Manchester United’s Europa League Experimentation

Manchester United’s Europa League Experimentation
Sep 15, 2016

Manchester United

Jose Mourinho took control of Manchester United with a remit; fail to deliver the boards desires of Premiership glory and a return to the Champions League, and the Portuguese manager knows he will be shown the exit door. Just ask David Moyes or Louis Van Gaal, two managers for whom titles were not a requisite in their maiden seasons, but Champions League qualification was an expectation. 

The official line amongst United’s hierarchy is that Van Gaal may well have kept his job had he taken his side to Europe’s elite competition, which tells you all you need to know of the value given to the Europa League by Ed Woodward and the Glazer Family. For the first time then since 1995, the Red Devil’s head into the season planning for Europe’s secondary competition, and it would certainly be interesting to see back in May how it ranked in Mourinho’s priorities.

“This is not a competition Manchester United wants, what I want, what the players want, but it is a competition where we are, and that is the reality, so we have to look at it with respect”

Quotes leading up to the opening game in against Feyenoord in Rotterdam certainly suggests the coaching staff at Carrington would rather not be playing the Thursday night fixture, though the more intricate thoughts of the manager may differ ever so slightly. 

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Team Shape

Although there has been occasional rotation of players, not least in Saturday’s defeat to Manchester City, the shape of team has yet to throw any surprises. Mourinho has so far favoured the 4-3-2-1. It is my belief this is not the best shape for our current squad going forward, and the Europa League gives Mourinho the perfect chance to experiment, possibly returning to tried and tested formulas from his days with Chelsea, Inter and Real Madrid. 

Leading up to the game, the big news is Wayne Rooney’s exclusion from the match day squad. Undoubtedly in need of a rest, it also enables Mourinho to give trial to a 4-3-3 formation, with an array of pacy wingers who could play either side of the chosen central striker. More consequential is the potential change in midfield, with the chance to give Paul Pogba the freedom to show his vast array of talents. Undoubtedly, introduction of Ander Herrera on Saturday resulted in improvement on Saturday, not least for Pogba, and the possible inclusion of either Michael Carrick or Morgan Schneiderlin would be music to many fan’s ears. Even if the Frenchman does not start, the other players will certainly look to make their case in the formation, as Mourinho knows his record signing will slip seamlessly into it in future fixtures.

Should the 4-3-3 be a success, we can expect to see it deployed in bigger fixtures going forward. There is a sense the manager may have been nervous to go too defensive  in the derby considering the potential scrutiny in the corridors of Old Trafford, though the defeat will likely change this. He did it at Real Madrid, using ‘destroyer’ Pepe at the heart of midfield in any ‘clasico’ game following the heavy 5-0 defeat in his opening season, and one feels the Old Trafford faithful will not begrudge it if it means success against their biggest rivals.

Success breeds success

Jose Mourinho loves to win. As a result of his European heritage, even the Community Shield is considered a trophy in the cabinet of the United manager, compared to many who discard it as a simple curtain raiser to the season. The ex-Porto manager furthermore is testimony to what a successful European campaign can do to both a team and a manager, as it was the Portuguese sides victory in the Uefa cup as it was back in 2003 that first put the young coach in the public eye, and catalysed the surprise Champions League glory just 12 months later. In more recent times, Atletico Madrid used the tournament as a springboard to bigger things, with two titles in three years at the turn of the decade. Simeone and his side now seem on the cusp of their maiden Champions League win, with two final defeats in the past three years. Admittedly, both these respective sides would have seen the competition as their level at the time, whilst both the United board and fans expect them to be in the elite tournament. Nonetheless, with just the one major trophy since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson, United should perhaps place greater precedence on a tournament previously disregarded.

A word of caution

This though should not mean Manchester United sacrifice domestic glory in their bid for Europa League success. One only has to take the case of Liverpool last year; despite reaching the final in an emotional campaign last season, Klopp’s men find themselves out of Europe this time around, and failed to attract targets such as Mario Gotze as a result. By prioritising the away trips to both Dortmund and Villarreal, the Anfield side took their eyes off the English League, regularly giving untried youngsters a run out in favour of established stars. A run of six points from their last five fixtures ultimately cost them a place in the Champions League as those around them also faltered, and the fans would be forgiven for looking back and wandering if Klopp and his squad got it very wrong.

Article by @johnkent1991

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