While a win at Everton may have provided some much-needed respite, the pressure’s still on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. A constant cycle of crisis aversions simply won’t do for a club of Manchester United’s stature and it feels as though the Old Trafford gaffer remains only a couple of poor performances away from revived calls for resignation.
By and large, Mauricio Pochettino has been touted as the likeliest candidate to succeed Solskjaer, not least because his emphasis on nurturing young players and employing an attacking brand of football fits perfectly into Manchester United’s historic DNA.
But could there be superior alternatives out there for the Red Devils?
GIVEMESPORT consider two of the most well-liked managers in the Premier League in Wolves’ Nuno Santo and Southampton’s Ralph Hasenhuttl and predict what Manchester United might look like under them, were they to take the reigns at Old Trafford with immediate effect.
We’ve also done the same for Pochettino, giving our readers a chance to decide which manager’s tactics and philosophy truly suits United best…
Ralph Hasenhuttl – 4-2-2-2
Utilising a system that fluctuates between 4-2-2-2 and 4-4-2 has been a hallmark of Hasenhuttl’s career, with the two more advanced and wider midfielders essential to ensuring quick transitions when his side win the ball back.
It’s hard to imagine the likes of Paul Pogba or Dan James in those roles, either being too centrally-oriented or wide-inclined, while other options such as Anthony Martial and Juan Mata simply lack the natural industry Hasenhuttl demands throughout his team.
But the attacking midfield role actually suits Jesse Lingard pretty well as someone who has operated as a No.10, a No.8 and a winger throughout his career, while the same can be said for Bruno Fernandes.
Hasenhuttl’s not afraid to play with two out-and-out goalscorers either, and we’re tipping him to favour Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood in that respect, while another fundamental aspect of the Austrian’s formation is the willingness of the full-backs to get forward.
Whereas Luke Shaw has that in his locker, Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s a more defensive-minded full-back, so when coupled with one of the key ingredients Hasenhuttl needs for his system to work – relentless energy to gegenpress effectively – we think he’ll take a liking to youngster Brandon Williams, albeit better known for playing on the opposite side of the defence.
That’s also why summer signing Donny van de Beek could partner Fred in midfield, echoing Oriol Romeu and James Ward-Prowse’s pairing at Southampton. Both have the tenacity to win the ball high up the pitch, and whereas Fred can prioritise protecting the back four, van de Beek can look to push forward, linking the midfield to those in front of him.
Nuno Santo – 3-4-3
Santo’s become synonymous with three-man defences during his time with Wolves, mastering the system to such a degree that it’s provided the foundations for the Midlands outfit to rise from the depths of the Championship to regular Europa League contention.
Manchester United are no strangers to 3-4-3 themselves, but the Portuguese gaffer would likely have a slightly different take on it should he make the formation a permanence at Old Trafford, chiefly in the wing-back positions that are so fundamental to the system working.
The likes of Jonny, Matt Doherty and Nelson Semedo are all very offense-minded defenders and having already mentioned Wan-Bissaka’s limitations in that regard, that might well result in winger James using his speed and width from a deeper position. On the other flank, meanwhile, it makes sense that Alex Telles comes in for Luke Shaw as a wing-back specialist.
Wan-Bissaka does still earn a place in this team, though, by tucking in as a right central defender. He’s got all the natural qualities to play as a wide centre-back and James will need a player with his speed and ball-winning ability to cover behind him effectively.
Santo usually employs one defensive midfielder (in this case Fred), alongside one who gets forward a bit more, and although his discipline in a flat midfield two may come into question, that gives a chance for Paul Pogba to play a more natural, dynamic game than when deployed deeper in a 4-2-3-1.
Up front, meanwhile, Edinson Cavani is the only striker at United who comes close to offering the target man services of Raul Jimenez, and while the Uruguayan is certainly past his peak at 33, having two players in close proximity doing the hard yards in Rashford and Fernandes could give him a new lease of life.
Mauricio Pochettino – 4-2-3-1
Pochettino set up his Tottenham side in numerous different ways during his time in north London but 4-2-3-1 was perhaps his most trusted setup, or at the very least the setup which really kickstarted Spurs’ rise to the upper echelons of the Premier League.
That’s the precise same formation Solskjaer has used to seal wins over Newcastle and Everton this season, but we’re still tipping the Argentine to make a few changes from the current United gaffer’s team selections.
Pochettino’s famous for developing an identity through creating a core of incredibly industrious young players and in that respect, James might well get a reprieve on the left wing through his ability to shuttle up and down.
Likewise, with none of United’s centre-back options really convincing aside from Maguire, Pochettino may well see fit to give Axel Tuanzebe, the 22-year-old who starred against PSG, an extended run in the starting XI.
In midfield, meanwhile, this line up plays homage to Pochettino’s earlier days at Tottenham when he often partnered a powerful defensive midfielder – Victor Wanyama and Eric Dier – with Mousa Dembele, who had the strength and quality to dictate from deep.
Scott McTominay fits the former profile perfectly and while Pogba is probably a little more befitting of the Dembele role on paper, his struggles when deployed in deep midfield could see van de Beek used there instead, which would in turn allow Pogba much freer role behind the striker.
That means a wider berth for Fernandes which may seem counter-intuitive, but Pochettino used a similar playmaker in Christian Eriksen as a wide man to great effect at Spurs, allowing him to fit the Denmark international into the same team as Dele Alli.