Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United team selections have been a huge talking point since the Norwegian became manager in December 2018, but these stats show there’s only one formation he should be deploying.
It’s fair to say Solskjaer’s tenure at Old Trafford has divided opinion. While some view him as a club legend who simply needs the time and resources to improve the squad, others believe he’s well out his depth and needs to be moved on.
One of the reasons for the latter view is that, nearly two years on from taking the reins, it seems as though Solskjaer still doesn’t know what his best line up is.
Paul Pogba has been at the centre of plenty of those debates. The France international has been utilised as part of a double pivot, as a free-roaming number eight, and even in a number 10 role, but it remains far from conclusive as to how the Red Devils can get the best out of their club-record signing.
Another contentious issue is the summer signing of Donny van de Beek. The former Ajax star cost United a reported £35m plus £5m in add-ons back in August, but he’s yet to nail down a regular starting spot in Solskjaer’s side.
Indeed, whether lining up in a 3-4-3, a 3-5-2 or a 4-3-3, things aren’t quite clicking consistently for the Red Devils. But new statistics emerging indicate there’s one formation in particular that United’s players thrive in: 4-2-3-1.
Since 24 November 2019, United have made a total of 14,650 passes in 2,513 minutes while playing in a 4-2-3-1. That equates to 524.52 passes per 90 minutes. When fielding any other formation, United have made a total of 3,314 passes in 791 minutes, which for context is 376.65 passes per 90 minutes.
That means United have averaged 28.2% more passes per match when playing in a 4-2-3-1! And it’s not just total passes that are much higher, either.
In the same time period, United have also made an average of 451.7 accurate passes per 90 minutes in a 4-2-3-1, compared to 309.7 in any other formation. That’s a huge increase of 31.4%.
Data from WhoScored backs these stats up, with United’s average team performance rating higher (6.6/10) in a 4-2-3-1 for Premier League matches than in other formations (6.2/10).
Whichever formation United opt for, Bruno Fernandes is always the side’s chief creator. His influence is paramount to United’s on-field success — as he demonstrated midweek in the Champions League — but it’s undeniable that he’s at his devastating best when played at number 10, with two holding midfielders behind him.
That defensive foundation allows Fernandes the freedom to find pockets of space in between the lines before picking out killer passes. He tends to take more risks in possession than any other United player, but the payoff is almost always worth it.
The Red Devils take on Southampton this weekend, a side who love to press, so it’ll be interesting to see how Solskjaer lines his team up. If the stats are anything to go by, he’d be foolish to pick anything other than a 4-2-3-1.