being ever-present. However, in modern football, it has to come from the hierarchy as managers are not as ever-lasting. In fact, even in his time, Sir Alex's long tenure was an anomaly. But first, there needs to be a start.

Thus, here is analyzing three different ways Manchester United could line-up in 2022/23

Erik Ten Hag's Manchester United: Expected Signings 

Tyrell MalaciaIt is clear that Manchester United will look very different this season as compared to last. The mass exodus from the club has seen Jesse Lingard, Paul Pogba, Nemanja Matic, Edinson Cavani and Juan Mata leave on free transfers. Meanwhile, reserve goalkeeper Lee Grant has retired. Second choice goalkeeper Dean Henderson is also not at the club anymore and will spend the 2022/23 on loan at Nottingham Forest. Andreas Pereira has also left the club, after Fulham acquired his services with a transfer fee.

Thus, United need reinforcements, especially in the midfield. To that end, Manchester United have reportedly signed free agent Christian Eriksen. The Danish international plied his trade at Brentford last season and comes across as an astute signing. Eriksen can play multiple roles and is a major chance creator. United are further linked to Frenkie De Jong. It is widely understood that Barcelona and Manchester United have agreed upon a transfer fee. However, the structure of add-ons and player personal terms are still pending. Only a matter of time, one assumes, before the Dutch international reunites with his former manager.

While midfield remains a priority, Erik Ten Hag is also keen on strengthening his defence. At left back, despite the presence of Luke Shaw and Alex Telles, United have completed the signing of promising Feyenoord player, Tyrell Malacia. The club is also pushing for the services of Ajax defender Lisandro Martinez. The left-footed Argentine can play as a centre back as well as a defensive midfielder.

Manchester United may also be forced into signing a forward. Cristiano Ronaldo has not turned up for training for two consecutive days amidst strong rumours of him seeking a new challenge. The Portuguese seemingly wants to play Champions League football. And his agent is holding talks with multiple clubs regarding a potential transfer.

Erik Ten Hag's Manchester United: 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3

Erik Ten Hag usually plays with four at the back. In fact, his Ajax side reached the Champions League semi final playing with two traditional centre backs and it is the preferred formation for the Dutch manager. It thus goes without saying that Ten Hag will start with a variation of 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3. In fact, the the midfield could even shape up in a diamond formation akin to what looks like 4-1-2-1-2.

Erik Ten Hag usually prefers to employ two double pivots. His prime Ajax team was bereft of one solid defensive midfielder. Instead, it was a combination of a ball winner and a quarterback. The quarterback was usually his deep lying playmaker. This player is press resistant and can pass between the lines.

In case United do play with a defensive midfielder, Ten Hag will employ two free eights. This also depends on the availability of players. That is similar to the 4-1-2-1-2 formation. In case no centre forward remains at the club, United could line up with two forward players, neither being traditional number 9s.

Manchester United defence

Manchester United Varane Best transfers in 2021David De Gea is expected to start in goal. The Spaniard has fallen out of favour with his national team. However, this season is his best chance at making a return. With the Qatar World Cup scheduled for mid season, De Gea will welcome the new style United is likely to employ. The goalie, though, will have to up his game with the ball at his feet to keep up with the new United system.

Raphael Varane will be United's first choice centre back. The Frenchman is a World Cup winner and a multiple time Champions League winner. He is comfortable with the ball and has great recovery pace. Thus, he will welcome the arrival of Erik Ten Hag. Who plays alongside him remains a question. Harry Maguire, the club captain, leads the race based on his reputation as well as overall CV. The England international went through a torrid time last term. However, he will hope better days lie ahead.

Victor Lindelof is the other option at centre back. And if United do complete the signing of Lisandro Martinez, he will be a strong contender at centre back. The Argentine is left footed and is thus a natural fit at left centre back. He is strong, decisive and good with his feet apart from being fierce while defending.

At left back, United have three options. However, Alex Telles may yet leave for a different challenge. Luke Shaw, at the moment, is the highest in the pecking order. Shaw's injury record and propensity for inconsistency, however, will encourage Malacia to put in the hard yards. On the other side, Diogo Dalot will start for Manchester United. Wan Bissaka is the other option. However, rumours are that United may be willing to part ways with the former Crystal Palace defender.

Manchester United midfield 

Bruno Fred Manchester UnitedIt is clear that Manchester United want Frenkie De Jong. The Dutch midfielder will be a sure starter in Erik Ten Hag's midfield, irrespective of formation. In case, United play with the double pivot, Fred is likely to partner the Dutch international. Fred had a breakthrough season in 2021/22. Manchester United, overall, went through a very forgettable last term. However, the Brazilian's reputation was enhanced with inspired performances. He played in a more advanced role under former caretaker manager, Ralf Rangnick. And this role, wherein he can hare around the pitch, perhaps suits him best.

Fred should not be receiving passes out of the back. De Jong should be doing that and Fred, instead, will be in charge of pressing and carrying the ball into the final third. He is also good at arriving late into the box. His runs have been clever. And his Brazilian flair shines through nearer the opposition area.

Bruno Fernandes is first choice at number 10. The Portuguese, like his team, did not enjoy last season. However, his start at Manchester United is enough evidence of his quality. Bruno had transformed United upon arrival. And under Ten Hag, he should push on to yet another fantastic season.

United also have alternatives in the various midfield positions. In fact, should Ten Hag employ two free eights, Eriksen becomes a wonderful option. So does Donny Van De Beek. Scott McTominay is another midfielder who will benefit from Ten Hag's coaching. At home, one may very likely see De Jong, Van De Beek and Bruno as the midfield three.

Manchester United attack

Sancho Rashford Manchester UnitedIt looks increasingly likely that Ronaldo will leave the club. Anthony Martial, in that case, seems the closest replacement. The former Monaco man played as centre forward two seasons ago and was quite successful. Marcus Rashford is the other option to play as the number 9. However, one feels Rashford is better as a wide forward. The England international should be first pick to start on the left with Jadon Sancho on the right.

Sancho has primarily operated on the left and his best output comes from there. However, in his Dortmund days, there was significant contributions from right wing too. It remains to be seen how Ten Hag approaches this puzzle though. He even has the option of using Eriksen as an inside wide player if he so wishes. The former Spurs player is very versatile. And in a possession based system, would be used as a wide player akin to what Pogba did at times. This variation will afford the side backs plenty of space to make forward runs.

And that suits either full back - Dalot on right and Shaw or Malacia on the left.

There is an unlikely scenario wherein United may lineup with two centre forwards. In that case, Rashford and Martial are the two likeliest candidates. Sancho may miss out in this 4-1-2-1-2 variation. This could see Eriksen teaming up with De Jong and Fred in midfield with Bruno in the number 10 position. While this formation will require a lot of work from the full backs to provide width, it should be fascinating television in the middle of the park. All very technically gifted players potentially playing an attractive rondo at Old Trafford.