Manchester United’s comeback over Atalanta was aided by a mid-game tactical adjustment from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Bruno Fernandes had begun the game in the same way he played against Leicester, too far forward.
This left the midfield too isolated, and no matter who the midfield duo was; Pogba and Matic vs Leicester and Fred and McTominay vs Atalanta; they were too isolated in midfield by Fernandes’ forward positioning.
When Fernandes dropped deeper, United got back into the game more as the midfield had a better sense of balance. The Portuguese star’s creativity was not limited either, he ended the game having created eight goalscoring chances.
Back to Solskjaer’s first midfield trio
When Solskjaer first took over as United boss when he was in an interim role, he quickly worked out a winning midfield trio.
The three of Nemanja Matic, Paul Pogba and Ander Herrera led United to consecutive wins and the team thrived, playing attacking, balanced football.
Injuries and suspension broke this trio up before the PSG games, and then Herrera left the club in the summer.
United have not had quite the same balance since, with Fernandes playing a more forward role since his arrival.
4-3-3 and not 4-2-3-1
The second half against Atalanta was a case of reverting back to a similar system to Solskjaer’s early games as manager, with Fernandes getting closer to the midfield duo. What worked at first, still works now.
The Telegraph reported in the summer that Solskjaer planned to shift from a 4-2-3-1 into a more compact 4-3-3 formation.
The 4-2-3-1 is essentially a 4-2-4, which teams with smart tactics can exploit the gaps United’s attackers leave.
Solskjaer had the balance right at the start, with Matic, Pogba and Herrera.
A trio of Fernandes, Pogba and Fred, which finished the game against Atalanta, should be the blueprint going forward.
United don’t have a top level specialised defensive midfielder who can anchor the team, so having an extra man in midfield to make it a three, rather than a two, certainly helps.
A 4-3-3 makes each role less defined, and make it easier potentially to mix in Donny van de Beek, who has not been able to find a role so far.
Van de Beek could play a similar role to the one Herrera used to, and if United chose to rest Fernandes, that could allow Pogba greater freedom to roam forward.
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