Ole Gunnar Solskjaer turned to a new system as Man Utd saw off Tottenham with Cristiano Ronaldo benefitting from the changes, but some of his teammates could be hampered
A front two, a back five, the oldest starting line-up in nearly three years. Not very Ole Gunnar Solskjaer – or is it?
The Manchester United boss was in desperate need of a result following the humiliating defeat to Liverpool at Old Trafford last week.
He rang the changes in north London and, given his desire to honour the club’s traditions, one of which is backing youth, went very much for age and experience.
His tweaks worked wonders as United saw off Tottenham to pick up a confidence boosting three points.
Cristiano Ronaldo started in attack with Edinson Cavani whilst Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood and Jadon Sancho sat on the bench.
Victor Lindelof was one of three centre-halves alongside Raphael Varane and Harry Maguire.
The inspired changes meant United were good value for their three goals and three points – but it was so not United.
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At least the United we have come to know recently. One that backs attacking talent – for better or, as has been often, for worse.
The perk of this 5-3-2 system was the was it allowed Ronaldo to flourish however.
The 36-year-old’s sublime finish opened the scoring and he set Cavani clear to make it 2-0 in the second-half.
Relieved from any defensive duties or pressing responsibilities Ronaldo was able to do what he does best – affect games in the final third.
Despite that, the long-term suitability of this system will rightly be questioned.
Rashford and Greenwood are United’s future. Sancho could quickly become a Donny van de Beek if he doesn’t get minutes or can’t fit into the system.
It leaves Solskjaer in a precarious predicament as he seeks to maximise the worth of his prized asset whilst not having to deal with a bucket load of collateral damage.
Gary Neville said on Sky Sports : “If you do have someone like him (Ronaldo) in the dressing room you have to get him in the team and if you get him in the system you have to play a certain way that suits him.
“There is no doubt this is not Ole’s plan. Leaving Sancho, Greenwood and Rashford on the bench is not the plan.
“That wasn’t the plan in the summer for the recruitment, it wasn’t the plan in the summer for Ole, that’s not what he was thinking he was going to play.
“He’s played 4-2-3-1 for 37 matches so this isn’t his plan to go 5-3-2 but the change of system did look like it benefitted Cristiano Ronaldo because it took the pressure off him from a defensive point of view.
“Seeing him up front against Liverpool or Leicester the week before on his own against three centre-backs and two – Van Dijk and Konate – he looked like a little boy but today suited him perfectly, to allow him to be apart of them moments.
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“So I think today was a good day for him not just because of the goal but because it looked like he played in a team he was part of, rather than last few weeks he’s been exposed, being asked to press when he can’t do that.”
Upcoming games against Atalanta and Manchester City will provide a greater basis to judge whether United really have turned the corner.
This system, especially against teams who will put Solskjaer’s side under pressure, looks to be one the Norwegian can turn to.
It does though come at a cost, with United’s forwards firmly paying the price.
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