Midway through the game against Leicester City, Mourinho changed Manchester United’s formation from a 4-4-2 to a 4-2-3-1 with Henrikh Mkhitaryan through the middle as the number 10. United won the game comfortably and Mourinho chose to retain the 4-2-3-1 against Watford and United turned in one of their best attacking performances of the season as they won 2-0. The 4-2-3-1 seems to get the best out of Mkhitaryan as the number 10. Zlatan’s tendency to drop deep allows the Armenian to push forward and his pace pushes the defence deeper giving United’s attackers the time and space to operate.
For all his goals, Zlatan’s age and therefore the lack of pace inhibits United’s attack in many ways. He is not very effective in leading the line(Teams can push up and not be worried about balls over the top) nor is he lethal on the counter. Playing Mkhitaryan behind him negates Zlatan’s vulnerabilities as they tend to switch positions during the game. Mata who started on the right against Watford combines brilliantly with Mkhitaryan as we saw in both the games against Leicester and Watford. Antonio Valencia can run the whole right wing by himself allowing Mata the freedom to take up intelligent positions.
The 4-2-3-1 seems to be the perfect solution for all of United’s attacking problems bar one, Paul Pogba. Pogba earlier in the season struggled when played in the double pivot. This deeper role limits Pogba’s attacking capabilities and also entrusts far more defensive responsibility than he likes. In the game against Manchester City, Pogba’s defensive lapses came to the fore as De Bruyne enjoyed his freedom from any opposing United player and ripped apart United’s defence.
“Paul is playing with great balance in these last two matches,” Mourinho said. “He’s playing with his brain, he’s recovering lots of balls, he’s been very good in this position of play, so we are fine.
Although Mourinho seems happy with Pogba in his new role in the 4-2-3-1, it remains to be seen whether Pogba is entrusted with the same role in the big games. Against Watford, Pogba was excellent as he dominated the middle of the park with his physicality but we couldn’t see the best of him. Paul Pogba needs the freedom of the pitch to showcase the best of his abilities but he has the physique and the technique to play in a deeper role and there is no better coach in world football than Mourinho to drill defensive discipline into an attacking player. The next big game team selection by Mourinho will be interesting, will he stick to the 4-2-3-1 and expect Pogba to play a more disciplined role or will Carrick be back as the deepest midfielder?