Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has used a variety of formations to find the correct balance in the Manchester United squad.
After the turbulent start to the season, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has regularly switched the formations and personnel in the starting line-up to maintain the balance among the group. This approach kept the players fit for the challenges that followed them. The pressure of playing in Champions League and the Premier League saw the club travel from one country to another with limited break. The domestic cup competitions amidst the chaos made it extremely difficult for the players to catch their breath. It was imperative for Solskjaer to manage his squad from fatigue and injuries, and the Norwegain has found a way to keep them fresh.
Below are the formations predominantly used by the Red Devils this season:
This is Solskjaer’s favourite! United largely used it last season and have gone down the same route in this campaign as well. This formation allows the team to have two pivots sitting in front of the defence. Anyone of Pogba, Matic, Fred and McTominay would occupy it while, Fernandes played in the free No.10 role in front of them.
This system has everything, from two defensive minded midfielders to wide players, it offers a variety of threat to the opponents. As good United were in attack, they were not able to curtail the goals from leaking in the other end. Whenever the two pivots sat back, the attack was compromised. On the other hand, the club looked shaky in defence if one of them abandoned their defensive duty.
4-4-2 (diamond) formation
The diamond formation is used to dominate the midfield. It provides four midfielders – a central defensive midfielder, right central midfielder, left central midfielder and central attacking midfielder. Manchester United brilliantly executed it in the 2-1 victory at PSG home in the very first Champions League group match.
The drawback is that the system does not have room for wide players in the Starting XI, putting the burden on the full-backs to join the attack. The opponents can exploit their defensive cover if they can swiftly maneuver their way behind them in counter-attacks. The two centre forwards might also need to drift wide frequently to maintain the balance. It is a formation primarily used in Italy, and English clubs are still finding their way to master it.
Solskjaer prefers to use this formation in big matches. What it offers is an additional centre back. With three defenders at the back, the full-backs are given the license to surge forward as wing-backs. It also has two pivots, an attacking midfielder and two strikers. If executed to the letter, it can work out brilliantly from a defensive point of view. Then again, it is very tricky to maintain the positions for a team that regularly plays with two centre backs.
The 2-3 defeat at RB Leipzig last December was one such example. After playing the league games with two central defenders, Solskjaer’s decision to play with a back three backfired. United conceded two goals in the first half and got knocked out of the Champions League in the group stage. The Norwegian coach has since played this formation couple more times and the team looks secured at the back compared to that horror night in Germany.