With losses to Brighton, Tottenham, West Ham and points dropped at home to Wolves, Manchester United are well off the place in the Premier League title race and their hopes of a Champions League place seem to be vanishing quicker by every game week. Although the win against Newcastle and the draw at Stamford Bridge have eased the pressure on Mourinho, he is still odds on to be the next Premier League manager to be sacked. His criticisms of both Pogba and Alexis Sanchez seem to have further put the relationship with the manager and the dressing room in a place from which few managers recover. With it increasingly looking like a Pogba or Mourinho decision for Ed Woodward, it is looking more and more likely that it will be Mourinho who loses out. But who will United appoint next, especially with Woodward under pressure after three failed managerial appointments to his name.
The five options I would suggest would be Zinezine Zidane, Mauricio Pocchetino, Leonardo Jardim, Antonio Conte or Lucian Favre. In my opinion, Zidane has shown that he is tactically adaptable which is seen with his big game record in the Champions League with Real Madrid. His calm persona would be a welcome change from the combative nature of Mourinho and maybe this type of manager would get the best out of players like Pogba, Martial and Alexis Sanchez. Mauricio Pocchetino would also bring similar personality to Zidane to the dressing room. His use of young players does give him an edge over Zidane especially with the bright young players at United such as Mason Greenwood, Tahith Chong, Angel Gomes and Timothy Fosu-Mensah just breaking through at the club. Leonardo Jardim has also used young players effectively during his time at Monaco and brings the most offensive style of football out of all the options. Lucian Favre, who seems to have restored Dortmund’s title challenge this season, has been an underrated manager in Europe in the past few years, even after his excellent spell with Nice and Borussia Monchengladbach. Antonio Conte could also be an option, with his record at Juventus and how he transformed Chelsea in a short amount of time the proof of his pedigree. However Zidane’s ability to set out aside to win big games, his adaptability, his personality and the fact that he is available now, mean that the former Real Madrid man would be my choice.
So how could the side move forward under Zidane? Well with no transfer window Zidane would have to work with what he has got. The centre back pairing is probably the biggest decision he’d have to deal with. Under Mourinho there hasn’t been a stable pairing with Smalling, Jones, Bailly, Lindelof and Rojo
all fluctuating in and out of the starting eleven. Personally, Rojo and Bailly would be my choice. Throughout Mourinho’s reign, the most stable the defence looked was during the first season, when Bailly and Rojo were the centre back pairing. Whilst Lindelof could be rotated with Rojo, for this season at least I would go for Rojo next to Bailly. Valencia, who has looked a shadow of himself this season, should be replaced by the young Diogo Dalot and Luke Shaw would remain a starter at left back.
There are a number of ways Zidane could line up the midfield but the 4-2-3-1 would be the best option in most games. Fred and Pogba, both athletic, powerful and technically gifted, would make a great midfield pairing. Pogba showed during the world cup that in a defensively disciplined side he can play in a deeper midfield two, while still having the creative ability to start attacks using his great passing range.The three ahead of Pogba and Fred could alternate but the three starters would likely be Lingard and Martial playing as the wide midfielders, with Alexis in the centre behind. Alexis Sanchez has struggled since arriving last January but largely due to being played wide on the left. When at Arsenal Sanchez experienced the best spell of his career when playing centrally due to his dribbling ability as well as his passing and vision which had made him Arsenal’s key player.
Up top, Zidane will be faced with a dilemma. The safe option would be to go with Lukaku who has a consistent record of scoring goals in this United team. However Rashford has a great deal more potential and adds more to the team with his technique, close control and long shooting ability than Lukaku does. Lukaku in some games can slow the team down, his rather clunky and struggles with the intricate skill needed in games where United have to break down a team who sit compacted and deep. Rashford, still only 20 could break out like Ronaldo or Rooney did at his age but he needs a regular centre starting spot in order to do this.
In terms of the long term focus of the club under Zidane, there will not doubt have to be restructuring, with new players brought in and the deadwood shipped out of the club. Zidane could opt for a 4-2-3-1, a 4-3-3 or even a 3-5-2 which the players have shown they are well suited to. Toby Alderweireld, who United pursued this summer, should be the obvious target with a £25 million release clause making him a cheap and realistic option. At right back in may be time for Diogo Dalot to start ahead of Antonio Valencia who has had a poor start to the campaign. Timothy Fosu-Mensah is also a long term option at right back once he returns from Fulham.
Zidane could adopt the 4-3-3 system, but would need to sign a central creative midfielder. Isco who is currently struggling to get into the Real Madrid starting eleven would be the perfect option. Fred as the deepest midfield would give Manchester United a player who could build out from the back due to his long passing ability, composure and his powerful dribbling that allows him to move the ball up the pitch. Pogba and Isco would sit ahead of Fred, with Isco given the freedom to roam. This would be a league winning midfield as Pogba has shown glimpses of how good he can be and Isco has arguably been the best Spanish midfielder over the past two seasons. Real Madrid would probably demand around £80-90 million for Isco who despite not being a first team regularly is still of the best midfielders in the world.
Despite Luke Shaw’s recent return to form he still lacks the crossing and dribbling ability in the final third that the likes of Alonso, Robertson and Mendy all have. Jose Luis Gaya, the Valencia Left Back is far more accomplished going forward and has greater vision when picking out low crosses in the final third. This would also provide United which greater depth in the full back position and they wouldn’t have to rely on Ashley Young filling the left back position but Gaya would cost around £35 million for United to sign him.
Fosu-Mensah the young Dutchman has put in some solid performances at right back for Fulham so I would go for a back four involving him at Right Back, Eric Bailly and Toby Alderweireld at centre back and Gaya as the left back. Fred would sit as the deep midfielder with Isco and Pogba ahead of him. Martial who hasn’t achieved his full potential since his first season at Old Trafford could be set for a breakout year which is why Zidane should give him a starting spot on the left hand side. Manchester United were looking for a right winger in the summer who has pace, dribbling ability and is defensively disciplined. That man could be Juventus winger Federico Bernardeschi
who would cost around £40m, though he would not only provide exceptional quality from a role that United don’t really have filled in the squad, but also versatility if Zidane reverted to a system with wing backs. In the 4-3-3 system, Zidane could also use Alexis or Lingard as the right winger, though I would say that Lingard would be better in this role as his one touch interplay when he drifts inside is much better than Alexis, who is more accustomed to a creative central role with less movement in behind the backline. Up top Zidane would have to make a big decision. Stick with Lukaku or take a gamble that could pay off massively with Rashford. I would suggest that Zidane does go with Rashford as I think not only is he more suitable for the team but his ceiling, in the coming years, is much higher than Lukaku’s and would therefore be worth the risk.
Zidane could also revert to a 3-4-3 or a 3-5-2 if needed. Fosu-Mensah who whilst is capable at right back, has the skill set of a centre back and therefore would be perfect for the right centre back role. Alderweireld would take up the central centre back spot, the same role he has played at Tottenham where he can stride forward and use his excellent passing range. Eric Bailly would play as the left centre back as his pace and one on one tackling ability make him well suited to a wide centre back role. Gaya or Shaw could play as a left wing back with both offering stability defensively, though Gaya would probably take the starting spot due to his superior offensive ability, in particular his vision and crossing. Federico Bernardeschi could be used as a right wing back/Right midfielder, similar to how Pep Guardiola has played wingers in a three at the back system and also similar to Bernardeschi’s role at Fiorentina where he played as a right wing back. Bernardeschi offers a lot more going forward than the likes of Dalot or Valencia, in particular his dribbling and long shot ability.
Playing as a 3-4-3, the two central midfielders would be Fred and Pogba who both offer dynamism, dribbling and technical ability as well as power, in the heart of the midfield. Ahead of those two Zidane could play Alexis Sanchez and Isco, where Isco could drop in alongside Fred and Pogba to make a midfield three if needed. Sanchez would probably be a good option in this role, despite struggling at United so far. Whilst Martial offers dribbling ability and pace out wide, Sanchez has superior vision, passing and overall creativity from central areas and when given a free role in a 3-4-3 he could regain form. Upfront it would once again be a decision between Lukaku and Rashford, with either one a suitable option for this type of system.
Overall, Manchester United should turn to Zidane after Jose Mourinho, due to his man management style, his tactical ability that he has proven in the champions league over the last three seasons with Real Madrid and the fact that there are a number of systems that can be used for this United squad and Zidane is an adaptable manager who could use any of them.