There was an undeniable degree of irony as Manchester United’s starting 11 was confirmed on late Saturday afternoon.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer signed autographs after last week’s debacle against Liverpool and, while that pays testament to the calibre of the man that he is, one could have perceived it as a gesture akin to the Norwegian taking ‘final’ exit from Old Trafford as manager.
Instead, Solskjaer survived the 5-0 humiliation — one of the most humiliating defeats in the club’s 143-year history — to remain in charge for United’s visit to London to face Tottenham.
It was clear that something had to change and, with United’s hierarchy failing to address the elephant in the room, Solskjaer was left with no choice but to place an emphasis on defensive stability in training.
Solskjaer had just four days at Carrington to work with his players in the 3-5-2 system that he would use against Tottenham. And while the formation change would emphatically pay dividends, there was huge irony in the choice of the system used.
In the hours following the Liverpool defeat, Old Trafford chiefs considered Solskjaer’s position at the club and then reports emerged detailing the managers who could potentially replace the Norwegian, indicating that he was on borrowed time.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s tenure as Manchester United manager is looking fragile after the humiliating 5-0 defeat to Liverpool.
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The MEN revealed that Antonio Conte would be ‘open’ to the United job and Solskjaer would have been aware of such links.
Conte has built a reputation as one of the world’s finest managers through his elite tactical nous and habit of delivering major honours wherever he travels, but he’s also synonymous with a pragmatic approach that goes rather against the traditional ‘United way’.
Conte’s 3-5-2 formation (or variants thereof) have come to define the Italian manager in every role he’s excelled in and it was interesting to see Solskjaer use that exact approach against Tottenham, implementing the very system that his potential successor reveres.
Edinson Cavani and Cristiano Ronaldo were outstanding together at the focal point of United’s attack as United beat Tottenham 3-0 in London and Solskjaer admitted after the game that he ‘can’t hide’ the club’s need for the experienced pair on the pitch.
That suggested that we could see more of Cavani and Ronaldo together in the 3-5-2 formation this season. However, playing the two veterans in this particular system clearly isn’t a long-term prospect, with the formation leaving key personnel in the dark.
In the short term, the formation limits the involvement of Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood and Jadon Sancho.
It is the latter, Sancho, that is the greatest cause of concern, though, because Rashford and Greenwood can both play in the centre-forward positions in which Cavani and Ronaldo — who will need delicate handling considering their age — played against Spurs.
United worked tirelessly to sign Sancho and yet this new formation leaves him in an uncomfortable position on the sidelines.
Can the 3-5-2 formation work long-term? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
“Jadon is a signing that we expect to stay at Man United for many, many years, so it’s also that part of it that we have a young, up-and-coming forward line,” Solskjaer said regarding the winger upon his transfer this summer.
And yet this formation contradicts that.
Not that United should make it all about Sancho. Solskjaer needs results now and they will have to come at the expense of individuals to allow him to steer the team into a better position, but it seems the 3-5-2 isn’t an appropriate fit in the long-term.
There were already doubts among those with power at United over whether Conte would be a suitable long-term fit at the club.
Solskjaer answered that question with his own team selection against Tottenham.
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