United will look to play more attacking football next season
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has signalled his intention for Manchester United to play a more attack-minded system next season that could see a move away from the regular midfield partnership of Fred and Scott McTominay.
The United manager has told those players who have returned to pre-season training that he is eager to implement a more adventurous 4-3-3 formation next term as he bids to end the club’s eight-year title drought.
Solskjaer favoured a double defensive midfield pivot of Fred and McTominay last season and invited criticism at times for being too cautious.
The Norwegian’s thinking was influenced in part by United’s 6-1 hammering by Tottenham in early October, when a midfield trio of Bruno Fernandes, Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic were easily bypassed as Spurs ran riot, and a desire to afford his central defenders more protection against pace.
However, Solskjaer and his staff are understood to have discussed playing two more forward-thinking midfielders ahead of a single defensive midfielder next season and have raised that possibility with the players.
It is thought that Solskjaer considers the arrival of a new centre-half this summer to be an important component in such a plan as United continue their cautious pursuit of Real Madrid’s Raphael Varane.
Solskjaer started Fred and McTominay in midfield together on 28 occasions last season, including for 10 of 12 games against Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham. United mustered only 11 points from 10 league matches against big-six rivals last term.
The 6-1 capitulation against Spurs and the 3-2 FA Cup win over Liverpool at Old Trafford in January were the only occasions when Solskjaer opted against a Fred-McTominay axis.
United failed to score in seven of those 10 “big six” matches that Fred and McTominay started, with five league games against Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal and City ending goalless, although it was Solskjaer’s use of both players and a lack of creativity from midfield against some of the Premier League’s lesser lights that particularly frustrated fans.
McTominay and Fred, for example, both started the 1-1 draw at West Bromwich Albion in February.
It remains to be seen how adventurous Solskjaer proves to be but he is eager for United to play on the front foot more at home especially, with Old Trafford expected to welcome back capacity crowds next season.
That could mean any two of Fernandes, Pogba or Donny van Beek being paired together more regularly ahead of a defensive midfielder. Pep Guardiola has favoured such a system at City in recent seasons, with No 8s such as Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva (who has since left) and Ilkay Gundogan paired together in front of a defensive midfielder.
Having agreed a deal with Borussia Dortmund to sign England winger Jadon Sancho, Solskjaer is now keen to add a pedigree centre-half. Varane – who has entered the final 12 months of his contract at the Bernabeu – is United’s leading target.
But Real are still trying to convince the France defender to stay after already seeing Sergio Ramos depart and United are watching developments very closely. If Varane makes it clear to Real that he has no intention of signing a new contract, United are expected to open formal negotiations with the Madrid club but they are wary of being burned like they were in 2015 when Ramos used United’s interest as leverage to win a new contract with Real.
England right-back Kieran Trippier would like to move to Old Trafford but United have so far balked at Atletico Madrid’s asking price.