After a summer full of inactivity, Manchester United had a pretty lively transfer deadline day.
The Red Devils signed Alex Telles, Amad Diallo, Facundo Pellistri and most shockingly of all: Edinson Cavani. Diallo is going to join in January but the other three come into the side now and while the window wasn’t quite as spectacular as many fans hoped, it definitely helped fill the squad out with more quality.
Cavani in particular is a potentially explosive signing. The Uruguayan is one of the most potent strikers in the last 13 years of European football. Since he signed for Palermo only Cristiano Ronaldo and Leo Messi have scored more goals than his 250 in Europe’s top five leagues, and whilst he is now 33, he brings a wealth of experience to a young United attack.
Of course there are legitimate concerns over the signing, as Cavani’s 2019/20 was wracked with injury and he played just 602 minutes in Ligue 1. But he did manage four goals in that time and maybe his age need not be a worry. After all, last season’s Golden Boot winner was 33-year-old Jamie Vardy.
All of this begs the question, how could Manchester United line up? We’ve had a look and come up with three different line-ups that United could now deploy given the deadline day signings. What are they? Let’s find out!
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“The Main Men”
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has a very clear preference for playing 4-2-3-1, he’s shown that it’s his go-to formation and he has a good idea of the XI he likes to play in it. It’s young and it’s fast, albeit not in central defence thanks to their misshapen transfer window.
After a poor start to the season culminated in the devastating 1-6 loss to Spurs, there will have to be changes though. In goal Dean Henderson will finally get his chance. The young Englishman shone out on loan at Sheffield United and now he’s back at his boyhood club and determined to establish himself there. Putting him with the starting XI should give the club a serious jolt of stability at the back.
New signing Alex Telles comes in at left-back, with the Brazilian being a much more productive player than Luke Shaw. He should drive forward on the break and add a serious thrust outside Marcus Rashford on the left flank that the club hasn’t had in years.
In the heart of midfield Nemanja Matic isn’t the answer. In fact, none of United’s “defensive midfielders” are ideal for a 4-2-3-1, so United should turn to new signing Donny van de Beek, who for some reason has been a substitute for all the Premier League games this season.
Between Van de Beek and Pogba, United will have two midfielders who have enough talent to work hard and shield the defence but will add so, so much more attacking power which will help Bruno Fernandes supply the phenomenal front three of Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood and Anthony Martial (with Cavani as a superb Plan B off the bench).
“Big Game Ballista”
United’s favourite big-game formation last season was a 3-5-2 system that saw them sit deep and gut teams on the break. They added an extra central defender and then had their wing-backs solely focus on shielding the flanks.
Then two midfielders would sit deep and screen midfield (which is why Fred and Scott McTominay come in) with the third breaking forward to penetrate up the middle of their two forwards who lived in the half-space from where they could split wide or come narrow. This made them lethal at exposing space behind full-backs and they could bring the system back in 2020/21. Last season Marcus Rashford and Daniel James did this well, but Cavani is a colossal upgrade over the Welshman with his relentlessly intelligent movement.
David de Gea is poor at dominating his area, coming for crosses, leaving his line, etc. but with the defensive line so deep he wouldn’t have to do much of that and could focus on shot-stopping, which he still excels at. So he comes into the XI here.
This system also has Martial, Greenwood, Pogba and Van de Beek on the bench, ready to come on and turn the tide of a match. When was the last time United had that kind of game-changing power in reserve? This could be deadly.
“The Dead Rubber”
Of course there will always be games that don’t mean as much, dead rubbers at the end of group stages, or early cup ties against beatable opponents. And in these games Solskjaer will want to be able to rotate his squad. Previously when he did that the quality of football dropped off a cliff, well now he can rotate with a bit more confidence.
With Alex Telles relegating Luke Shaw to a back-up, Brandon Williams is now able to play his natural right-back. United have high hopes for Axel Tuanzebe and Teden Mengi, and in this team the youngsters could show what they can do.
Ahead of them would be Scott McTominay and Fred. The pair aren’t very glamorous but they work hard and would protect the rookie defenders and move the ball forward to Juan Mata, the side’s playmaker.
The veteran Spaniard has proven he is more than capable of running an attack, and would thrive in a side full of movement from Jesse Lingard and new boy Facundo Pellistri out wide. The pair would play the “wing” role very differently, but the priority would be putting balls into the box for Cavani. Since 2016/17 nobody has scored more headed goals in Ligue 1 than the Uruguayan’s 13 and would thrive as the sole goalscoring focus of this side.