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.