After a 2022/23 season of genuine improvement that lifted spirits around Old Trafford, the start to this campaign has been anything but simple for Manchester United.
Flaws were evident in a scrappy 1-0 victory over Wolves on the opening weekend but were exposed more brutality in a 2-0 away loss to Tottenham. The win over Nottingham Forest at least propelled United back up to eighth, but not before embarrassingly going 2-0 down in the opening five minutes.
Casemiro, arguably last year’s signing of the season, has looked ropy at the start of the 2023/24 term while Mason Mount has already been scythed down by injury after some mediocre opening performances for his new side.
Midfield has long been a problem area for Man Utd and injuries and form issues mean it’s still an issue Erik ten Hag needs to find a solution for, even at this early stage of the season.
Here are the switches the Dutch manager could make in search of a more dynamic and entertaining United moving forward.
The Red Devils haven’t been shy of throwing a wad of cash at a problem area in recent years and there’s every chance they could make a late splash in the summer transfer window to find a new midfielder.
2022 World Cup star Sofyan Amrabat has not played for Fiorentina yet this season and has been training alone as he continues to wait for a blockbuster transfer. A deal was in place to take the Morocco international to Old Trafford but momentum has slowed as United try to get players out the door first.
Ryan Gravenberch, who couldn’t break into Bayern Munich’s regular starting XI last season, has pushed for a summer transfer with Man Utd and Liverpool interested. The two Premier League sides prefer loan deals but Bayern would rather sell him outright if the Netherlands international is to leave.
Managers sometimes throw young players into their starting lineups to make a point to those in charge of transfers.
“Oi! You up there! See what we’re playing with here? Pull your finger out!”
Or something along those lines. But sometimes a gem can be uncovered when all hope seems lost.
Kobbie Mainoo enjoyed a breakout summer before cruelly suffering an injury against Real Madrid. Had he not been struck down, the 18-year-old would have been in contention to make cameo appearances in United’s opening Premier League games of the season.
Daniel Gore, only 18 years of age, was the second midfield option available from the bench for Ten Hag against Forest behind Scott McTominay. He has been described as a ‘tenacious’ talent by United, and while it would be an awfully large call to throw the teenager in alongside Casemiro and Bruno Fernandes, such decisions have been rewarding for United in the past.
Oh, Manchester United are worried about a lack of fight and desire in midfield, you say? Is there a player in the current squad who has been thrown into midfield by Erik ten Hag in the past? Ding ding! Yes there is!
Argentinian defender Lisandro Martinez lined up as a defensive midfielder 22 times during the 2019/20 season while at Ajax before that season was curtailed due to Covid-19. The 25-year-old is known for his ball-playing abilities at the back and his previous experience makes him a genuine candidate to move into midfield.
However, that would be a pretty big gamble given Raphael Varane went off injured against Forest, potentially leaving Victor Lindelof to partner Harry Maguire in central defence.
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As an Ajax disciple, Ten Hag is quite idealistic on his style of football, which has been United’s strength over the past year or so. Heavy defeats were occasional in 2022/23 but so were team performances filled with attacking verve and swagger.
It would be a major departure for United to switch to a back three formation, but the squad does have players who would suit such a change. If injuries elsewhere mean including Maguire is necessary, a back three would allow Ten Hag to hide him from ball-playing responsibilities somewhat.
If Ten Hag fancies going all Brendan Rodgers in 2013/14, he could move to a diamond 4-1-2-1-2 which would allow United to fit in Casemiro, Christian Eriksen, McTominay and Fernandes behind two strikers. There would certainly be a lack of mobility in wide midfield areas, however.
Man Utd potential formation changes and lineups
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