Manchester United have struggled to fit the creativity of Juan Mata, Bruno Fernandes and Donny van de Beek into the same starting line up this season.

When the team was announced to take on Istanbul Basaksehir, it was a sign Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was ready to be aggressive.

The problem was Solskjaer went too top heavy. In front of Mata, Fernandes and Van de Beek were Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford.

On another day against another opponent, this attacking front five would have been too strong.

Istanbul Basaksehir v Manchester United: Group H - UEFA Champions League
(Photo by Ahmad Mora/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)

But against Istanbul Basaksehir the tactic backfired spectacularly, with the unbalanced line up exposed.

So does this mean United should never play Mata, Fernandes and Van de Beek in the same starting line up again? Not necessarily.

One tactical tweak

United may have finally selected the right trio of players – but selected the wrong formation.

Testing out such an attacking combination in a European away game was naive from Solskjaer. These are usually cagey games and United opened the game up from the first minute.

Playing Mata, Van de Beek and Fernandes behind one striker, instead of two, could be far more effective.


While this may seem somewhat illogical, the reason is simple, because it enable United to play a two-man holding midfield behind them.

Van de Beek and Mata did not get the ball in the right areas because they both had to drop deep to go and get it.

Not having them high up the pitch in turn impacted Bruno Fernandes’ game.

Going with a 4-2-3-1 formation with all three can work in certain situations.

(Photo by OZAN KOSE/AFP via Getty Images)

The downside is it limits United’s attacking choice – with just one spot for Marcus Rashford, Edinson Cavani, Mason Greenwood, and Anthony Martial.

It is for this reason that the trio we saw on Wednesday night may not be repeated any time soon.

But United should not give up on it or just throw it out, because the trio were not put in the right circumstances to succeed.

If the three players get another chance to start together, with two midfielders behind them to better balance the team, this could be a dangerous combination which has far bigger impact next time.

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