“Four four two,” he whispers, as his eyes glaze over with nostalgia.
Close your eyes and think of Man United’s greatest modern side.
David Beckham and Ryan Giggs on either flank. Roy Keane and Paul Scholes in the middle. A perfect balance of width and central control, able to attack and defend depending on the state of the game.
When Becks tucked in he had Gary Neville flying down the right. Likewise on the left, where Denis Irwin went about his work with minimum fuss and maximum quality.
Two from Andy Cole, Dwight Yorke, Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer dovetailed up front, simultaneously dropping into the pocket to receive and stretching the opposition’s backline.
Look up ‘strike partner perfection’ in the Oxford Footballing Dictionary and you’ll be directed to this goal against Barcelona in which Cole and Yorke became the same person.
Balance. Harmony. Symbiosis. Call it what you want, but it was crucial to everything good about United when they were dominating English football.
Now open your eyes and take yourself back to the current day.
Jose Mourinho’s starting XI against West Ham was the polar opposite of balance. If Zinedine Zidane in his prime was balance, Mourinho’s side was Lee Cattermole’s first game back after a three-game ban.
David De Gea- Ashley Young, Scott McTominay, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Victor Lindelof, Luke Shaw- Marouane Fellaini, Nemanja Matic, Paul Pogba- Romelu Lukaku, Anthony Martial
Imagine explaining that side to someone who doesn’t follow football.
Mourinho leaves a centre-back on the bench and instead gives a centre-mid his first start of the season as part of a back-three.
He plays two defensive midfielders as part of a midfield trio, leaving United without anyone to force West Ham’s midfield back towards their own goal.
The width is expected to be provided by Shaw and Young, both of whom are trying to stop West Ham’s full-backs and wingers doubling up in attack due to the narrowness of Mourinho’s formation.
Martial, who’s spent his entire United career playing off the flank, is asked to partner Lukaku in attack. It’s a wonder that Mourinho didn’t start De Gea in a no.10 role.
To question Mourinho’s ability as a manager is mental. This is a man who’s guided two separate sides to Champions League glory and won league titles in four different countries.
But something is clearly off at Old Trafford.
What happened to the good ol’ days of playing footballers in positions they’re familiar with?
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