Ahead of Manchester United’s Premier League opener on Sunday against West Ham United, Jose Mourinho has a selection conundrum – as well as one over his preferred formation.
Last year, United relied heavily on a 4-2-3-1, with there being a few occasions where Mourinho shuffled around his formation to suit specific games.
However, this season, the United manager has a few options for how he wants to set out his team.
Mourinho used this formation on occasion in preseason, after Chelsea made it popular during last season’s march to the title.
In a 3-4-3, Antonio Valencia would feature as the right wing-back, while the left wing-back role is up for grabs. Luke Shaw and Marcos Rojo are injured, so it could be any of Jesse Lingard, Matteo Darmian, or Daley Blind playing on the left side.
Eric Bailly is the only guaranteed starter among the centre-backs and should be joined by two from Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and new signing Victor Lindelof. The Swede has had a few shaky moments in preseason so it’s possible that Jones and Smalling will get the nod.
Mourinho’s biggest conundrum in this formation would be who to leave out in midfield. Usually, Ander Herrera and Paul Pogba would be guaranteed starters, but new signing Nemanja Matic hasn’t been bought to sit on the bench. The likelihood is that Pogba and Herrera would get the nod to start the season, but Matic will come in for Herrera in certain games.
The biggest advantage of this formation would be up front, where Marcus Rashford and Henrikh Mkhitaryan would flank £75 million striker Romelu Lukaku. Being able to get Rashford and Belgian on the pitch together was one of Mourinho’s biggest goals in preseason, and this was one of the ways he managed it.
Mourinho used this formation in the European Super Cup tie against Real Madrid, to mixed results. Lingard was played as the left wing-back but seemed to struggle in the role, and was taken off at half-time.
United also used the 3-5-2 in their famous 2-0 win over Chelsea last season, with Rashford and Lingard up front, so Mourinho knows how this formation can work in the Premier League.
If the Portuguese opts for this formation on Sunday, the personnel would largely be the same as in the aforementioned 3-4-3, with the difference likely being that all three central midfielders would get to play together.
However, this would also mean sacrificing one of Rashford or Mkhitaryan up front, assuming that Lukaku is a guaranteed starter.
This still seems the likeliest option given United’s personnel, and Mourinho used this formation quite often in preseason. Its effectiveness again lies in allowing Matic, Pogba, and Herrera to play together.
Valencia and Darmian will play on either side of the two centre-backs, likely to be Bailly and Jones on Saturday, while Pogba, Matic, and Herrera can play in midfield together.
Rashford, Lukaku, and Mkhitaryan will likely be the preferred front three.
Chelsea made a dramatic start to their Premier League title defence after falling to a 3-2 defeat by Burnley at Stamford Bridge that featured red cards for Gary Cahill and Cesc Fabregas.
Cahill was sent off by referee Craig Pawson after only 14 minutes for lunging at Steven Defour with a high tackle and Burnley’s response was to storm 3-0 ahead through two goals from Sam Vokes and a terrific strike by Stephen Ward.
Goals from Alvaro Morata and David Luiz sandwiched a second red card, this time for Cesc Fabregas who had been booked twice, in a second half dominated by the champions.
“Thanks for a great second half and I hope this spirit will drive on” – Former Chelsea defender Mario Melchiot (@mariomelchiot) is determined to find positives in the result.
Take a bow Sam Vokes, the Burnley striker who opened the visitors’ account and fired his second for a goal that ultimately proved to be the winner.
Visiting fans celebrated wildly at seeing their underdogs power 3-0 ahead and it was Vokes who spearheaded the upset.
Cahill is the obvious candidate on the grounds of his early red card, but it was the shortcomings of Chelsea’s entire defence that resulted in one of the greatest opening day upsets in Premier League history.
Burnley were outstanding but on each occasion they were given a helping hand by a leaky Blues rearguard who played as though they were strangers.
Dapper Italian Antonio Conte usually cuts a suave figure in the technical area but he was clad in a full Chelsea tracksuit for his side’s opening day defeat.
He made clear his disgust at the dismissal of Cahill, but the Blues boss was every exasperated with the performance of his players, although he can at least take heart from the fightback that fell short.
Thibaut Courtois : 5
Antonio Rudiger : 4
David Luiz : 4
Gary Cahill : 3
Cesar Azpilicueta : 5
N’Golo Kante: 5
Cesc Fabregas : 5
Marcos Alonso : 5
Michy Batshuayi: 5
Jeremie Boga : 6
Andreas Christensen (Boga, 18 and Musonda 92): 5
Alvaro Morata (Batshuayi 59): 7
Tom Heaton : 6
Matthew Lowton : 7
Jack Cork : 7
James Tarkowski : 7
Ben Mee : 6
Sam Vokes : 9
Robbie Brady : 7
Jeff Hendrick : 7
Steven Defour: 7
Johann Berg Gudmundsson : 6
Stephen Ward : 7
Jonathan Walters (Defour 75): 6
Scott Arfield (Gudmundsson 75): 6
Tottenham v Chelsea (Premier League, August 20 )
Burnley v West Bromwich Albion (Premier League, August 19 )
The 2017/18 Premier League season is underway and some of the Arab football stars on show have made it a point to leave their mark on the opening weekend.
Algerian attacking midfielder Riyad Mahrez and Egyptian defensive midfielder Mohamed Elneny were both in the thick of things as Arsenal beat Leicester City 4-3 in the opening fixture.
Meanwhile, Mohamed Salah impressed on his competitive debut for Liverpool as did Ahmed Hegazi who proved to be the match winner for West Brom.
Here’s a look at how these Arab footballers fared this weekend.
The Algerian was a constant threat during a pulsating game. He was a bit shackled in the first half but came alive in the second period.
He forced Petr Cech into a great save in the 56th minute but his resultant corner saw Jamie Vardy score.
Rating – 7/10
Shots – 2
Assists – 1
Key Passes – 1
Passing Accuracy – 76.7%
Touches – 62
Passes – 30
Dribbles – 2
In the same fixture, Elneny wound up on the winning side of this opening day thriller. He made an impact as early as the first minute with his inviting cross headed in by new signing Alexandre Lacazette.
No player had more tackles (4) than the Egyptian despite the midfielder coming off in the 66th minute.
Rating – 6/10
Shots – 1
Assists – 1
Key Passes – 2
Passing Accuracy – 90.3%
Touches – 87
Passes – 72
Tackles – 4
Liverpool’s new star winger had a difficult first half but won a penalty early in the second to drag Liverpool back into the game.
Roberto Fimino converted from the spot before then returning the favour with an assist for Salah to score on his competitive debut at his new club.
Rating – 7.5/10
Shots – 5
Assists – 1
Crosses – 1
Passing Accuracy – 77.8%
Touches – 32
Passes – 18
Dribbles – 1
The centre-back scored on his West Brom debut to earn all three points against Bournemouth.
The Egyptian defender powered home a header in the 31st minute from Chris Brunt’s corner kick. He also made a whopping 10 clearances at the other end of the pitch.
Rating – 8/10
Shots – 3
Aerials Won – 4
Key Passes – 1
Passing Accuracy – 72%
Touches – 41
Clearances – 10
Interceptions – 1